February 08, 2014

Inside #NotYourMascot

Inside the #NotYourMascot Super Bowl Twitter Storm

By Jacqueline KeelerWe went back and forth on hashtags #changethemascot, #banRword, among others, but I kept coming back to #NotYourMascot. I liked the way it made it clear that the issue was not just the name itself, but the whole practice of Native mascotry, which includes fans wearing redface and the misuse of our cultures.

As a Dakota, I am particularly offended by the wearing of chicken feather versions of our eagle feather headdresses and I blogged about it here: "Washington Redsk*ns, Indian Mascotry & Owl Man" and here "Why We Still Mourn Wounded Knee." My ancestor Owl Man had worn his headdress, given to him as a mark of honor by his own people, when he came to the White House in 1867. My family still tells the stories of how he worked to preserve the Dakota people through those terrible times. Our Dakota people did not fight to survive so drunken football fans could honor us by wearing our headdresses to their sporting events and hold up “scalp ‘em” signs as FSU Seminoles fans did at the Rose Bowl.

After we decided on our new hashtag, we kept #NotYourMascot under wraps and shared it only within our social media circles through direct messaging and email. We wanted to make sure it was not co-opted by spammers, too.

On Saturday night at 9pm Eastern we unveiled it to the world. This was the suggestion of Suey Park a social media activist and writer. She had great success with her hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick and trended it to number one nationally earlier this year. Still, even with her help, I was doubtful our hashtag could gain traction during the Super Bowl, with more than 111 million viewers this year.

I was particularly discouraged by a recent poll that indicated more than 90 percent of Americans claim to have never even met a Native American. They may have but just didn’t know it because the Native person they met was not decked out in feathers and buckskin. How could we hope to make an impact on social media, especially if so few Americans were even aware we still exist in the age of Twitter?

Then, half an hour in, Suey Park sent me a screenshot of us trending nationally. I was amazed. We had allies in the Asian American and other people of color communities online. We had like-minded sports fans like the D.C.-based @Fans4NT and @ChangeRacism. We had determined Native people who were tweeting their hearts out to make sure they were heard.
And the results:#NotYourMascot was tweeted over 18,000 times. Many of our tweets included links to the NCAI Proud to Be ad and helped to double its views to nearly one million on YouTube.'NotYourMascot' Trends on Twitter Over Super Bowl Weekend [37 Images]Both the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos had their share of Native American fans rooting for an NFL championship season, but many American Indians who didn't have a dog in the Super Bowl hunt brought their A game on Twitter anyway with the hashtag #NotYourMascot. These were concerned folks who took advantage of the big weekend to speak out against demeaning Native mascots one last time before the 2013-14 NFL season became history.

In so doing, they made a little history of their own. Activists ambushed Twitter with a "Twitter Storm" using the hashtag and managed to get their message into the "Trending Topics" list as the NFL was in full Super Bowl mode. That's no small feat: Not only was the big game all over Twitter, so were tweets of protest about the league's most controversial team name, the Washington Redskins.

The substance of the tweets included not just words of support, but also--importantly, since the internet is a visual medium--meme images and graphics about the issue, as well as photos of regular Natives just being proud of who they are. We've collected a great deal of those in this gallery--it's a pretty stunning effort by some passionate and plugged-in people.
Comment:  Once again, the power of protest scores a hit!

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