August 07, 2008

"Back to the reservation for U"

Petitioners seek BYU apology for racist incidentUniversity of Utah graduate Debra Yazzie and the Coalition to Protect American Indian Rights are seeking an apology for racist behavior on Nov. 9, 2007, at a volleyball game in Provo, Utah.

Photos taken at a West Mountain Conference volleyball game between the University of Utah and the Brigham Young University show an unidentified fan holding up a dry eraser board with the words "Trail of Tears Part II" and "Back to the reservation for U."
The school's position on mascots:"Although the University of Utah no longer endorses the 'Ute' name as a mascot but rather as a nickname for its athletic teams, unfortunately with the continued use of the Ute name, many fans of rival university's take up the name an use it in a racist, hostile, and abusive contexts," said Yazzie.

"Native people are always being stereotyped and the more schools use Native people or images as a mascot it opens doors for bigotry and racial discrimination," she said.
Comment:  This is a mildly interesting case because the university is in an intermediate position. It's banned its mascot but still uses an Indian name (Utes).

Yazzie's explanation of the incident is plausible. The mascot's history plus the continued use of the "Utes" name encourages students to think in racial terms. Thus they say thoughtless things such as "Back to the Reservation for U" or "Trail of Tears Part II." To them "Utes" are basketball players, not real Indians.

Even if only one student produced the signs, you have to wonder. She obviously felt comfortable displaying them in public. That suggests the problem is much larger than one student's insensitivity. It's not as if the people around her groaned or shouted her down once they saw the signs.

Of course, she and her fellow BYU students are probably Mormons. They probably think Indians are one of the lost tribes of Israel. They're probably ignorant of how real Indians think and feel. Which is why they hoisted their sign.

Fortunately, the university reacted appropriately: denouncing the sign, banning the student from using it again, and apologizing to those who were offended. That's good. Every time we protest an incident such as this, people learn a lesson. Next time they'll be less likely to do something similar when the opportunity arises.

For more on the subject, see Team Names and Mascots.


Anonymous said...

Come on, Rob... You whine in this article about Racism, yet you call out those attending BYU as Mormons (Which, hello… It’s owned by their church. That’s like saying that people that attend Notre Dame are "probably" Catholics… I’m sure that’s pretty much understood.) and accuse them of being ignorant to the feelings of others? Now YOU’RE the one being the bigot, ripping on Mormons. And for your information, a large majority of those that attend the U of U are Mormons too! My grandpa, mother, father, one of my sisters and SEVERAL of my cousins graduated from the U, and guess what? They are all good Mormons who are not ignorant of ANYONES feelings. Your comments make NO sense. But fine; you want to talk about Ignorance? How about the University of Utah CONTINUING to use the Ute’s as their mascot?? They can say all they want, that they “banned” their mascot, but just as Yazzie said, they kept the name… They are they ignorant ones thinking that they can keep a name like that, and NOT think that everyone else will continue to think of them in the same terms. That would be like BYU choosing to “ban” the cougar as their mascot, but to keep the "cougar" name and hope that people would think it means something other than a mountain lion… That’s just not going to happen. And as for the BYU fan that made the sign, I can ASSURE you, that the comment was not meant to be racist at all! They were simply attacking the MASCOT, which every other school out there does, but this time it was taken out of context, since the Utah UTES refuse to change their name. If the Native Americans are to get angry at someone for this situation, it should be the University of Utah and their lack of respect FOR the Native Americans to change their school name to something other than the Utes, to avoid situations like this in the first place.

Rob said...

For my response to your comments, Anonymous, see Mormons, Utes, and Rob the "Bigot."