October 20, 2009

Redskins mascot = old black man

On the sidelines, the sad symbol of a sorry tradition

By Courtland MilloyHis tomahawk has been stolen, his big toe amputated, and now, at age 68, he can be seen trolling the sidelines for cheers in a motorized scooter.

In many ways, Chief Zee's travails mirror those of the team, now 2-4 after Sunday's loss to Kansas City. But while watching fiascos on a football field may be masochistic, watching Zee calcify into some cigar store Indian on the sidelines is downright sickening.
And:The embarrassment has lasted far too long. Having a black man hobbling around on national TV in an Indian costume trivializes both of America's original sins--the enslavement of Africans and the genocide of indigenous peoples. At least get him out of the public eye.

Those who want to keep the team's racist name are quick to say it's honorific, a term of endearment that shows respect for Native Americans. And yet, inadvertently though it may be, Chief Zee stands as pitiful proof to the contrary. How can supporters of the name claim to care about indigenous peoples when they care so little for the Indian caricature of their own making?
Comment:  For all we know, Zema Williams (aka Chief Zee) could be a black Indian, so we can't be sure he's the wrong person to play an Indian. But unless he's an elder of a local tribe, the choice seems like a bad one.

He's sporting a Plains-style headdress, which only revered chiefs are supposed to wear. His appearance doesn't match the Washington DC location or the Redskins logo. It's as if the Redskins are saying all Indians fit the Plains Indian stereotype. As if they're all the same.

So the Redskins are "honoring" Indians with a stereotypical mascot who (probably) isn't an Indian and is too old to walk. As Milloy notes, he's a relic of the past--the equivalent of a cigar-store Indian. He's an animated trophy--the embodiment of the defeated chiefs after the Indian Wars. He serves the same function as a Geronimo or a bear in a parade, reminding us how great we were to tame the wild Indians.

The Redskins could honor Indians by actually honoring Indians. For instance, by introducing an Indian college student at each game and giving him or her a scholarship. But Chief Zee is an honor only in the feeble minds of Redskins supporters. As an Indian symbol, he's a joke.

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

1 comment:

Chance said...

they should change the Name first of all I mean its racist in and of itself. the mascot just adds insult to injury.