Recent events have allowed mainstream media to paint a picture of Asian American and Native American communities as being at odds in #NotYourMascot: the fight to call on Washington R*dskins owner Dan Snyder to change the name and mascot of his NFL team, both of which are deplorable examples of redface stereotypes against Native peoples. Sadly, in the aftermath of the last two weeks and the attention placed on Asian American advocacy, Native peoples have been functionally “edited out” of their own campaign.
Yet, anti-racist work is a work that should bring together people of colour, not divide us. This week, the AAPI blogging community is dedicating a week of posts in solidarity with our Native brothers and sisters to try and raise awareness for #NotYourMascot and the R*dskins controversy. Many AAPI blogs have committed to writing posts in support of #NotYourMascot, and we will also be re-tweeting the powerful and compelling writing of Native writers.
Please check out all the blogs participating in this week of solidarity and bookmark this post, which will be aggregating all the writing done this week.
Please also check back for updates.
This post was last updated April 17th 12:00PM EST.
Posts Written in Week of Solidarity with #NotYourMascot
When I became a parent, I kept my children as underexposed as possible from faux-Native American images and portrayals. I didn’t want them knowing what any of that felt like. Frankly, it’s impossible. The imagery is everywhere, and so are the Native mascots. I tried to combat them on my own, with no success. Regular Americans didn’t see the harm, not even after the research backed by the 2008 American Psychological Association study stating that American Indian mascots were harmful to American Indian students’ self-esteem. Dismantling other people’s “innocent fun” was too much trouble, no matter how worthwhile it would be to help out the group of Americans with the highest suicide rate.
…Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redsk*ns, created an odious foundation to help Native Americans last week. Yet again, I felt like that teenage girl sitting up in the bleachers. I didn’t cry this time, and I wasn’t alone. I was live chatting with other EONM strategists. Reading what they had to say about what we all felt was an obvious ploy to buy us—to silence us with money.
We wanted to do something. I told the group that I was going to tape money over my mouth, take a picture, and add the hashtag #Not4Sale beneath it, to illustrate our responses to the “Washington Redsk*ns Original Americans Foundation” in a single picture. It is what I did, and what we did. Then it became what other Native Americans did. However, these actions only lead to a happier childhood for American Indian children if change is what follows.
I forget that most people, even other people of color, have never met a Native American. That the figure they have in their minds is some kind of rough construct adorned in feathers and wearing fringed buckskin and saying little. When they meet me, with my long, black hair and dark eyes and high cheekbones, it doesn’t occur to me that they may be trying to fit me into that jumble of stereotypes they carry around. I have always seen myself, until now, as a member of this group of PoC journalists and activists.
“Native Mascotry” is a term I coined to describe the practices that surround a Native mascot. It’s not just about the static image of the mascot, be it somewhat noble and prosaic or an ugly caricature with a feather on top. It’s the creative license such mascots gives fans to reenact outdated stereotypes, to “play Indian.” These practices include: the wearing of Redface, the misuse of Native regalia and the chanting of fake, hokey war chants and tomahawk chops. This year at the Rose Bowl, a group of Florida State University students each held up a letter to spell “Scalp Em,” yetthisdid not inspire our Twitter allies into#CancelColbertlevels of action. (And yes, there was a Native hashtag for it,#RedfaceDisgrace.)
…And what is the antidote to these stereotypes that fill the minds of so many of our fellow Americans, regardless of ethnic background? It is hearing and seeing Native people in the media and social media as we are today. We must not only challenge these images but also fill the void left once we get rid of them. And I do believe we will get rid of Native mascots. I also think that each time we remind our allies and reach out to journalists who forget about us in their coverage, things will get better there, too.
…We really can talk to our allies and to the media. They will listen. But we have to speak up
As a Chinese-American, I can imagine how disturbed I would be if the Washington franchise were known as the Yellowskins, or if the team that played at Jacobs Field were called the Cleveland Chinese and had some squinty-eyed Fu Manchu character on its baseball caps. This is not just a concern for Native Americans. It is a concern for all Americans.
—- Eugene Hung, Dallas
As an Asian American, and as a person who is dedicated to anti-racist activism, I am always at danger of focusing too much onto my own work; it is my duty to remember that I share a mutual goal with other people of colour in wanting to see an end to racism and racial discrimination in our world. And while our specific foci, angles and tactics might differ (as well it should), it is essential that we push back against our own tendencies to become too specialized, too factionalized and too isolated from one another. Instead we must reach out to one another, work together, form alliances and recognize our common goals. We must allow our individual efforts to integrate with one another rather than to interfere with one another; only by doing so can we hope to achieve a critical mass of anti-racist work that can challenge institutionalized racism and white supremacy.
That it took me this long to say something about #NotYourMascot is my fault, and for that I apologize.
#NotYourMascot is a common sense fight, one that by itself deserved primacy over the last two weeks; one that did not deserve to be distracted from. #NotYourMascot is a fight for anyone who wants to see the world less racist, a world where we don’t treat people of colour like mascots, where we respect Native people in particular and all people of colour, in general.
In short, #NotYourMascot is not just a Native issue and doesn’t deserve to be treated like one; #NotYourMascot is an issue that deserves the full and vocal support from all of us — particularly every person of colour — and anyone else who has dedicated ourselves to challenging racism.
And yes, that includes Asian Americans.
Our struggles with racism as Native Americans are different, but we have to work through them with our children too. Similarities between what we go through are often comparable between nationalities and races. The same racial divisions of being too light or too dark skinned to be considered truly a part of our race or ethnic group exist. People, Native and non-Native, use our skin tone as a weapon to deny our identity no matter how connected we feel inwardly. Whenever a member of our ethnicity does something socially or legally wrong, we feel all of us get blamed equally for their behavior. Other people use those instances to belittle us. They see us as just like the “wrong-doers”, even though we aren’t.
Often times words or object imagery that have been associated with our culture, usually stereotypical, are used in conversation to demoralize us. Once I have identified myself as Cherokee, many times, the words peace-pipe, tomahawk, scalping, tipi, “fire water” and other “stereotypical Native iconography” is used. I see similar things happen with other races as well. How many times have you seen watermelons and chicken thrown at black people? How many times have you seen chopsticks and rhyming phrases like “sing-song” hurled at Asian-Americans?
Just yesterday I was told that I was a racist because I married outside of my ethnicity. Because of that, my children aren’t really Native American anymore. I have seen similar attacks lodged against other POC (people of color). Often times, it is so hard for me to get non-Natives to understand that we are in a racism crisis. They are busy combating their racism and their own similar struggles. It doesn’t matter that the racism they experience is in a less institutionalized and corporatized way, because it still exists for them as well. Many times, they see our lack of progress as proof that their is a lack of racism. I often explain that our progress has been so minuscule due to our small population. Also, our unique political status is used to evade making legislation to protect us as a minority group. To top it all off, we are the first generations out of the residential school era.
They are right in finding that we’re behind. We can be so much further ahead if all the people how care about abolishing racism can help pull us up.
Racial mascots like the Indians’ Chief Wahoo aren’t something to be proud of; they’re a lingering disgrace. They serve to dehumanize a people who’ve been subjected over the span of America’s existence and beyond to an innumerable series of abuses and betrayals. They bury some of the worst aspects of our nation’s history under piles of printed polyester and plastic gimcrackery. They encourage new generations of young Americans to believe that racialized imagery is acceptable and appropriate, just so long as it’s being used for fun, for laughs, for entertainment….even when the subject of that imagery is not the one having fun, laughing or being entertained.
It took Mickey Rooney 40 years to regret his role in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” but he had little leverage to redress it even if he’d wanted to. He couldn’t change his filmed performance or ban its distribution. As an entertainer, it is a permanent part of his legacy. Maybe the biggest part: Most of his movies, from the Andy Hardy series to his partnerships with Judy Garland, have largely passed into the category of quaint, half-remembered nostalgia. But “Breakfast,” with the luminous Audrey Hepburn at its center, has not. And even those who decry the PC police can’t deny that Rooney’s performance, the one that has likely been seen by more people than any other, is the most unpleasant and uncomfortable part of an otherwise classic film.
Sports teams like the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins have a luxury that Rooney didn’t have as an entertainer. They control how they’re depicted; they own their brands. Which means it’s fully within their power to eliminate the ugly trappings of racial mascotry from their corporate identities and merchandising.
And while they may pay a short-term price for doing so, the long term benefits more than outweigh it: They will have removed a set of cancerous growths from the face of our popular culture, and established new legacies for their franchises, marked by goodwill, grace, humility and sensitivity. That would be something to truly make their fans proud. That’s what it’s “all about.”
As a mom, I’m disgusted by the idea of kids and youth being exposed to these images. Just like I wouldn’t want my kids to grow up seeing white actors in yellow face (read Jeff Yang’s Wall Street Journal piece about Mickey Rooney’s role in Breakfast at Tiffany’s), or anybody mocking the Chinese language with “ching chong” sounds, I don’t want my kids to think it’s okay to denigrate other cultures — or just as bad — think they are somehow “honoring” Native culture with stereotypes. And since many of us live in communities where we may not meet any Native Americans, it’s easy to overlook racist misrepresentations or accept these familiar symbols as just part of Americana.
…[But,] children aren’t innately programmed to mock people who are different from them. Quite the opposite, I think people have an instinct for sympathy, but when we see imagery that shows people of a certain race as less civilized or just plain weird, it chips away at that humanity.
While sports mascots painted with red faces and festooned with feathers and fake symbols are the most egregious offenders, those stereotypes begin as early as the picture books we read to our toddlers.
The Haka is an ancestral war cry and dance of the indigenous M?ori people in New Zealand. The All Blacks have performed the Haka for over a century. The dance is meant to both motivate and intimidate; and is usually performed before matches. It was originally performed for international tests played away from home, first introduced by New Zealand natives in 1889 during test matches in England, and it has since become a tradition like no other in international sports.
…It has long been a point of pride that European New Zealanders or “P?keh?” have had a mostly positive relationship with the native M?ori. The Treaty of Waitangi, which established a British Governor of New Zealand, but recognized M?ori ownership of their lands and other properties, and gave the M?ori the rights of British subjects, was called the “fairest treaty ever made by Europeans with a native race,” as described in the online Encyclopedia of New Zealand, which provides a nice, concise history of M?ori-P?keh? relations. This was by no means perfect. This kind of power dynamic will never be without its share of issues, but the tradition of the Haka in New Zealand’s national pastime is telling.
Particularly when you consider the ongoing controversy here in the U.S. over NFL owner Daniel Snyder’s insistence on using a racial slur toward American natives as the mascot for his Washington DC football team. The All Blacks tradition comes in stark contrast to Snyder’s parading of Native Americans on the field during half-time on Monday Night Football.
The All Blacks’ Haka is not your synchronized “Indian” chant and hand-chop of the Atlanta Braves or Florida Seminoles. It is not the act of European colonists co-opting native traditions. The active participation of the M?ori, both in the sport of rugby, and in defining the Haka tradition, has kept it from turning into its more farcical American counterparts.
These past few weeks, Twitter and Facebook alike have been wrought with incessant infighting and harmful drawing of divisive lines. Let’s bring the fight back to #NotYourMascot and show that all POCs are in this anti-racist fight together. Check out the link for a list of blogs that have something important to say about the shameful in-your-face racism still prolific in our society.
I’m a football fan. Would I watch Washington Redskins games any less often if they were called the Washington Redapples? I could not care less. I would watch them. Currently, I try not to watch them, because the name “Redskins” is so insulting.
Change the name. Could you make any more profit, as a team in the NFL, the most lucrative sport in America? Not really. Would your profitability suffer? No chance of that. Football is not going anywhere, so to speak.
Is it an opportunity to make the world a finer place? Yes it is. Because the name “Redskins” speaks to a history of injustice and suffering. It describes an immature America that we’d all do well to leave behind.
This week, Asian American Bloggers have been asked to join with Native Americans whose opportunity to be the subject of a national conversation on the continued use of derogatory sports team names was co-opted by some folks very quick to hashtag.
The Fairy Princess joins this conversation, not only as an internet observer, not only as an “Asian American blogger’, but she joins the conversation as someone who has visited a Reservation.
She joins the conversation as the daughter of a man who was “Tribal Council Judge” to a Native American tribe.
…The Fairy Princess is not a casual observer of the fights that Native Americans have been involved in, she has been an participant – helping with paperwork and research, phone calls and so on. She has actually been to “The Res”, where she felt the wind whip through her bones. She has met and talked frequently with Native Americans in her life- obviously the ones her Father represented, and others whom she met and worked with in a show business career.
(The Fairy Princess does not believe this makes her better than anyone, she just wants to note that this is not her first time observing the way we ignore Native Americans and their issues.)
While The Fairy Princess is not Native American in any way, she understands, as a student of history and as a Person of Color in America, why images and names of sports teams, matter.
They matter because they hurt.
We wish that the “Washington R**skins Original Americans Foundation” was just the punchline of a racist joke gone horribly wrong. In reality, it’s nothing short of you slapping Native communities in the face and calling it a handshake. And now, between the football team and your joke of a foundation, you’ve got two ways to perpetuate Native mascotry.
If you’re as committed to responding to the needs of Native peoples as you claim to be, then respond to the repeated requests to change the name. Because this has been — and continues to be — a clearly articulated need from the Native community.
We demand that you change both the name and mascot of the Washington R**skins.
In order to better understand the “Not Your Mascot” movement, I wanted to visualize what it might be like if Asian Americans were subjected to the same kind of sports mascotry.
So, I re-imagined some teams you should recognize with uniforms and fan wear like anything you might find at Foot Locker or Champs.
Elsewhere in the country, there have been similar name changes, some of them shockingly recent. In 1980, Pekin, Illinois’ high school changed its name from the “Pekin Chinks” to the “Pekin Dragons” (click here to see how “Chinks” and “Chinklettes” dressed in 1971). In 2002, a high school in a Dallas suburb changed its nickname from the “Fighting Coons” to the “Fighting Raccoons.” And in 2010, the University of Mississippi replaced its former mascot, a white plantation owner who sported a goatee and a cane, with its current Rebel Black Bear.
“It’s ridiculous to be going into 2014 and still have a name like [R—skins] out there,” says the Fremont, CA-based Chief Great Owl Lightning of the First Nation of Ojibwe of California. “Americans need to understand that we’re a race of people that doesn’t just exist in Hollywood and mythology. We’re still around. We have lives and families like everyone else.”
Similar to racial slurs like “Ching Chong” which are offensive to Chinese and other Asian Americans, the term “Redskin” is offensive to Native Americans and
wholly inappropriate to be included in the name of a professional athletic organization or a charitable foundation intended to support the Native American
community. Asian Americans Advancing Justice stands in solidarity with the Oneida Indian Nation, which is leading the Change the Mascot campaign, in its efforts to stop Washington DC’s NFL team from further propagating and profiting from a racial slur.
As one of the few AAPI organizational supporters of the Change the Mascot campaign, we encourage more AAPI groups and leaders to lend their support for the original issue at hand – pressuring Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder to change the offensive name of his team.
For it to have taken so long for me to awaken to the incredible pain and suffering of Native Americans, I am truly sorry. If you, kind reader, have native heritage or ancestry, I sincerely ask your forgiveness.
I will do my best to be a thoughtful ally, if you will have me. One thing I do want to try is to begin sending tweets to free agents who are mentioned in possible moves to Washington and to Washington’s future draft picks. I’ll ask them to please not sign with the team, but to take their talents, well, elsewhere. Athletes are so concerned with their personal brand these days, that if we can make it so odious to them to be associated with the Washington franchise, they will sign with rivals. Mr. Snyder may not mind financial losses, given his personal wealth. But if Mr. Snyder’s team can’t attract good players, they will lose more games. And my hunch is that he will mind more losing seasons.
And perhaps that will help persuade him to finally lose the name.
The rest of my cousins and uncles remain ‘Skins fans to this day. On Sundays in the fall, my newsfeed is filled with posts about how RGIII will save the franchise, followed quickly with posts about how RGIII is the worst thing to ever happen to the franchise. And they will all vehemently defend the mascot and the nickname. That’s the part I will never understand. If Dan Snyder changed the name tomorrow, the team they rooted for and remember still remains. Why, other than nostalgia, would they want to cling to such a horrible word?
This is where my relationship to the Washington football team is notcomplicated. The same nostalgia that fuels fanboys to rage whenever a non-white person plays their favorite white superhero on screen is the same nostalgia that blinds otherwise reasonable people to defend an unreasonable nickname. Here’s the thing, though. If Snyder finally stopped digging in his heels and changed the name to, say, theWashington Pigskins, how many of these die-hard fans would abandon ship? Not many, I’d guess1 (and really, if a fan left because you got rid of a racist mascot/nickname, I’d say good riddance.) In fact, a name change might even increase the number of fans who claim Washington’s football team as their own.
Of course, there are limits around how far we can/should take these parallels between Native and Asian issues and experiences. But in this common understanding of what it feels like to be be reduced to kitsch and caricature, there is the opportunity and necessity to go all in together. Asian Americans, as another relatively small (but fast growing) racial group, have also felt like we were shouting into the wind, laboring to be seen and heard on our own terms — beyond buckteeth and slanted eyes, chopsocky and dragon ladies. We’ve come to appreciate the support and significance of allies, and building community beyond the usual suspects (shameless shoutout to #BuildDontBurn).
The Washington R*dsk*ns, Chief Wahoo, the Atlanta Braves — shouldn’t be viewed as solely a “Native” cause. Because the underlying issue — cultural (mis)appropriation and the lurking racism that props it up — is a shared one. Changing even one Native mascot is a win for AAPIs, because it chips away at the system that supports these stereotyped symbols, and shifts the public’s understanding around what is and what is not acceptable. What is paying respect and what is plain ol’ racism. We can do better and go farther together…and that’s how we’ll win.
I am a Cleveland Indian.
No — I’m not referring to that grotesque caricature, “Chief Wahoo,” the Cleveland Indians baseball team uses as its mascot. What I mean is that I was born in Cleveland — a child of U.S. Relocation and Termination policies meant to make native American tribes disappear. The purported goal of these Termination-era congressional laws and resolutions was to “liberate Indians” from the wardship of the U.S. government. But what they did, in fact, was eliminate tribes’ federally recognized status, sovereignty, and force the sell-off of tribal assets and land. These policies also led to the loss of a generation of young people to urban centers — many of whom, like my parents, never returned home.
What I didn’t understand then was that I was using an outside standard to judge my family and myself. My Indianness. These fake things seemed real to me; the pictures, the chew, the mascots, the frozen ceramic figurines, and I saw myself through the prism of their existence. As I was growing up and learning to navigate the often treacherous waters of American Indian identity, I am grateful for Grandma’s guidance, like an internal compass, always telling me which way to go.
And those that defend these depictions say things like, “you ought to be proud of the icon on the side of the helmet; for he is a handsome depiction of your people.” NO! I reject this image and standard-bearer. I will not be held captive by these false ideas, pictures and words. I get out and break free from the identity it wants for me. I know now that racism and assimilation played and continue to play dual roles in exploiting these images to dictate a false ideal. Add capitalism to the mix and you’ve got big business profiting from the commodification of these fabricated forms. Day after day, month after month, year upon year, costume after costume, game after game, over and over and over again with thousands of permutations of the same old thing.
The cost of changing a name can be in the millions. Tripathi cites standard estimates of between $3-$15 million, which includes legal and consulting fees, alteration of merchandise and the replacement of physical touchpoints like stadium murals and signage. There’s also a measurable short-term reduction in box office revenue from disaffected fans.
“But that’s a drop in the bucket,” notes Tripathi—given that the Indians generate revenue of nearly $200 million a year. “And it’s a one-time cost. Meanwhile, if you think about the impact they’re taking from Native mascotry—the damage to brand equity, the subsequent reduction in pricing power—well, in that context, a one-time hit like that is just not a big deal. And there’s a flip side to that as well: You might actually see an increase in sales.”
Which brings us to the Washington Redskins.
Here is something that one can only learn through experience: a group eventually comes to take on the character of the core around which the group has coalesced. The name of your sports teams matters, because the value embedded in the names will seep into the fandom. This truth can only be learned through experience because it is purely inductive. There may not be a logical compulsion leading to this conclusion, but the entire human experience is behind it.
…There should be no serious debate that the name “Redskins” is noxious. It makes a racial slur appear normal. It reduces living, breathing humans into a permanent stereotype, which is then printed on uniforms, caps, t-shirts and flags that become ubiquitous in our living spaces. That Redskins is by far the most popular sports team in the Washington D.C. area should be worrisome. That Asian Americans of this area (recall that D.C.-Maryland-Virginia metro area has the nation’s third largest Korean American concentration) would use “Redskins” as the magic word to gain acceptance in the mainstream society should be even more worrisome.
The Asian Pacific Coalition has a close relationship with the American Indian Student Association at UCLA. The Asian American Studies Center and the American Indian Studies Center share a space in the same hall on the UCLA campus. As such, we recognize the histories of struggle that both our communities have faced. According to the Asian Pacific Coalition’s Principles of Unity, we support the positive and accurate portrayals of Asian Pacific peoples, women, and minorities. We recognize how important it is for marginalized people to have a voice in how they are portrayed. We strongly believe that the use of American Indian stereotypes and racial slurs as mascots and team names is highly offensive and disrespectful to the history of genocide and continued racism against American Indian peoples.
Therefore we are in solidarity with the Native American community and support the Eradicate Offensive Native Mascotry (EONM) in their demand for the Washington Redsk*ns football team to end the use of the racial slur “redskins” as their mascot and name. We are calling upon the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell to support the changing of the Washington Redsk*n’s name and mascot and to end the fan practice of redface in their NFL games. The continued usage of this or any racial slur against the repeated demands of the American Indian community is damaging, hurtful, and ultimately unacceptable.
That was my reaction to the U.S. Patent Office’s recent decision to cancel several of the Washington R*dskins trademarks. Whether it was more consequential from a legal or symbolic standpoint is being analyzed and debated in plenty of other publications, so I won’t attempt to wade into that discussion here. But as you may be able to discern from my previous two columns on this blog, the R*dskins name has been an issue I’ve felt strongly about for a long time.
…As an Asian American, and as a father to Asian American daughters, I have a major stake in this. True, the “Redskins” slur isn’t directly aimed at me and my daughters. But it’s important for me – and for all Asian Americans – to care about this matter, not only because fellow human beings are deeply demeaned and psychologically harmed by it, and not only because it concerns the decency of our society, but also because what affects one minority group affects all people of color. We’re all in this together.
Blogs & Organizations Participating Through Sharing & Retweeting
Here are many ongoing ways you can participate:
- Sign this petition by 18millionrising (@18millionrising) telling Dan Snyder and the Washington R*dskins that you do not support their team name and mascot!
- Sign this petition by EONM (@EONMassoc) over at Change.org, opposing the Washington R*dskins!
- Send an email (Wylliet@redskins.com) or a snail mail letter (Dan Snyder c/o Redskin Park; 21300 Redskin Park Dr.; Ashburn, VA 20147) to the Washington R*dskins administration asking them to change the team name.
- Participate in the #Not4Sale campaign to protest Dan Snyder’s offensive creation of a “philanthropic” organization to purchase the goodwill of Native people. Retweet photos shared to this hashtag to help send the message that Native people are not for sale.
- Bookmark Eradication of Native Mascotry (EONM) and follow them on Twitter (@eonmassoc)
- Please add any additional links you think would be useful to the comments section below as an additional resource.
Shout-Outs: A huge thank you to Cynthia Brothers (@cindybro1), Ursula Liang (@ursulaliang), and Jeff Yang (@originalspin) for taking the lead in coordinating this week of solidarity among AAPI bloggers.