October 04, 2010

Colorado's Savages, Redskins, and Braves

Offensive mascots remain a problem

By Carol BerryDespite a summer of attempted dialogue over school mascots in Colorado, the Savages, Redskins, Indians and Braves are taking to the football field and their images continue to inhabit public schools and the memories of countless alumni.

For the Denver-based Colorado Indian Education Foundation, it was a disappointment that some 40 public schools with “Indian”-themed mascots did not respond to letters CIEF sent over the summer inviting discussion and suggesting constructive ways to approach the race-based mascot issue before school began this fall.
Some specifics. Superintendent Randy Miller, overseeing the Fightin' Reds at Eaton High School, insisted:the mascot, a big-nosed caricature, “in no way is meant to be disrespectful--it’s used out of a sense of pride” in the school, which a handful of Native students attend.I love the stupidity of the "didn't mean to" defense. Bush: "I didn't mean for 5,000 Americans and 100,000 Iraqis to die in the invasion I launched. I just wanted to find those darn WMDs." Columbus: "I didn't mean to launch a genocidal conquest of two whole continents. I personally enslaved or killed only 100 Indians." German citizen after WW II: "I didn't mean to help exterminate six million Jews. I just thought Hitler wanted to maintain law and order."

In other words, the "didn't mean to" defense is stupid. Who cares what you intended if the results are bad? A child who reaches for the cookie jar never intends to break it, but he's still to blame if the jar breaks.

What matters is whether the mascot is offensive, not whether someone meant it to be offensive. Quit dodging the issue and address it, you moral coward. Tell us whether your mascot is or isn't a grotesque caricature of an Indian.

"Me not intended to look like fierce, ugly Indian! Me intended to look like Indian doctor, lawyer, or astronaut! Must be artist's fault for not drawing me correctly!"

Then there's this exchange on the Savages:The mascot “looks like he could take you apart – muscular, strong; he looks very brave,” he said. “People in the area and particularly graduates are proud to be Savages and they would be angry about it if it was forced to change.”

School officials at Lamar, Eaton and other locations say they have Native supporters backing their mascots or logos.

Former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell “came down here 10 or 15 years ago and kind of looked at the school to see if the mascot was disrespectful to Native Americans. My understanding is he said our portrayal of the Indian mascot was very respectful,” said Robbins, who cautioned that the account was “at least second-hand.”

Asked to confirm his endorsement of the mascot, Campbell said, “Absolutely not. If they want to call themselves ‘Savages’ they should not use an Indian as the ‘Savage.’ Let them put their own grandma and grandpa up there.” He stressed that his grandparents were not “savages.”
Excellent point, Sen. Campbell. Think of all the savagery committed by US soldiers: massacring Indian camps, destroying Vietnamese villages, blowing up weddings in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc. If "savage" is such a noble and honorable term, why not use a US soldier as the Savage mascot?

Here's the new Savages mascot: a fierce, proud, courageous warrior for his people. Is everyone okay with that?

For more on the subject, see Smashing People:  The "Honor" of Being an Athlete and Team Names and Mascots.

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