mascots: imagery, expectations, and modern human artifacts.

The Cleveland Indians logo is antiquated, morally wrong on many levels, and really only here today because native rights have been the slowest of any race in the States to begin, evolve, and finally build momentum.  People’s daily exposure to such logo imagery has allowed it to become a familiar part of life in Cleveland and sports all around.  Having that piece of nostalgia threatened to be removed from fans’ experiences blindsides them and makes them lose their common senses in arguments that truly just boil down to equality and cultural respect.  But I totally agree with them on one thing: It’s a logo, it’s a mascot – it shouldn’t matter.  Yet it does.

“I’m just getting so SICK of hearing about this mascot issue.”  Well, buddy, guess what….The Indians are getting sick of these centuries of marginalization!  You’re not the one standing on your ancestral soil being ridiculed and sidelined in life on a daily basis.  So get over yourself!

I have written many times how the mascot issue is a “microcosm” of a bigger problem.  I still stand by that, and I probably always will.  The way I see it, the mascots aren’t worth caring about – but only on a personal level.  As an individual Indian, a person shouldn’t let such imagery haunt him or herself and instead rise above it.  However, finding peace with oneself is only one realm of feeling happy and safe.  When you leave that realm and step out into a world that surrounds you with that imagery, with people who blindly support such imagery because they do not understand your culture or the culture of your fellow Indians, because they will not take the time to understand you… that is a different story.  You can respect yourself, but the outside world is demonstrating its lack of respect for you when it supports these images.  Of course, the claim is classic: IT IS HONORABLE.  NATIVE AMERICANS SUPPORT IT.  Well, I know a hell of a lot of Indians, I’ve sat through many a community discussion on this topic, and I personally agree that it is not okay.  And it all boils down to ignorance of American Indian history, policy, cultures, sensitivities,…  I believe any human with half a heart and a genuine understanding and knowledge of these topics would want to burn the imagery off of their favorite jerseys in a heartbeat.  If any fan doesn’t believe it, it means they are one of those few cruel souls who can’t rise above racism.  Anyone who wants to physically act in rage against Indians over it, well you might as well join the Klu Klux Klan because you are that low of a person.

Perhaps one of the things I find the most frustrating about Chief Wahoo as I live here in Cleveland is that so many people agree with me that the character doesn’t represent an “Indian” at all.  They use that argument to justify why I shouldn’t be offended by it.  Yet, these are the same people who, upon being introduced to me, look at me and say, “Oh, you do look Native American.”  I always want to pull out a picture of Chief Wahoo in that moment and ask, “Like this?  Do you even know what an Indian looks like?”  Well, we look like a hell of a lot of things, and none of them are that.

Ironically, I never really gave much thought about mascots before Cleveland.  Of course, I also was never exposed to them.  I always had a Wildcat as a mascot with the exception of two private schools I attended – one in Ohio and one in Pennsylvania – which had no mascot at all.  My school was predominately white with the second largest population being American Indian, at least in the years I was a student.  My professional sports teams were represented by career titles and animals.  I never even knew Cleveland’s baseball team existed, or paid enough attention to realize what Washington’s team was about.  In fact, in hindsight, I feel like an idiot.  I guess I knew Washington used the word it uses, I knew there was a generic Indian logo involved, but I legitimately went my entire childhood believing that the NFL would never use the R word as a name.  I thought the R word in the Washington team was some kind of football term for the leather used in a football.  I’m not even joking.  I thought it represented pigskin, not my ancestors.

My father is a steeler.  I can take pride in the Steelers representing our Steel City.  My father is also an Indian.  I cannot take pride in any of those teams represented all 566+ groups of our people in one offensive representation, or under one phrase akin to N*****.

Moving to a city, especially one like Cleveland with the logo it has,…that made me realize why the issue didn’t matter to me before.  Because before, I didn’t have it in context.  Before, I wasn’t experiencing it in my face.  When I finally made the move and came here for University, I had it spat at me – often literally.  I was degraded for wearing beaded jewelry.  I was denounced for admitting my heritage.  I was told hurtful things like “Oh, don’t cry a Trail of Tears over that”.  Once, on a bus to a track meet, I was handed a blanket because I was cold and someone joked, “Don’t take that!  It might have smallpox.”  My coach used to call me “Pokey” because Pocahontas was the only Indian he could liken me to.  Then I went to my first Indians game and experienced the racism firsthand.  Not being able to keep my mouth shut, I quickly became a victim of scalping jokes and racial slurs.  I vowed to never return.  Over the years at school, I’ve had my belongings vandalized and found insulting anonymous posts about me to a website that has since been shutdown.  Even in the workplace I’ve sat through a one-sided accusation of how life as a minority, woman engineer must be the easiest life when the government just hands me checks so why do I even work?  To all of these things, I have burst of anger but often just have nothing to say.  Even friends accused me daily of “still caring” about native rights when I wasn’t living on a Reservation.

And they’re right: I don’t even live on a Reservation.  My heart goes out to all those friends I have who do, all those friends that I haven’t made yet, all those people that deal with this on a regular basis who cannot hide their identity as well as I can, a mixed Indian living in an urban setting.  Being exposed finally to these injustices just makes me cringe on how it must feel to be a full-time Indian, to really be in the heart of this dilemma, not just someone like me who can avoid those baseball games, who can shut off the TV or sign out of social media, who can bit her tongue, turn a blind eye, let go of her culture and identity, and pretend to be someone she isn’t.

The imagery…the disrespect…the pressures to change yourself, as if something was wrong with you to begin with (which isn’t true).  I’ve come to realize that, no matter what my blood quantum, tribal status, or living conditions – I cannot just sit and be idle.  I am just too greatly disturbed by the amount of hatred I feel as an urban Indian, and I can never even begin to imagine how these feelings – in addition to the daily struggle that already exists – crush my friends and peers every day as they uphold their identities on the Reservations.  And yet the more I speak out about these issues, the more and more resentment I am faced with.  Every once in awhile I break through and am gracious for a conversation of curiosity and understanding.  However, this often turns in to the making of the human artifact: “Hey kids, come over here and meet this real Indian.  Yeah, she’s American Indian.”  And suddenly children are staring at me, some touching me, some shaking my hand – and I feel like I’m living in Ouidah, Benin or Batoula-Bafounda, Cameroon again where no child has seen a human being who isn’t black.  I become the modern human artifact.

Why am I so fascinating?  Because suddenly that logo has come to life and it’s not up to the expectations?  “You do look Indian”, justifying that I meet some standard expectation society has of my appearance?  One that isn’t the logo, yet is surely not informed either?  I hate these encounters, when I feel like an artifact.  I hate it because not only does it feel miserable but I sit there and think I am not a representative sample of all 566+ nations.  I am one single person with one unique heritage.

See, the mascot and logo issue delves a lot deeper than just the imagery and the sports.  It’s all interconnected, just like the planet.  It rebounds in places the general public cannot see and does not take the time to seek out.  And I am just one person, and this is just one perspective, I am fairly confident it is not a unique one.

And, no, I do not live in a tipi.

 

tomatoes: an ethical minefield.

I find modern tomatoes incredibly upsetting. This isn’t because fruit, vegetable, what? Or because they’re from the poisonous nightshade family, have poisonous leaves, and yes I’ve been accidentally served poisonous pieces before that I had to pick out….no, it’s because of the tomato’s prevalence and complete corruption.

Similar to maize, tomatoes are a New World food the immigrants spread all over the planet and botched up. Once thought poisonous, tomatoes were golden orange and the size of grape tomatoes or smaller, held sacred in some ways by the Pueblo, and native in South and Central Americas. And, also like maize, it is everywhere. Think of a food and it’s likely in it. Tomatoes dice, a tomato slice, ketchup, salsa, spaghetti or pizza sauce, hot sauce,…

Tomatoes belong in Mexican cuisine, but Italian? It drives me crazy how the tomato builds the backbone of modern Italian cuisine. A restaurant in Uniontown, PA advertises the tomato as some holy grail of Italy and I simp laugh because it’s only been there since the 1500s. The Italian use of the tomato is like a slap in the face to natives and the effects of colonization, and now we have these bastard tomatoes to attest to that.

I love small, grape, tiny tomatoes. I hate big, grainy, gooey, pale tomatoes. I love Full English breakfasts with tomatoes roasted on the vine like I had at the White Cliffs of Dover one morning, courtesy of my gracious British host. Like maize, modern genetics have destroyed a once valuable, nutrient-rich native plant. Now, we buy tomatoes to serve our purpose – or more like we are sold tomatoes that maximize profit under the name of ideal cooking ingredients.

Not only are tomatoes an ethical minefield for how they’ve transformed, arrived, altered cultures, and been modified, they’re also a source of environmental ethics questions. It’s more environmentally friendly to grow tomatoes in Spain and ship them to England than to grow them in British greenhouses. The pizza sauce supplier for Dominos, as documented in Bet the Farm, dehydrates tomatoes to ship from California to the Ohio River for rehydration not for saving gas or whatever else but for making more money. Where has the value of a tomato even gone? And when was the last time you saw a ripe one anywhere but in a garden?

The tomato is in my opinion symbolic of American culture, and I wish the original tomatl could be widely revived.

machine babies.

Next week, I will begin co-teaching an 8th grade world religion/social justice class.  As part of my preparation, I have been reading a series of books recommended by the program Heed the Call.  One of the books I’m reading is called Nurturing Children and Youth by Tracey L. Hurd.  The first chapter opens with “The Infant and Young Toddler – Newborn through Age Two” and discussing the physical development of children.  Naturally, I’m thinking about this topic and every way possible that society is messing it up.

According to the book, an infant triples his bodyweight in the first year of his life.  His brain grows from 1/4 of its adult size to 3/4 of its adult size.  Yes, he will grow half of his brain by his first birthday.  HALF.  I didn’t even have to continue reading to have a mental digression on these facts.  I mean, HALF!?

Remember when Time Magazine published this controversial cover?  People didn’t like it.  Why?  Because: 1. It was “racy”, and 2. “Who breastfeeds her grown-up child??  What a bad mother!”  Well, I have a slew of problems with those reactions.

To counter the first, how many times are women these days arguing for their freedom of dress?  I see all these articles now about women believing they shouldn’t be sexualized because of how they dress, that they should be allowed to do how they please and not worry about a man’s reaction to their choices.  Yet there are men – and women – alike who look down on public breastfeeding.  They see it as nudity.  “Go do that in the bathroom,” they say.  (At my university, we have a special room in the bathrooms in one hall that is a “lactation station”.)  I think that’s ridiculous because, not only is it hypocritical, but breastfeeding is such a fundamental part of a child’s development as well as his relationship to his mother.  It’s natural.  Furthermore, if babies have to eat in the bathroom, then lunch should be served there for everyone.

To counter the second reaction, I think it’s quite ironic to label the mother on the cover as being a bad example.  In fact, she’s an excellent example.  Naturally, children are supposed to grow out of their ability to digest lactose.  This usually happens when they’re young children, not toddlers.  I, too, went through this phase.  Why does this happen?  Well, because we’re not supposed to consume dairy products beyond our development.  I mean, you want to talk about weird?  It’s weird that humans drink cow milk!  Think about it.  It’s for calves!!  What are we, five??  Not only does this excess dairy lead to health complications and not actually help with osteoporosis (it’s a marketing strategy, thanks government), it’s just not sustainable.  So while we have adults drinking cow milk, they’re also turning their noses up at children drinking human milk.  And why do Asians/Natives and some others phase so slowly out of lactose tolerance?  Because it’s natural to keep drinking mom’s milk so you can continue developing.  Yes, mothers can produce milk for many years after birth.

Why did this all come to my mind?  There are so many women these days using baby formula.  I think that’s horrible!!  If you’re going to be a mother, be a mother, damnit.  These aren’t machine babies.  You didn’t grow it in a petri dish.  It’s a HUMAN, made from HUMAN, meant to consume HUMAN.  I’m sure some day machine babies drinking machine milk will exist when the world has really lost all hope, but, for now, let’s be real, please.  NOTHING replaces human product just like NOTHING replaces human touch, love, and childrearing.  Pop culture needs to wake up and realize it is what’s messed up.

In addition to breastfeeding, studies have been done that mouth-to-mouth feeding is also a natural practice.  That probably freaks a lot of people out, but after watching a video on the Youtube channel Vsauce, I realized how fascinating “premastication” is.  Although a lot of people seemed up in arms when actress Alicia Silverstone posted a video of kiss-feeding her son (some folks said it was like she was “making out” with her son), I feel like any fan of the Paleo diet can understand peoples’ interest in reverting to more natural habits.  Did you know, they thinking kissing came from this method of weaning?

So before you go bashing breastfeeding in public, into childhood, or as a method period – and before you get grossed out by kiss-feeding – consider how much grosser the general American populace’s habits are.  I mean, do you even know what’s in the food you’re eating?  What are you seriously putting in your body?  You don’t know the chemicals, the genetic origins, the implications on your own body.  You could be literally eating your way to cancer if you don’t handle all your own food and instead rely on other people to supply it to grocery stores and in restaurants.  Why do we pretend so much that we can manipulate things we naturally put into our bodies?  Why do we think artificial replacements are going to be a cheaper solution to a just-as-healthy lifestyle?  What makes us think that baby formula can honestly replace breast-milk when a baby will use that formula to CREATE ITS BRAIN?  (Sure, there are some cases when formula might be necessary, but that’s rare.)

I just see so much hypocrisy in the mainstream culture regarding food and raising children.  I feel like it’s cool now to just skimp out on everything.  So tell me, why are people even parents these days?  Why?

sir nordi.

Every first week of the month, I go to the Winking Lizard to get the “glass of the month” – a drink special that comes in glassware you get to keep.  Well, because the restaurant is called The Winking Lizard, I also always get to watch the lizard on display.  In the Northfield branch, this lizard is named Sir Nordi and he lives in a small glass room with a few branches, fake leaves, and mulch.

I guess the Winking Lizard iguanas never bothered me too much when I compared them to Miss Hasegawa of Rector (now Mrs. MacLean of Vancouver)’s little window cage for 5th grade science when we would watch Sir Newton scroll up and down his window branch.  (What’s up with the knight names, anyway?)  But Sir Newton had a great life.  He only spent certain times in that window.  He was constantly interacting with students, and most of us had the privilege of bringing him home (except for me – I was saddled with the white mouse collection one spring break, but I never won the honors of housing Sir Newton).  In other words, Sir Newton was caged, but he was loved and he got a lot of time to roam around.

Sir Nordi on the other hand…. he lives a much sadder life.  Rarely do people realize he is an iguana.  Most people just ignore him, or maybe press their faces to the glass and tap on the window.  Sir Nordi looks lethargic most of the time, but, if you stick around during the right hours, you will see how often he scratches at the glass panes like he knows he’s caged and he just wants to get out.

I used to think that animals were satisfied in cages that represented their natural habitats.  But when I see Sir Nordi, I realize this is not the case.  Sir Nordi really hates his little Northfield, Ohio prison.  He hates watching kids and adults alike poke at him, seeing daily life pass by, never doing more than walking the same branch and scratching the same pane of his little prison.  Sir Nordi isn’t happy.  Maybe he knows he’s safe from harm and always has food, but that kind of assurance doesn’t replace natural freedom.  The little attention he gets at night when someone cleans his cage and feeds him isn’t nearly enough to be happy.

This is why I hate zoos.