April 06, 2008

The most offensive racial icon

It can't be emphasized enough that millions of Americans support or tolerate overt racism against Indians. Here's how:

Chief Wahoo should goAs he listened to the discussion about the Vogue cover, Miller also found himself considering the community's response--or lack of it--to Chief Wahoo.

"It makes me feel bad," he said. If a similar image was used to portray black Americans, "the NAACP would be up in arms about it. The Urban League would be up in arms about it."

Wahoo is not harmless, Indian leaders say.

Chief Wahoo reinforces the image of Indians as "anachronistic savages," said Gavin Clarkson, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma who teaches in the Native American Studies Program at the University of Michigan.

"It's a powerful image," he said. "If you ask someone from Cleveland, 'quick, think of an Indian,' chances are this is the image" that will come to mind.
Comment:  The implications of this should be obvious. If the first thing that comes to mind when people think of Indians is Chief Wahoo, then they aren't thinking about real Indians. Wahoo is a stand-in or replacement for people who are poor, abused, neglected, suffering racism and discrimination, losing treaty rights and tribal sovereignty, etc.

In other words, if your first thought is that an Indian is a redskinned savage from the distant past, you aren't paying enough attention to today's Indians. And you won't pay enough attention to them. Why? Because you're not aware of their existence. As far as you're concerned, Indians are dead and gone.

We could prove the point with a survey. Divide people into two groups: those who support Wahoo and those who oppose him. Ask them true/false questions about Indians. For instance:

  • Most Indians lived in teepees.
  • Most Indians were savages who lacked religion or culture.
  • Most Indian tribes had no form of government or law.
  • Since the 19th century, most Indians have disappeared.
  • Today's Indians get special rights and benefits they aren't entitled to.

  • I'm guessing there'd be a strong correlation between those who support Chief Wahoo and those who answer these questions wrong. Does anyone disagree? Would you like to bet on it?


    dmarks said...

    I doubt you are going to get much argument on Chief Wahoo.

    Perhaps you get emails from intellectual debaters (ha) who defend the icon, but I can't recall the last time I've seen one come by here.

    Rob said...

    A million Cleveland Indians fans might object to my characterization of their beloved mascot. They're welcome to try to explain why they support this blatant example of racism.