April 23, 2009

Marcia Perez on the Carpinteria Warriors

About a month ago, an e-mail debate raged over the issue of Carpinteria High School's "Warriors" nickname and mascot. Here's the first of three postings on the subject--from a mascot foe to a mascot supporter.Dear Scott:

You as a pastor (or one who holds a theology degree) of all people should see the hurt, division and dissent this issue is causing the students of Carpinteria. It is very damaging to Native children--whether you agree or not--the experts have weighed in on this and have determined it to be so. Not all people are qualified to discuss race and the history and politics that go with it. I myself hold a master in ethnic studies and it amazes me that people that have very little knowledge outside of their own racial existence that try to define and qualify racist behaviors. Ethnic studies is like any other discipline that takes years of studying, reading, researching and discussing. People of color have a little more insight (usually) by virtue of being at the receiving end thus spend far more time thinking about the issues, reading about them and discussing them. If some one Native tells you it's racist why can't you take their word for it? It is a condition of white privilege that you place your opinion above all other races of peoples without hearing what people are saying or telling you. If you love Jesus, then select a non-divisive and less controversial image so that would bring peace to your students and stop the oppression of Natives from continuing.

Indian mascots, Indian chief heads, teams calling themselves the "Redskins" is offensive to Native Americans. If we say it is offensive...then it is because only we can define ourselves. If women say certain behaviors are sexist...is it a man's place to tell her to shut up and accept it? Or should men listen to women and respect their perspective and let young girls and women define themselves as human beings and what they can achieve. Why can't Natives have that same respect in self-defining???? As a man of God you must respect each people's right in defining themselves without the oppressor forcing the Natives to accept the dominate culture's definition of race or racism.

Look, if we called a team the Blackskins and had a black man carrying a watermelon and fried chicken while tap-dancing we would all agree that is a racist image. Why can't you see the Plains Indian chief head of your childhood Westerns chanting and giving whooping war cries is offensive to us? As Natives our images are not to be photographed, much less imitated, mimicked and copied. Many of the Indian warrior traditions and celebrations are kept sacred, secret and not even the women (of some nations) were permitted to know exactly what the men did. What if a team called themselves the "Christians" or the "Popes" and drove around in little Popemobile mascot cars with crosses and made fun of the Rosary, communion and spoke in phony Latin language or tongues to imitate Christian prayers. What if they toted around the image of the cross while cheerleaders did splits to their reading of scriptures and prayers to God? And the cheerleaders bared their midriffs, belly buttons, underwear and cleavage with big Christian crosses on their half tee-shirts. Would this be blasphemous?

Everything in Indian ceremonies and warrior culture is sacred. It is our church, our connection to the creator, so to speak. We do not imitate it or mock it--ever. Our children do not run around dressing in our Native clothing "playing Indian" no one is permitted to touch our feathers before we start our dances. It is all very sacred, solemn and serious. What is the most serious and religious parts of our lives has been taken by your people and put on display for trivial sports enjoyment. You are no man of God sir, if you cannot understand this. How dare you offend my belief system, my gods, my creator. You have just done to us what is the equivalent of burning a Bible to you. Do you understand this?

I think you confuse semantics with imagery. You can use the word "warriors," you can be warriors, define the attributes of a warrior and keep the warrior spirit alive. However, you cannot use a stereotypical Native American image to perpetuate your trivial desires. Be the Viking warriors, or the Anglo-Saxon warriors, Braveheart warriors, any European image you want is up for grabs to you. There are African warriors, Mongolian warriors, Golden State warriors, etc.

Can you grow up and let our image go? Are you a big enough man of God to say "Enough!! It is only a sporting mascot, let's select something else that does not offend people or make fun of their spiritual connection with their creator (God)."

I am not of your Christian religion. I am a practicing Native American with ceremonial regalia, children that Pomo dance on our sacred days and families that gather for spiritual cleansing, sweats and sage burnings. We dance and sing in our form of "church" the round house. We teach our children what is sacred and it is undone by the mascot images you unfurl. Do you want your kids to be good Christians and respect the cross and scripture or would it be okay for us to mock and make fun of it all the while using some made up language and imitating Christian gestures.

I really believe changing the image is worth the peace and healing your community needs to have. Let your anger go. Let your ignorance go. Let your racism go. You know nothing about our Native culture and languages so please do not speak for our "warrior spirit." Speak of things you do know and be honest about things you have no clue about.

For shame on Carpinteria for threatening that Chumash child. Is this okay in anyone's eyes? Is that what your Christian side has come to? Death threats to an Indian child because he said the phony pretend Indian images offended him? If that is not the definition of racism then I do not know what could possibly be. As a man, you need to step back and really examine yourself. Do you know what Natives lived where your town is? Can you honestly say you have studied their language, their culture and their way of dress? You are intellectually dishonest and people are calling you on it. I hope you will let your love of your Jesus guide you to peace and unity.

What would your Jesus do? Good luck in finding a soul Mr. Braithwaite, because you are obviously willing to sell ours.

- Marcia Perez
California Pomo
Comment:  As a general statement of why Natives oppose Indian mascots, this is a fine job. But as we'll see, Braithwaite will claim it doesn't apply to the Carpinteria Warriors.

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

P.S. I made minor corrections to Perez's spelling and punctuation for the sake of clarity.


Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing this. There is a big part of me that hopes/dreams the sincerity in which it is written gives pause to those in this debate so that they might understand their part in the continued demoralizing characterisation of people and take responsibility and stop it. Thank you.

Stephen said...

"I myself hold a master in ethnic studies"

Which is about one of the most useless degrees on this planet.

"It is a condition of white privilege that you place your opinion above all other races of peoples without hearing what people are saying or telling you."

Ah yes the myth of white privilege (although hterosexual privilege is very real).

Anonymous said...

Dear Stephen, I am sorry you perceive a degree in Ethnic Studies (ES)as useless. It has brought me much success in life and great personal growth. The ES course work at San Francisco State is very rigorous and intense is understatement for Stanford. ES involves a deep understanding and research of U.S. and world history from all perspectives, economics, politics and de-constructing archives. I suggest you read "Disaster Capitalism" by Naomi Klein. She is a white women, but she analyzes the impact of the global markets and economic (man-made) disasters on third world countries and people of color in the U.S. It is very well written with such a detailed and scholarly methodology. This too is ethnic studies. But be warned, it is not ethnic studies 101. You would need an advance degree to understand her political and historical references. ES is not a one time read and get the degree. It is a lifetime of reading and academic exploration. Your value system is very entrenched in white privilege so it does not allow you to place any value on ethnic studies and thus it is “useless” by your definition. Let’s all be thankful you do not define my world for me. As far as white privilege being a myth. I say it is not. Where is your evidence of such a premise? So here is the dilemma: I, a woman of color, say there is white privilege. You, possibly a white male, or a male that identifies with white culture, states it is a myth (you keep company with Rush, Hannity and Michael Savage on this issue). Who is correct? Simply because you side with the white position you must be correct? That is the epitome of white privilege: that because whites believe something is to be so, then if people of color do not agree, we are wrong. Why are you more right than me? I say I have facts to prove white privilege exists. Shoe me the facts. White privilege is full of hate and thriving, you proved my point for me.

Rob said...

Alas, Simone. Scott Braithwaite, to whom Marcia Perez directed her comments, wasn't moved by them in the slightest. It's clear his mind is made up and no amount of debate will change it.

I've found it's almost impossible to change the minds of individuals with arguments such as these. These people aren't thinking rationally about the issues. They love and worship their mascots--an irrational impulse--and make up specious arguments to support them.

That's why I say I'm trying to educate the masses, not persuade individuals. I think that's about all we can hope to do. Reach out to those who are neutral or undecided or openminded enough to rethink their position--especially the young.

Rob said...

Good response, Anonymous. But don't hold your breath waiting for Stephen to support his position with anything resembling a fact. He specializes in hit-and-run sniping: denouncing something as stupid, ignorant, or racist without explaining why.

It's all part of his effort to excuse the actions of his white ancestors. Everyone else committed genocide against Indians, you see, but not them. Blacks and Indians are prejudiced too, you see, so it's wrong to denounce whites for their crimes.

Here, I'll do what Stephen can't or won't do--rebut his arguments with facts and evidence:

1) Perez referred to the experts who have shown the harm of Native stereotyping. These experts have degrees in areas such as psychology or education, so his attack on ethnic studies is irrelevant.

2) The arguments for the existence of white privilege are voluminous. Readers can peruse some of them at my posting on systemic racism.