Monday, February 18, 2008

Inherent Racism in Native American Mascots

By Kristen Farmer, Graduate Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

Are Native American mascots racist? This is a question that plagues hundreds of sports teams at all levels. Many say that it's a sign of respect that these teams were so named, but is the intent actually of any importance? When teams are named 'the Atlanta Braves,' 'the Florida State Seminoles,' or 'the Washington Redskins,' they make claims to a people, a culture and a religion that is being inappropriately used as a symbol for sports teams' fans to gather around. They are not celebrating the ancestry and the history of Native Americans. Instead, they are creating a symbol for a race of people. There are no teams named 'The Negroes,' 'The Jews' or 'The Asians'; why should this be any different for Native Americans. Why then should teams be permitted to have mascots called, 'The Braves' or 'The Seminoles'?

The names 'Braves' and 'Redskins' were once used as insults from the white man to the 'savages.' There are even accounts that the word 'Redskin' is derived from Natives being killed and skinned, for the collection of a bounty. Now they are celebrated as symbols for sports teams, perpetuating the myth that Native Americans were uncivilized killers. These mascots are creating stereotypes of the Native American people and undermining the efforts of their people to portray accurate images of their culture, religion and traditions. In such a politically correct culture, why is it okay to continue to ignore the protestations of Native Americans?

This race of people were exploited and oppressed from the moment Europeans landed on Americas' shores, they underwent forced assimilation and many now live on carved-out reservations that are rampant with unemployment, poverty and depression. If they ask for a mascot to be retired because it is offensive to their people and their heritage, shouldn't we respect that wish?

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