Thursday, November 1, 2007

We Are Responsible for Chief Wahoo


When the Cleveland Indians were in the midst of their collapse against the now World Champion Boston Red Sox, Kansas City blogger Joe Posnanski wrote an interesting piece about the Cleveland Indians' logo, Chief Wahoo (the logo in the top left quadrant pictured above). After writing a detailed history of Cleveland's mascots and logos, which I suggest you check out, he rightly concludes,
Wahoo is an inherentry racist symbol. Nobody could really deny this. Nobody could look at that grinning mug and say, “No, it’s really a flattering portrayal of Native Americans, who were conquered, nearly wiped off the planet by our ancestors and then forced to live on reservations.”...The thing is, I think so many of us were raised to think of Indians as cartoon characters, as movie villains, as the Native American who had a tear in his eye because people kept dumping garbage all over this great land, that we have become desensitized.
Native Americans are not the first minority group to be caricatured, and shaped into an archetype. Images of the lazy, foolish African-American Sambo, based on the blackface minstrel were popular throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries until challenged by the Civil Rights Movement in the '50s and '60s. Japanese Americans were depicted as devious, cunning villains in World War II propaganda even though not one Japanese-American betrayed the United States during the war. Finally, Jews were portrayed as untrustworthy, and evil by Nazis, and used as scapegoats for the collapse of the German empire.

So, where is the outrage? Does no one else see a relationship between these images? If we were to slap any of the above mentioned racist images on the Cleveland ballcap, the entire nation would be outraged. Imagine the blackface minstrel as your local sports team's logo? Would that be ok? Or the Nazi image of the Jew. Ok? Or what about the Minnesota "Japs" complete with a logo that has the steretypical big teeth? Not gonna fly. So, how is it that Chief Wahoo gets a free pass? How has Chief Wahoo gone untouched since 1950? Posnanski has an answer,
The only reason Chief Wahoo is around is because Native Americans don’t have a strong enough voice in this country to put a stop to it. When Native Americans protested at the 1997 World Series, they were mostly laughed at. Three were arrested. Is this really the kind of country we want to be? And for what? To stand up for our inherent rights to enjoy a racist sports logo?
In 2001, the United States Commission on Civil Rights issued a statement offering guidelines for the use of Native American symbols, suggesting they not be used in non-Native American schools (read it here), effectively denouncing Chief Wahoo. However, the statement has spurred no real change, and as Posnanski pointed out, Native American civil rights organizations don't have the "strong voice" that similar organizations of women, African Americans, or Latinos have, making change more difficult. This is one of the many tragic effects the policy of assimilation and allotment to reservations have had upon the Native American community.

So, that leaves this issue to the non-Native American community. We can assist Native American civil rights organizations, strengthening their voice, or we can speak up ourselves. Maybe Chief Wahoo is not your battle, but is there a local high school who is ignoring the the 2001 Statement of U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on the Use of Native American Images and Nicknames as Sports Symbols? Ultimately, it comes down to the kind of society we want to be apart of, "one that stands up for the inherent rights to enjoy a racist sports logo," or one who responds to victims of discrimination, no matter the strength of their voice.

1 comment:

Todd Wold said...

A so appreciate this post. Did you see that the SD school was unable to get he native american tribe's blessing to kleep the fighting sioux name? So the NCAA will force them to change their name.

Go 'Skins! (The real ones).