May 23, 2011

Mascots = strength through fear

An excellent essay from an occasional correspondent:

Indians still inspiring fear for White America

By Melvin MartinIndian sports mascots are dramatically akin to the colorful renderings of bears, tigers, wolves and even shark teeth that have appeared on a wide assortment of U.S. combat aircraft, naval vessels, and other forms of mechanized equipment since World War II. They are all starkly produced images (and names) designed to strike a deep sense of fear into the hearts and minds of enemy forces. And then, this very recent news article further acknowledges this particular U.S. military "tradition":

Non-Indian America has always feared the American Indian as the most singularly hostile and fearsome adversary on the battlefields of Manifest Destiny. And given the unending obsession with mascot images, non-Indians consider Indians worthy antagonists on a wide range of fronts--not only on cultural, but on political and socio-economic fronts as well.

The psychodynamics of fear are clearly at work here with this obsession and I can see why these mascots are so highly prized by those individuals and institutions who are so unwilling to relinquish them despite decades of highly organized protests against them. It is the basic symbology of the American Indian as a unique and profound source of strength derived through fear that provides these people with their sense of masculinity and "warrior-hood."

And in a society where even perceived notions of strength and power and most importantly, the ability to defeat one's enemies and opponents still prevails, associating oneself with war-like Indians provides an enduring security blanket of emotional support. If a "real man" can't act like a "savage" and journey back to the cave in reality, at least his apparel and team paraphernalia can make the trip for him.

In today’s popular American culture, traditional ideals of masculinity are under a constant state of attack. "White Privilege" is eroding with every passing day as minorities, women and gay people are advancing and gaining parity at all levels of society. In this environment, the all-American (essentially white) male is indeed a threatened species. And perhaps one of the last remaining bastions of this male superiority is the world of contact sports, where a man can still “be a man” in spite of the gay team member, the black head coach or the female team trainer or owner.

The American Indian sports mascot has never been an example of honoring the so-called “character” of the American Indian, nor is it a genuinely constructed system of methods by which to specifically target America's Native people for derogatory treatment. It is merely an ancient, worn-out and deeply dysfunctional process of appropriating the impressive legacy of overwhelming fear that the Indian, in the overall mindset of white America, still possesses to a remarkable degree.
Comment:  This essay pretty much says it all. I'd quibble only with the line about specifically targeting Indians for derogatory treatment. Mascots may not be a "genuinely constructed system of methods," but they act as if they were. They help produce the same results.

School administrators and students may not support mascots for this reason. Not consciously, at least. But unconsciously, this is what's going on. Mascot lovers intuitively "know" that they benefit from keeping white people up and minorities down. So they attack government, Obama, healthcare reform, immigrants, gays, mosques, and so forth and so on.

Keeping Indians and their treaties, land claims, and casinos in place is part of this agenda. If we present Indians as savage relics of the distant past, we don't have to deal with them today. As long as we ignore and dismiss them, we can "honor" or mock them (basically the same thing).

For more on Indian mascots, see Gover Summarizes Native Stereotypes and Warriors Mascot Done Right.

Below:  "You scared of me! You quake'um in fear, no score touchdown! That am big honor!"

1 comment:

Azizi said...

Greetings! I just found your blog through a post on racialicious.

Much respect for the blog's purpose and the quality of the writing here.

However, I don't want to get into oppression politics but I would have challenged the statement that "Non-Indian America has always feared the American Indian as the most singularly hostile and fearsome adversary" except that the statement ends with "on the battlefields of Manifest Destiny."
-an African American sista