why “blackface” is a problem,… but only black?

When kids dress up for Halloween, sure, they’ll paint their faces to become an animal, wear a mask, or add appendages like tails or antennae that they don’t have.  They’re dressing like other species.  When kids dress up to be human-like characters, say from a movie or cartoon, or even a celebrity, they adopt the clothes and accessories necessary to be recognized as that character or person.  They are already a human being, so they can alter things that are socially acceptable to alter: clothing, hairstyle/wigs, jewelry, etc.

NOT their racial identity.

I’m sure I don’t have to go through the history of the United States to explain why the color of someone’s skin has been used to single them out or embrace them with open arms as an equal.  Racial tension still exists in this country and throughout the world.  Furthermore, light-skinned Americans are shoveling over dollars to go to tanning beds or laying out on beaches weekly to risk cancer for darker skin.  On the other side of the world, like in India, women are paying to bleach their skin to a Caucasian white.  Skin color still equates to social status, no matter how jumbled the message is getting.

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Above: In the United States, L’Oreal sells the tan Caucasian look; in India, the same company pushes the appeal for Asian women to look “white”.

Skin tones have historically been a way to segregate people, and, as a result, they can be ways to unite people who struggle the same struggles.  However, civilized society should strive to move away from these racial stereotypes and identifiers and instead focus on the individual and his/her identity.  Identity shouldn’t come with a Behr’s color palette.

Ever since I was a little girl, I used to argue with older generations that skin color wasn’t black, white, yellow, brown, and red (if those are even accurate groupings anyway).  I would always argue that skin color is a spectrum, and even certain colors don’t mix the same way those on an artist’s palette mix. Genetics can come with surprises.  But when we see the world in very restrictive color palettes and racial labels, ones that don’t take into account ethnicity, social-economic statuses, citizenship, and actual culture, we are once again emphasizing an outdated viewpoint on identity.

So, back to Halloween: The skin color of a Trick-or-Treater shouldn’t have to be an identifier for what “costume” he or she is choosing.  Part of that is because race is not a costume.  Also, at what point do we decide “Oh, that character is like, half a shade darker than me – I need make-up!”  Sure, Avatar Blue is one thing because that’s not “human”.  But should a person have to paint his or herself black to be Obama?  On the flip-side, should a white person feel he or she can’t dress as Obama because he or she isn’t black?  (HELLO, Obama is ALSO white…Why can’t we see that part of him too?)  And, finally, does that mean a woman cannot dress as a Obama without a sex change? ————– No, I don’t think it’s any different.  “Race” is something you can’t change, something society (include police forces) currently identifies by a visual assessment.  Likewise, sex is predominantly identified biologically.

So about Blackface.

What is it?  Well, what it sounds like.  “Blackface” is when a non-black/lighter-skinned person paints his or herself dark (and possibly with stereotypical “black features” like large red or pink lips) to pretend to be…”black”.  There is no concrete date for the origin of “blackface”, but it was notorious for its use in theater starting in the 19th century.  Ah, yes, the Jim Crow era, the times when blacks were gaining more and more rights (albeit snail-slow) as human beings.  Slavery, lynching, segregation…and, in theater, blacks were the center stage.  Except, not actual blacks.

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Blackface in theater was an excellent way for white people to mock blacks for black stereotypes.  Imagine all the dehumanizing things white society could have possibly done or said to black people during these eras and you can imagine the foul things that showed up in white-ruled comedy.  However, to make this work effortlessly, white people were hired to paint themselves as black people.  Otherwise, how could we identify the “less-than-human” as he or she fell victim to the splendid white cracks at these oppressed racial categories?

Knowing the history of blackface and the atrocities that accompanied it will probably help you understand why it was once a horrible practice.  However, the foundation that “blackface” was built on still exists.  Just because we would like to view our society as “free” does not mean “blackface” is a freedom of speech.  It is founded in literally the same segregation principles as in decades and centuries before, and it is a means of segregation.  While wearing “blackface”, or being racist, or demonstrating in the KKK may not be illegal, because of freedom of speech, that does not mean they belong in civilized society.

Can you understand why dress up as a shot Trayvon Martin – in blackface – is so many levels of wrong, racist, and disrespectful?  Because this totally happened:

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Maybe, just MAYBE if racial segregation by skin color hadn’t been a historical and systematic way of trampling other people to get ahead, then just MAYBE “blackface” and whatever-else-face wouldn’t be wrong.  But skin color has been and continues to be too connected to social status, so painting your face as another “race” IS wrong.

EXCEPT.

Except
except
except
except
except
except….

If you’re a sports fan.  #TELLMEWHY

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Or if you don’t even have that excuse, but call yourself a…”hipster”???  (Below: seen at Bonaroo)

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“Red” stands for blood.  “Red” stands for the “pelts” of slaughtered indigenous peoples, peoples who were labeled as merely “Indian”, and “pelts” that gave white colonists cash rewards from the government.

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This is wrong because it is REDFACE.  This is even more wrong because  of its historical context (“pelts” = GENOCIDE).

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Tell me why this is “socially acceptable”?

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Do me a favor, and if you ever see, call it out.  The only way it should be “tolerated” (I say that LOOSELY) is if the person flat out admits to being an informed racist…

Not “Indian Enough”

Biloxi High School Alumni Perpetuate Ignorance, Cyberbully Natives, and Dictate Who is “Indian Enough” to Have an Opinion in Cultural Appropriation Debate.

[To read more about Native/Ally response to the cyberattacks, read my last post about #IndigenizeZuckerberg – or visit my featured article on the Good Men Project: Why Are Natives Changing Their Names to Zuckerberg on Facebook?.]

Deloria

Deloria Many Grey Horses-Violich whose Facebook account was repeatedly suspended due to her Indigenous surname. Photo: Courtesy of Deloria Many Grey Horses-Violich

As a Native person in today’s society, it can sometimes feel like an uphill battle to “walk two worlds”, to carry on your traditions while living up to the expectations of your Elders.  These unique, cultural challenges might internalize a fear that you’re not “Indian enough”, not real enough.  With our cultures repeatedly misrepresented, misunderstood, and aggressively appropriated all around us, this fear is only compounded.  We aren’t stereotypes, so how can we expect to live up to them?  It seems that the modern trend is to allow non-indigenous America (and Canada) define who they think are “Indian enough” to be members of our sovereign nations.  This stereotyping also leads to a misunderstanding of cultures, and this misunderstanding leads to cultural appropriation.  Furthermore, the American(/Canadian) government dictates which nations even “deserve” sovereignty.  Not only is this unethical, but it’s unconstitutional.  Yet, here we are today, continuing to stand up to the misrepresentation of our peoples, only to be stereotyped as “alcoholics” while we stand sober, pelted with stadium-priced beer cans from drunken sports fans.  We voice our opinion, try to shed light on the truth of how we feel, only to be told to “go back to the Reservation”, back to our voiceless place that keeps the “Indian problem” from inconveniencing American (and Canadian) lives.

The Biloxi High School cultural appropriation is no different.  In fact, it’s a glowing example of (North) American racism, hostility, and misunderstanding.

Although the Biloxi High School has long been listed on the American Indian Sports Team Mascots website as racist, the recent display of its uniform blasphemy at D.C.’s Cherry Blossom Festival has opened the floodgates of opposition.  Natives and their allies have stood up against racist mascots and symbolism for decades, but this new age of social media has helped to finally level the playing field.  Voices that were once drowned out are finally being heard, especially in Washington where a racial slur is still being casually thrown around in the name of sports.  Seeing this display of mockery – an entire marching band in sacred war bonnets – was something no person with any cultural sensitivity or a sense of respect could ignore.

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Biloxi uniform, photo from Des Grange’s Flickr page (Google image search).

Deloria Lane Many Grey Horses-Violich is one of these people.  Peacefully, she generated a Change.org petition calling for Biloxi Superintendent Arthur McMillan to emancipate indigenous peoples from the cultural appropriation of our Tunica-Biloxi cousins.  She eloquently defends the teenagers being subjected to the perpetuation of cultural appropriation, stating, “If you want to play the trumpet and represent your school, you have to wear an item that is sacred to many Native cultures.”  And she’s absolutely right – you see, prejudice is taught, not genetic.

Petition signers’ comments flood in:

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Yet, instead of the Biloxi High School alumni addressing the hurt and validity in the voices of “real Indians” and their sympathizers, they chose to speak on behalf of the present Biloxi student population and target Native peoples.  These products of Biloxi education responded to Deloria’s honest efforts with a petition called “Save the Biloxi High School Mascot & Tradition” – also on change.org, started by Kristen “Krissi” West.

“Please Mr. McMillan, keep our Indian tradition alive!” Krissi writes in her petition.

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Remember that statement for its hypocrisy; she and her fellow alumni beautifully dismantle their arguments as the day progresses.

On April 19th, Krissi announced “We will not allow outsiders to crush our traditions.  We have currently surpassed the other petition that is trying to infringe on our culture, history and traditions…”  Numerous rebuttals were posted, asking for this insanity to stop.  None were heard.  Instead, the alumni’s arrogance that they would “win” took ahold of all their humanity.  A Lafayette HS Class of 1967 replied to these rebuttals:

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So whose tradition is being honored again?  Absolutely not that of the Tunica-Biloxi.  Absolutely not that of the indigenous peoples.

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This is just the beginning.  The meaning behind our traditions have been under-rug-swept by genocide, and we #IdleNoMore.

Not long after the petition crossfire began, the Biloxi HS Alumni page was finding many of its comments and postings deleted by Facebook.  When page’s administrators, who repeatedly admitted their incompetence at using Facebook, found that the page had suddenly become an “open” group, all fingers were immediately pointed to Deloria.  She was accused of “creating the issue” around mascots.

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The assault on Deloria’s account – including her temporary ban from Facebook – has added fuel to the already-growing fire of discrimination against Native names on accounts.  (Read: Facebook Protest)

[UPDATE: On April 22nd, a BHS alumnus wrote on the Alumni page regarding why their page had suddenly become Open, or public, before they made another underground page.  “As for supposedly someone hacking this group and changing it from closed to public,” he writes, “on Facebook it is IMPOSSIBLE to lower this setting after you have 250 members.  Even if an Administrator wanted to make this change it can’t be done.  Only an Administrator can only make it MORE restrictive and never less.”  In other words, the accusations were clearly false against Deloria.]

Later in the morning, Lauren McWilliams demonstrates the lack of proper Native American education at Biloxi and adds the following misinformation:

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Not only was an enrolled tribal member, daughter of Chief Phil Lane, Jr., being called “not Indian enough”, but suddenly alumni’s claims to blood quanta of “part Choctaw”, “part Cherokee”, and “part Seminole” were being used to justify their actions.  More than once, Deloria was required to provide government-issued identification to confirm her indigenous surname “Many Grey Horses” was not in fact “fake”.  F.A.I.R. Media (For Accurate Indigenous Representation) was also targeted, accused of promoting racism by denouncing “red face” and “black face”.

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Note the irony of the commentary.  Others remain apparently completely unaware of the last several decades of mascot activism.

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In addition to targeting F.A.I.R. for being “racist”, Biloxi alumna Tara Harrell Duett called for a cyberattack on another woman in the Native community who had expressed her disapproval of the Biloxi alumni’s group movements.

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After some debate, and a lot of deletion by Facebook, the Biloxi movement went underground.  They created a private group littered with hashtags “#BHSFORLIFE” and “#GOBIGRED”.

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Members had to prove that they were “Biloxi Indians”.  Every single Biloxi graduate who made comments in favor of the anti-mascot argument was immediately deleted from the group, usually after efforts to prove they didn’t graduate from BHS and therefore were not “alumni” and “BHS Indian enough”.  This means the movement is in the hands of ex-students, not even the children who are being affected by the mascot and made to wear sacred symbols without adequate education regarding them.  Furthermore, one member admitted he didn’t attend all of his high school years at BHS, but because he graduated from BHS, that made him an “Indian” and capable of kicking out others who didn’t spend their Senior year at BHS.

Once under security of their group’s privacy, Biloxi alumni Tom Thurber began generating T-shirt and suggestions follow, as if adding insult to the injury of the Native #NotYourMascot campaign.

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The alumni decide to sell the t-shirts to the students to raise money for their “cause”.

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Thurber concurs, and Lateacha Tisha-Rose Reversè finds humor in the proposal.

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Krissi West later suggests using booster.com and making a Native American Heritage Month celebration out of the “BHS tradition”.

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Remember West’s defense of their mascot that non-Biloxians don’t know the history and rich culture associated with her school?  For the entire afternoon of April 20th, the private group went back and forth, trying to decide when and why they actually became the “Biloxi Indians” and adopted headdresses into their school band uniforms.  Therefore, their entire reasoning behind the petition is a blatant and misleading lie.

“From what I remember, IF I remember BHS history correctly, the school board back BEFORE Biloxi High School officially changed their mascot to the Indian, actually approached very important members of the Biloxi Indian tribe to officially as if they (the Biloxi Public School District) could use the Biloxi Indian as their mascot and also to use the headdress and the Indian tunic as uniform items,” writes Jerico Gotte, BHS Class of 2010.

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Yes, you have a lot more research to do than you think.

“If it turns out that they are in fact offended by the uniform,” McWilliams writes, “we will see if we can compromise as far as uniforms are concerned.”  Not only does McWilliams confirm that there is no known consent by the Tunica-Biloxi people to use them as a mascot, but she states they will compromise  – not resolve – on the issue of their offense.

But next the alumni begin arguing that the Biloxi people themselves are not “Indian enough”.  “Their ancestry cannot be 100% confirmed,” McWilliams states, claiming that many think “the tribe, and factual descendants are extinct.”  Ignoring the tribe’s status of federal recognition, the group focuses instead on how “watered down” the tribe members are, and question if they’re even Biloxi at all.  Lateacha states, “The Biloxi blood line is dead and only traces reside in those at Tunica-Biloxi.  In fact you can find old Biloxi French families with as much Biloxi in them.  I’d still love to hear from Tunica-Biloxi, but let’s be honest there is no real ‘Voice of the Tribe’ left.”

You want “purebloods”?  What are we, dogs?

Meanwhile, BHS “Indians” continue to silence Native voices.  Other members share photos and reminisce on their days as playing “Indians.”

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See how Biloxi “celebrates” the Indian stereotype?  Will students one day say “I remember when we appropriated Native cultures by wearing headdresses and were called the “Indians”, but I’m glad we no longer do it!”

West continues to defend the use of the Biloxi’s mascot for its symbolism.  Megan Wilson agrees, stating that “The Indian shows bravery, honor, and strength… Mascots are symbols of respect and people need to get a life…!”

And what?  Go back to the Reservation where we “belong”?  So you don’t have to listen to our outrage in being labeled as hostile, vicious, inhuman beings?

These Biloxi Alumni demonstrate they honor nothing but stereotypes, cultural appropriation, themselves, and the “Indian” ideal that genuine Natives are fighting to remove.  They have no cultural sensitivity and refuse to obtain a proper education in the matter.  Furthermore, while indigenous peoples are busy fighting for every aspect of their equality, they are being accused of having “more important things to do”.  Apparently adults reminiscing over high school and working overtime to keep racism in the education system is a more important thing to do.  These “BHS Indians” pass judgment on “real Indians”, calling them “racists” and “whiners” for standing up for their sovereignties and rights as human beings.  As a result, more civilized residents of Biloxi have joined the anti-mascot side in sympathy of the Natives, saying they are disgusted with their ex-classmates’ words and their childish actions.  In fact, many have signed our petition.

It is absolutely imperative for the citizens of this country to wake up and realize the unnecessary harm being done by the continued use of racist mascots.  The documented psychological damage on both Native and non-Native children should be proof enough of the necessity to change.  Humans are not predisposed to prejudice; instead, we are teaching our non-indigenous children cultural insensitivity and our indigenous children low self-worth.  We are perpetuating the lies of what constitutes being “Indian enough” and what doesn’t.  Stop this injustice, Biloxi, like you finally stopped racially segregating your students in 1970.  It’s time we moved beyond delusions of racial inequality.

If you are as frustrated by the exposed truth of the Biloxi resistance as I am, and see the need to discontinue the perpetuation of these stereotypes and the appropriation of cultures, please join us by spreading the word and signing our petition here.  Thanks.

change the name.

The “mascot issue” is a completely tiresome topic.  I feel like I have reiterated, time and time again, the need to change the name and change the mascot.  It baffles me that people continue to not get it, ignore the situation, or, worse, continue to wear gear with Chief Wahoo and “Indians” on it.  When you do that, you’re saying “it’s okay – it doesn’t affect me.”  And sure, it might not affect you to the gross intensity that it affects the people targeted by the racism, but it should still affect you.  You should still be a human being, therefore you should be appalled by inequality.  And if you’re white (or part white) and you feel attacked by issues of racism, then turning a blind eye is only perpetuating the colonized attitude that it’s “not an issue”, perpetuating how the non-indigenous opinion is still considered the only valuable one.

Tomorrow, thousands plan to gather for the Opening Day of the Cleveland MLB team.  Dozens – maybe hundreds, who knows? – are also planning to gather in protest of the continued mascot issue.  But it’s not just an issue about a picture and a name; it’s about the symbolism, the racism it perpetuates, and, in my opinion, the most important thing: the health of our youth.  I could spend a lot of time reiterating the history of the hundreds upon hundreds of indigenous nations who have been victims of genocide and broken treaties, but I don’t want that to be my focus today.  I shouldn’t have to go through that history every time to make my point.  The takeaway from the historical point-of-view is: The US government has a dark history of genocide, the indigenous nations have been continually marginalized, and to this day we are lumped together as a singular dying race, represented by inaccurate, disrespectful, and even blasphemous symbolism.  Today, I want to focus on the most common counterpoints to our cause that folks ignorant of the reality tend to use as justification for their actions.

THE HONOR ARGUMENT: It’s honorable.  We are honoring your people.  We are honoring Sockalexis.  You should be proud.

There’s nothing honorable in being dehumanized, especially when you say “stop” and you’re being blamed for speaking out.  “Our people” are the Dine, the Anishinaabe,…names that you probably don’t even know.  That’s because “our people” are hundreds of peoples, with our own languages, with our own names for who we are.  The tribal names you give us are often not even what we call ourselves, and many of them have dark origins.  The point is, you can’t honor something you don’t understand.  And, if you really want to honor something, don’t make a caricature of it, perpetuate a racial slur as being “okay”, and encourage fans to grotesquely stereotype and misrepresent who an “Indian” is.  Especially don’t do it to make disgusting amounts of money off of a sport and off of alcohol.  Honor the truth, and respect it.  Respect the peoples and their rights.  When they say, “That offends me”, realize they’re hurt and that the only way to fix it is to listen.  THAT is the way to respect.  Telling us what should make us proud is NOT.  That is YOU being prideful, or, at the very least, incredibly misguided.  What honor can we feel when people dress up and “play Indian”, then stand in shock when they meet a “real Indian” and ask to take a picture?  Like we’re a dying or mythological being that they can’t believe exists in the modern world?  Furthermore, the Sockalexis story is a cover-up and not true.  What IS true about the origins of the baseball team name (and mascot) is they were founded in a time when racism was widely accepted as the “norm”.  When the newspaper could publish things like this to put a smile on the faces of Cleveland fans:

THE CLEVELAND PRESS

January 18, 1915

Now that the Naps have been re-nicknamed the Indians, we hope they will become very Indian-like and wake up. A series of real indian war dances is what the Cleveland fans want next season. Let’s hope the team will be equal to the task, even if not equal to winning a pennant. The spiders are to remain the Spiders and, with spidery Jack Knight at their head, ought to show better than they did last season. The Cleveland ball club was anxious to get a nickname that couldn’t be converted into a joke. Indians delighted Vice President Barnard. “They won’t be able to poke fun at the Indians,” said Barney. Oh, no, but wait until they begin to lose and see how soon the fans will dub them the “squaws”.

NOTE: “Squaw” is an offensive term for Native American women.  It basically lumps all Native women together as being heathen whores, and yet – to this day – “squaw” is used for place names, and I have even been called it myself.  In 2015.

To read the complete documentation of the name selection in newspaper history, check out the collection put together by the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance: http://committeeof500yearsofdignityandresistance.com/history.html

The origins aren’t honorable, and as I’ll continue to explain – the names and mascots are still not honor.  And, furthermore, we don’t need a sports team to teach us how to respect and honor ourselves and each other.  That idea is simply atrocious.

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On the left is Robert Roche, confronting a baseball fan in Cleveland in the exact stereotypical, blasphemous dress that perpetuates these images.  Ironically, a comic on the right seems to foresee this exact standoff – yet it was drawn over 10 years before the picture was taken.  It’s a large, non-indigenous man guzzling beer, wearing a chicken feather headdress and random paint, “Go Savages” and “Kill Em” on his stomach, telling the completely “normally” dressed Native in front of him that he is honoring Natives.  Ahem…

THE REPRIORITIZE ARGUMENT: Don’t you have bigger things to worry about?

We don’t need people who aren’t even taught proper American history to tell us what our problems are.  We live it every day.  What we also live every day is feeling invisible.  A lot of people, in my experience, like to chalk up our arguments for sovereignty as some kind of “racist” movement.  That just demonstrates how ignorant they are on the diversity of our communities and why they exist.  Race is a western concept.  Biology is a western concept.  In fact, if there’s any “race” viewpoint at all that is broadly accepted across our hundreds of different indigenous peoples in North America, it’s the idea of “mitakuye oyasin” – or “we are all related”.  We are all of the “Five Fingered Clan”.  Indigenous peoples understand their places in the planet and in the ecosystem, so that’s why we are the first to defend the land.  Indigenous peoples respect their resources.  They are stewards of the land, having only 20% of its surface area but hosting 80% of the world’s biodiversity.  They’re not “hippies” and “animal lovers”, as often stereotyped – indigenous peoples haven’t lost touch with the reality of Mother Nature having the last say.  Our creation stories tell us our lands are sacred to us the same way lands like Israel and Mecca have religious importance to others, yet our lands continue to be exploited and our voices are ignored.  Our stories don’t tell us “Indian”, “Asian”, “European”, “African”.  They tell us the origin of our people, our nation, our tribe.  But I digress.

My point is, indigenous peoples have a much different view on where we all come from and who we are, so calling us racist for standing up for our rights to be sovereign nations – essentially making tribal lands our own countries – is perpetuating the issue.  It perpetuates how we are lumped together.  Once we lose our identities as individual peoples with our own stories, histories, cultures, and beliefs, we are stripped down to simple “Indians” with that “heathen-like” indigenous way.  We are forced to adapt western views on who we are, including blood quantum rules that perpetuate and transpose the western concepts of race and identity on our cultures.  In other words, the new majority is telling us who is and who isn’t allowed to be us.  Why is all of this important?  Because when we look at the outside world telling us who we are, we see imagery like mascots and old western films, pieces filled with blatant disregard for our humanity.  If we exist, we only exist on the mystical reservation.  We aren’t seen as doctors and engineers and teachers passing you by on the street every day.

We are often mislabeled as other races, or tested when we identify by our nations.  I often get this test – like some kind of checklist.  Are you enrolled?  What’s your blood quantum?  Oh, you do have high cheekbones.  Oh, but your eyes aren’t black – you can’t be more than, what, a quarter?   I don’t need other people weighing in on my “Indianness”.  Many of us have these internal struggles already, feeling like we aren’t enough for our people – or that we’re too different to be accepted by those who aren’t part of our culture.  It’s hard enough trying to live in a competitive world and have the career you want while still being culturally active.  It shouldn’t be that way, but you find yourself making a lot of choices.  Youth, in particular, make choices on whether or not to “leave home” – and often times it ends up being for good.  This is called the “brain drain”, and nations are working endlessly to defeat it.

Those who are aware of the realities of reservation life – especially amongst those groups who have been forced to “remove” – know that many of these communities are toxic environments for the youth.  They ask questions like “Why don’t you just leave?”  I was asked this once by a person whose father came from Poland.  I said, “If Germany invaded Poland and called it New Germany, and the Polish were forced to speak German and become German and destroy all things that made them culturally Polish, would the answer be for them to just leave?  To just get over it?”  I don’t like throwing other groups of peoples under the bus to make my points, but I thought that example offered relevant perspective as to why youth don’t leave, or don’t want to leave.  But the reality of conditions on many reservations makes it incredibly hard to survive.  The youth are our future, so we are well aware of how much protection we have to give them.  That is why it matters to us how they view themselves.  In a country that already has and continues to marginalize their peoples, where they live in poverty with high rates of suicide and substance abuse, etc., any negative opinion of who they are from the “outside” world is of course only going to worsen the situation.  Thus, when the image of the dying brave is plastered as a singular identity for all of these youth in a world that already challenges them, of course it will negatively impact them.  And negatively is an understatement.

Consider how many organizations (including the American Psychological Association) have joined the anti-mascot cause in solidarity to the harmful effects on Native youth and community.  And, rather than me reiterate all of the facts, take the time to read this thorough documentation on why the mascot issue is an enormous microcosm of all Native suffering and maybe you’ll realize why so many Nations have released official statements against these mascots: http://www.changethemascot.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/DrFriedmanReport.pdf

THE OVERREACTION ARGUMENT: Why now?  Why can’t you just get over it already?

The Cleveland name has been in place for 100 years now.  Indigenous peoples weren’t even considered US Citizens until 1924, after its use.  Boarding schools for assimilation were still in operation throughout the 1900s.  The Termination Era from about the 1930s through the 1960s caused many of our parents to lose recognition of their tribal citizenships.  Remember, our nations are sovereign nations.  This country was founded on that promise, despite the hundreds of treaties the US government has broken to carry out its genocide and assimilation.  As the Civil Rights for blacks came underway, Natives slowly began getting a voice in the public as well.  Religious freedom and rights started to become written law in the 1970s, but even to this day we are still fighting for religious freedom.  In 2015.  In our homelands.  The question is not WHY NOW, but WHY STILL?  We can’t get over who we are.  And the only peoples who have ever “given up” in our indigenous histories are the ones who have been exterminated completely and therefore can no longer stand up.  Asking these peoples to “get over it” is asking them to erase who they are, what they believe, and everything that makes up a person – especially after all of the hardships their ancestors have gone through and they continue to live through in order to provide this free country to Americans.  We have been continuing to not “get over it” since 1492, and that’s why (most of us) are still here.  In case you thought we really did all die out.

THE OTHER MASCOTS ARGUMENT: What about the Fighting Irish?  The Pirates?  The Vikings? The Fighting Sioux? The high school teams?

Mascots are chosen to show aggression.  Mascots are generally vicious animals or creatures, or sometimes dishonorable professions.  So, in the example of Pirates or Vikings, or Raiders, – those are all professions with a clearly aggressive, ruthless reputation.  There are also the Cowboys – an American profession and icon.  The Fighting Irish uses a leprechaun and was created by Notre Dame, a school founded by Catholic Irish – so maybe there are some offended leprechauns in Ireland.  As for the Fighting Sioux, it’s not endorsed by the many groups that make the Siouan people – no need to go into the past and present hardships of the various peoples the name and logo stereotypes.  The fact that the R-word is used at all completely flabbergasts me, and I remember being lied to as a kid that No, it doesn’t mean us, it’s a nickname for a football – the mascot’s just coincidence.  But perhaps the argument that really pisses me off is when people make an argument for not being “too politically correct” and end up proving my dehumanization point – and still don’t get it!  Recently, someone asked me what we’re going to do if we change the R-word to The Worms – then all the activists are going to cry that we’re squishing the little wormies?

Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that saying, “Stop calling me a racial slur and dehumanizing me!” equated me to a worm being thrown underfoot.  THANKS FOR PROVING MY POINT.

At that point, I was done trying to make my point.  There are some people that are just too stuck in their ways to realize when they’re wrong, when they’re disrespectful.  They can’t swallow their pride and admit to their mistakes.  Kind of like elderly people who still can’t accept black folks as equals.  They’ve been trained to accept inequality.

The truth is, we shouldn’t need to be saying, “well what about this?  Well what about that?”  Look at the issue for what it is.  If one thing is right or one thing is wrong, then it will be addressed in its own time, using the same principles of respect.  Once you understand the issues at hand, it will no longer seem like a senseless battle for political correctness.

Trust me – I do not like making people dislike me for my opinions, and I am certainly not one to stand up and cause a raucous.  But, when it comes to this issue, and when it comes to our food system and our water problems, these are things we cannot ignore.  These are all issues that revolve around respect, and I was taught that respect is one of the highest things to have.  I’m not sure what’s happening in these last few decades that people seem to be losing that mentality, but respect to me is the highest form of honor.  If we cannot respect culture and human rights, just as if we cannot respect the planet and our dependency on its resources, then how will we ever coexist?  How will we ever survive?  Rather than preferring to assimilate cultures and ideas, we should be respecting their diversities and their inherent rights to exist.  Regardless of your background, your religion, your experiences – respect should be a common language.  I speak out against racism, homophobia, and other forms of human mistreatment just like I speak out against the exploitation of this planet.  Educate yourself, swallow your pride, and start respecting our differences – and change the name.

my view on marketing.

I had written a huge entry about the evils of marketing and then accidentally deleted it.  So this shorter recap will just have to do.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the media, TV shows, celebrities, sports, politics, and health topics and realizing how backwards America is.  I also realize how all of these things are rooted in marketing.  I’ve always accused journalists singularly for being selfish, pushing articles, and putting up false or inappropriate images just to make a buck or sell a pitch.  Now I’m realizing it’s not just journalism the marketing part of journalism, as well as marketing in general.

The Mascot Issue would not exist without marketing.  Eons ago, back when “racism” wasn’t a concept because White was the only race, Native American (and other minority) images, names, and stereotypes were generated to market sports teams, movies, and things like books.  Marketers are literally the people sitting around going “how can we make this obvious to the public as something they can identify with”, then selling out minorities to win over the majority.  A perfect example of this when Darrin Stephens in Bewitched has to sell dental crème.  “We all know witches have hooked noses, warts, and blacked-out teeth,” says the owner of the crème company.  Darrin doesn’t hesitate in creating an image that sells based on this stereotype.  Ethics don’t play a role in business.  And until Samantha flies (understandably) off the (broomstick)handle, Darrin doesn’t even pay mind that his own beautiful wife is a witch insulted by such discriminating images.  Today, these same logos, brand names, trademarks, and other images become a kind of metonymy for a product.  For example, “tissue” harkens to Kleenex, and we begin to think nothing is as good as that brand name.

When the media expresses its opinion on an issue, the author has to decide between pitching to this majority or understanding the minority cause.  In the case of recent articles in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Washington Post, some authors have taken huge risks in defending Natives in both cities against imaging by the local sports teams.  In the case of other large-stream media with other marketing interests, where unemployment is too much of a risk, this isn’t always the case.  For example, Bloomberg media rarely reports on the mascot issue, generally copies-and-pastes words when it does, and considers the issue old and “scandalous” – a rather pathetic word bank, if you ask me.

But sports continue to be marketed as the Neo-Patriotism of America.  These images become holier than the American flag.  People put more money into expensive plastic food and chemical-laden, cheap beer than they do for positive things.  They accuse doctors who save lives as making too much money and sue them like crazy for malpractice, yet it’s okay to pay a football player absurd amounts of money and let him off the hook for violating people.  Even celebrities and TV are often popular for the wrong reasons.  Shows like 16 and Pregnant, Jersey Shore, and Bridezilla make me grown as I realize how many Americans idolize these shows and lifestyles.  These become “normal” ideas of the American life.  And, trust me, I see the effects of this marketing.  When Europeans turn up their noses at Americans for being lowly and when Central Africans tell you they could never stand this country and love their lives in Cameroon, that’s when you know you have problems.  We’re not the land of the free; we’re the land of big egos, stressed lifestyles, and erroneous priotization.

And don’t even get me started on politics.  I’ve come to realize it’s just a game rich people play to be famous without having any acting skills or intelligence.  If they’re so good at raising money, why don’t they pull us out of debt?  Any person who can market themselves to win Presidency is not an honest enough person to do the job, but any person honest enough to do the job would never sell themselves out to market themselves a win.  Yup, I am disgusted with the practice of advertisement and marketing.

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.