Oh no, another sports team mascot debate. I feel exhausted already.
However, if we consider this article as a sociological artifact and do a little linguistic analysis, it gets interesting. Painful, but interesting…a field study on the side effects of political correctedness. Ready? Let’s see what we can find.
1) The article argues that the original caricature of an Indian was insensitive, whereas the new patch of tomahawks is not. The new logo is great because it pays “tribute to the franchise’s history without alienating a group of people.” (Ah, the irony of the word alien.) I notice two things here:
a) The debate is defined as an issue of courtesy and civility. It is not about genocide, broken treaties, stolen land, violated sovereignty. The author of the article sets the bounds of the debate as being about hurt feelings, not dead people.
b) The goal of the logo change is not to reverse the legacy of cultural appropriation and dehumanization. The goal is to pay tribute to history. A history in which tomahawks are a symbol of wars between white and Indian people. Wars which result in the destruction of Native civilization, culture and religion.
The franchise’s history continues, using a cultural symbol to invoke the same message as before.
2) The author states: “The [old] logo strips Native Americans of any humanity and turns them into a one-dimensional character devoid of any sympathy or tribute.” Here we find the prompts about how we are supposed to view Native people, either in sympathy (“alcoholic, unemployed, impoverished”) or in tribute (“close to the land, spiritual, noble savage”).
So, breaking it down, the old logo was bad because it encouraged non-Natives to fear and despise Native people.
The appropriate way to view Native people is to pity or idolize them.
Nothing has changed. Dehumanization continues, it just gets a new look.
3) The new logo gets the ultimate stamp of approval: “Even Hank Aaron approves.” The article doesn’t quote Hank, but the photo below shows a black man (Hank, in case you didn’t know) waving his hand and smiling. This reminds me that:
a) If a person of color (but especially a black person) approves of something, then it can’t be racist. This argument is corollary to #1 above, because the issue isn’t about injustice but about hurt feelings. If Hank says his feelings aren’t hurt, then they aren’t.
b) White people don’t have to take responsibility or understand why something they did was wrong if they can get the blessing of a black person.
c) Because even Hank approves, the message is that white people would of course approve. AHA! Here is where I clearly see the understory of the racism within the article.
On the surface, the message is that all good white people are not racist, so of course they would support this new logo. Under the surface, the message is that all good white people either know they are racist or know that black people believe they are racist.
The ultimate answer to this vague feeling of white guilt is to get the blessing of a black person for the cultural appropriation of a Native symbol which honors the legacy of white violence.
The problem with this article is that re-inscribes racism, relieves white people of responsibility, and reinforces our sense of things “getting better.” It tells us what “better” looks like. And “better” looks like more of the same.
p.s. Painful side note: in the comments below the article, the UP and DOWN votes serve to determine whose comments are displayed. If enough people vote down or flag a post, then the comment gets hidden. Reading through, I noticed that the comments by NDN (Native) people are being hidden because white-people-part-cherokee-princesses are voting them down. Look at how public discourse works to silence the minority.