race – the final frontier

Social media protesters crash “Cowboys and Indians” party | Toronto StarIn Toronto, a group of people decide that it’ll  be fun to dress up like cowboys and Indians for a birthday party at the Rhino Bar & Grill. (Storify’d here) The owners apologize later for allowing the party in the first place.

Later, some of those who complained wondered whether anyone would’ve spoken out if the people at the party had  dressed in blackface? Or if it hadn’t been for Idle No More and social media?

Talking about blackface…

New York politician apologizes for wearing blackface to Purim party | Toronto StarIn Albany, New York, State Assemblyman Dov Hikind dresses up for a Purim party in blackface, an afro wig and basketball gear. According to the Associated Press, Hikind called public criticism of his costume “political correctness to the absurd.” A couple of weeks earlier, Hikind took offense when  “Hitler hailing” fashion designer, John Galliano, steps out dressed like a Hasid.John Galliano

“If it was just anyone else, I wouldn’t know what to say. But considering who this guy is, considering his background and what he’s said in the past, let him explain it to all of us: Are you mocking us?” Hikind told the New York Post.

Oy vey.

Black face, Red face

A conference at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian tackles a form of publicly acceptable racism – sports team logos and mascots. The conference takes place in Washington, D.C.  It’s no surprise when much of the discussion – and criticism -  is about a National Football League team called the Washington Redskins.

Morris-HS-in-Morris-IllinoiThe team’s web site responds with a statement that if its okay for high school football teams to call themselves “redskins” — it must be alright. Furthermore, the team continues, the racial slur of “redskin” actually praises Native Americans.

“We are very proud of our athletic teams and very proud to be called Redskins!”

These are the words of Coshocton High School athletic director George Hemming, who serves as the athletic director for just one of the 70 different High Schools in 25 states are known as the Redskins.

Redskins.com found that there are almost as many schools using the name Redskins as Cowboys, as only 75 schools use the name Cowboys, and interestingly just 19 use the name Giants.

Comments by fans on the team’s web site praise the owner’s decision to keep the “Redskins” name and logo. But increasingly, sports writers and increasing numbers of fans refuse to go along. No one says why better than Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post:

This is just a guess, unlike the Redskins.com scientific method of surveying high schools on MaxPreps. But I’m willing to hazard that most 10th graders don’t realize a team calling itself Redskins might as well rename itself the Darkies, Guidos, or Slant Eyes. I’m pretty sure they are unaware that the term Redskins dates to the settler era when hunters boasted about shooting down “damned government pets” and peddled Indian scalps as if they were animal pelts along with deerskins and bearskins.

It’s (Washington Redskins owner, Daniel) Snyder’s favorite ploy to summon “history” and “heritage” to defend his use of a term that belongs in the same class as Dagos, Hymies and Krauts. By history, Snyder seems to mean the apocryphal notion that team owner George Preston Marshall meant to “honor” Lone Star Dietz (a native American football player) with the name of the team. A real reading of history shows that, actually, Marshall was a virulent racist and segregationist who liked to play Slave and Master. According to Thomas G. Smith’s book “Showdown,” when Marshall proposed to his wife, he hired black performers to dress up as chattel and sing “Carry Me Back to old Virginny.” He once said, “We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites.” He also once said, in answer to the charge that he was anti-Semitic, “I love Jews, especially when they’re customers.” It’s far more probable that when Marshall invested in the team known back then as the Boston Braves, he simply renamed it to differentiate it from the baseball team.

Can you imagine

Some professional sports teams have already changed their offensive logos or names. The Cleveland Indians dropped their “Chief Wahoo” logo (images at right) and replaced it with a stylized “Indians” typeface.

The Atlanta Braves dumped  their “screaming Indian” logo for a single letter “A”.Indian braves logo Unfortunately, there are reports that the team might go back to the “screaming Indian” logo (see left).

Just the other day, Ottawa’s new professional basketball team decided to change its team’s name but only after a concerned Ojibway made a lot of noise that went viral over social media. See for yourself how similar the excuses are to those of the Washington Redskins.

But the basketball team’s owner, Gus Takkale said the Tomahawk name, which was selected after a public team-naming competition, is referencing a type of slam dunk rather than First Nations culture.

“It’s a dunk made famous by legendary basketball players like Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan,” he said. “When you actually do it, perform it in a game, it’s astonishing. The crowd fills with excitement, it shifts the entire momentum of the game. So that excitement is what we want to link our brand to.

“We understand that it’s a tool that was used in the history many years ago. We’ve done our homework and we’ve spoken to various First Nations groups and we continue to speak with them as well, to be open and transparent with what we want to do.”

Yep, you got it right. He argued that a racial slur is really a compliment. Sound familiar? To be fair, the Ottawa team says it’ll change its name but I’ll bet that Jigaboos, Chinks or Wops aren’t on anybody’s list.

Campeau has been after another local team. This one is called the “Nepean Redskins”. It’s part of the Ottawa region’s “National Amatuer (sic) Football Association“.

What is it with sports teams in our national capital cities?

Most sports writers stayed away from this controversy. One who offered a defense cloaked his argument under a thin veneer of journalistic balance. I present Ottawa Sun columnist,

Those jumping to cry racism should reflect on the thought process that goes into naming a sports team.

You’re gunning for something that’s known to evoke respect and awe. Flames. Predators. Panthers. Vikings. Senators. Titans. Giants. Raiders. Chargers. Symbols of strength and power. Things you don’t mess with. You’re never going to hear of a serious sports team called the Nepean Nerds or the Kanata Kowards.

Clearly, the team name Redskins — whether they be in Washington or Nepean — is meant as something of a compliment.

Bull roar! Heard that crap before.

The problem with racial name games is that not everyone within a certain group would agree. It would be narrow-minded to take Campeau as a representative of all First Nations peoples.

Just because you are a member of one demographic, doesn’t mean you speak for all. In fact I’ve been told a number of Aboriginal people in the league are actually opposed to a name change.

So Furey’s “been told”  not all Indigenous people are offended by the team’s name, as though unanimity is required to get rid of a racist team name and logo. Does that really justify its continued use?

Head over to the Ottawa Sun to look at two videos embedded on this linked page. The video at the top is Ian Campeau’s statement. At the bottom of the page is an interview by Furey with Sun sports writer, Tim Baines. It’s of the “aw shucks, they should suck it up and who’s it hurtin’ anyway?” variety.

racism ruins livesWe can’t even begin the debate on systemic racism in Canada or how it affects Indigenous peoples as long as racial slurs and insults are acceptable for use by public institutions and corporations for mass entertainment and youth recreation.

It’s just plain wrong. It promotes racism. It damages peoples’ lives. It’s destructive.

Nuff sed.

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Filed under Aboriginal peoples, Canada, human rights, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous rights, journalism, racism, Uncategorized, United States

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