As of late, the topic of “offensive mascots” in sports has resurfaced, specifically with reference to the Washington Redskins. Although this topic oftentimes circulates, there seems to be very little action taken towards changing the name of questionable mascots. Yet the controversy abounds, as evidenced by the recent Native American demonstration outside the nationally televised Dallas-Washington Monday night football game in Texas.
Invariably, (and predictably) people tend to opine quite passionately on each side of this issue when the topic arises. The arguments vary from allusions to tradition and history by those who wish to maintain the “status quo”, to accusations of bigotry and racism by those who are calling for changes to be made. The “maintain status quo” crowd claims the groups calling for mascot name changes are being overly sensitive. The “make name changes” crowd claims that those who cling to questionable mascots are being insensitive.
Who is right?
Who is wrong?
Let us consider the perspective of “the maintain status quo” crowd.
I can well recall my perspective when I first became aware that there even was an issue relative to team mascots. I thought the whole debate was simply ridiculous. I had grown up a baseball fan, and in particularly was taken with Hank Aaron, the great Atlanta Braves slugger who eventually broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record. As Hammerin’ Hank neared the record, the role of the longtime Braves’ mascot Chief Noc-A-Homa took on a more than significant meaning to baseball fans of the early ‘70s. In fact, during the period of time en route to Aaron’s eventual overtaking of The Babe on the All Time Home Run list, Chief Noc-A-Homa was perhaps the best known and most beloved of all baseball mascots.
I had likewise attended Texas Rangers baseball games in my home community of DFW, and more than once I had the opportunity to watch them compete against the Cleveland Indians. It never occurred to me when I saw the Chief Wahoo caricature on the opposition’s caps that such was somehow insensitive or offensive. I merely wanted my Rangers to beat the visiting Cleveland club. The image of the Native American with the silly looking grin on his face was of no concern to me one way or the other.
Such is the perspective of the unaffected and the historically biased with regards to racial insensitivity. Unfortunately, such is the perspective of conditioned ignorance which can lead to selective insensitivity.
I myself unwittingly maintained a historic bias with regards to racially insensitive mascots and logos.
My historical bias was of course that of a sports fan. My perspective was to view mascots such as Atlanta’s Chief Noc-A-Homa and Cleveland’s Chief Wahoo as merely an aspect of the sports fan experience. I never would have thought to associate Chief Noc-A-Homa’s Tee Pee in the stands as making fun of or insensitive towards the Native American people. Nor would I have thought of the silly grin on Chief Wahoo’s face as somehow disrespectful towards or demeaning of Native American persons. But the reason for my clueless perspective was that I was viewing such through the prism of a sports fan with no depth of thought as to unintended effect.
But my thinking on the matter was likewise clouded by yet another historical bias. For my historical bias as to offensive mascots was not only that of a sports fan, but likewise my historical bias was that of being the product of a less racially sensitive time than even now.
Granted, the ‘60s and ‘70s (my school years) were times of growth, maturity, and progress with reference to race relations. Yet, those were likewise times of awkwardness, frustration, and insensitivity towards minorities as caucasians and minorities alike adjusted to the concept of social equality. Now in some ways these were mere “growing pains”, yet there was an undercurrent of a more problematic nature which made the transition uncomfortable and in some cases unbearable for minorities in general. There were doubtless positive strides made towards social equality, but looking back I think we were more slow to be SENSITIVE to the feelings of minorities in the process than we likely realized. Frankly, there was a sense of condescension as minorities were allowed to “come on board” so to speak, that left an impression that we caucasians were doing some sort of favor for African Americans and others by accepting them onto the same side of the street, into the same public schools, and yes; even into the same public restrooms. Consequently, there was undoubtedly an intensified frustration for minorities who were being “allowed” into a mainstream public, when that public included restaurants with names like Sambos and where influential city personnel and public officials had lawn ornaments of little black boys with white hats and silly grins.
The transition of race relations in the ‘60s and ‘70s was frankly slow and tedious, and our thinking was unfortunately still clouded by an assumed superiority and a sometimes unintentional yet nonetheless ever hurtful insensitivity to people who had been subjugated and separated for no fault of their own save the ignorance and arrogance of our own forefathers.
But that was then, and this is now.
Frankly, the times of unintentional insensitivity are times of the past. As lame as the excuses were then, there simply are no longer viable excuses for vile conduct. We caucasians have had plenty of time to finally grow up and get over our assumed superiority over the minorities of our society.
It is time that we stop telling others what is and is not offensive, and time for us to LISTEN to others as they ENLIGHTEN US as to the realities of insensitivity and inappropriateness.
It is time for us to accept that ours is not to assume that we know what is and is not acceptable, and time for us to LISTEN to others as they ENLIGHTEN US as to what is and what is not appropriate.
I am convinced that the burden of responsibility is upon society to listen to AND to defer as a matter of respect to minorities with reference to any and all mascots that they deem offensive, and make the necessary adjustments post haste. If that means that the name Redskins needs to go the way of the name of Sambo’s, then so be it. If that means Chief Wahoo needs to go the way of racist lawn ornaments then so be it. If that even means that mascots such as Chiefs (my favorite NFL team as it were), Braves, and Warriors need to go by the wayside as well, then so be it.
The responsibility is not for minorities to “grow up by giving in” to the will of the caucasian driven society, but rather the time is come for society to be sensitive to and willingly defer to the feelings of all people.
The place is not society’s to dictate to minorities what should and should not be offensive to them. Rather the time has come for society to be sensitive towards the feelings of all people and acquiesce to those who request change as a matter of respect for their heritage and their culture.
Frankly, the time has come for a culture which claims to be founded upon Christian values to practice what their principles preach. It is time to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us”.
It is time to stop hiding behind lame excuses of pure intent, and time to make respectful changes necessary to demonstrate pure intent.
It is time to be sensitive towards the feelings of others.
It is time to actually care about the effect that our social actions have on others.
It is time for our society to grow up and do the right thing.