Cleveland Indians Keep Chief Wahoo

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Image Credit: N Engineer
Image Credit: N Engineer

Last week, the Cleveland Indians announced that Chief Wahoo will remain. Well, technically, they didn’t so much announce it as turn in their uniform decisions to Major League Baseball and let that organization write an article announcing it, with no comment from the team. It’s almost like they wanted it to happen without anyone noticing.

I thought my kids were living in a different world than what I grew up in. Yes, my little bubble is racially and culturally diverse, and the children attend a school where differences are truly celebrated. But that’s not enough. These days, I find myself waiting for the inevitable incident that will remind me that, because I’m brown, I don’t belong. Today, the Cleveland Indians did just that.

While I can surround myself with people who care, exchange cookies with neighbors and friends, decorate our tree with ornaments that my kids made every year, this announcement right before the holidays–by an organization that I thought of as my home team—hurts. When the Cleveland Indians organization proclaims proudly that the team uniforms next year will continue to portray the racist caricature of a Native American, despite years of protests, despite the evidence that the assault on Native American rights is still so fresh and relevant, they tell me loudly and clearly that the wishes of minorities don’t matter.

This can’t be a business decision; they could spin this, in light of the Standing Rock controversy, to say that they support Indians and want to continue to honor them by clinging to the name, but will introduce a new mascot that doesn’t perpetuate harmful stereotypes, no matter how well-meaning or seemingly benign. (Note: if you insist on believing the myth that the name honored the first Native American player, read the full story here).

If they don’t want to hire someone to design a new logo or mascot, they could launch a competition, draw upon the thousands of fans, make this a year-long endeavor. Announcing a new mascot could, instead of seeming a sign of weakness, come across as a sign of compassion and caring. They could, as GeekMom Corrina Lawson suggests, “reach out to the First Nations/Native Americans and talk representation and see what can be done.” Dan Gilbert showed his passion for the city and his Cavaliers, and it has paid off. But instead, by insisting on retaining a caricature racist logo, the Indians come across as selfish and dismissive with this move.

Yes, there are bigger issues in the world right now. But right now I’m thinking about the calluses I’ve spent a lifetime forming to let myself feel like I belong, and I’m disappointed to realize that my children will have to do the same. Recently, when my son was acting up in public, I had to tell him that he couldn’t act that way because he’s colored. Because he has no choice but to live up to the model minority reputation. I suppose we should feel lucky that of all the minorities we could be, ours is respected. To an extent. But a necktie can be a noose, and I never wanted my children to be anything other than who they are, not trying to live up to anyone’s expectations but their own.

The Indians accompanied the announcement of the 2017-18 uniforms with nary a press release. No, the announcement on their website was a brief factual article written by a writer for MLB.com. Compare this to the release of movie posters, trailers, and other forms of entertainment meant to rouse excitement and anticipation. Alas, this announcement feels more reminiscent of the Mayflower trucks whisking Art Modell’s Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in the dead of night. I can’t help but wonder why.

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25 thoughts on “Cleveland Indians Keep Chief Wahoo

        1. Since the original poster is a radio personality who has been openly against the Dakota Access Pipeline protestors over the last few months, I expect he has had a set opinion before even reading this article and wanted to do a drive-by troll.

    1. I agree, it’s totally jumped the shark. The author is railing against a logo that is not hurting anybody. If it really bothers someone, they can just not watch the team. Lots of people like Chief Wahoo and that doesn’t make a person racist or insensitive. It just means they like the little cartoon Indian that has represents their team. It doesn’t represent “all brown people” like the author implies it does.
      Also, if your kid is acting up, he needs to stop it because he’s acting up, not because he’s a minority. You don’t have to have lower expectations, but if you thought the kids was acting up, he was probably not conforming to your expectations. If he was then give him a break, your the one forcing a model minority expectation on him. (Whatever that even means.)

      1. But it DOES give pain. That “Not hurting anyone” premise is clearly wrong. It’s just not hurting YOU.

        Liking the mascot doesn’t make you racist or insensitive. Agreed. Liking the mascot and feeling that that is more important than the dismay and distress it gives to others? That’s HELLA insensitive! (and the reasons *why* someone is being so insensitive, that’s where one would see if racism is embedded).

  1. Insightful post, but one thing confused me:

    >>Recently, when my son was acting up in public, I had to tell him that he couldn’t act that way because he’s colored<<

    Why couldn't you just tell him to behave because that's not how you are supposed to act? Why bring race into it? Every child should behave themselves in public.

    Thank you for posting this.

    1. It was something about the particular incident (details of which escape me at the moment, of course). It was this pervading sense of having to instill the model minority expectations on him. It was having to have a lower threshold for what constitutes misbehavior than others.

    2. I don’t think this was a “I want candy, so I’m gonna scream” situation. I think it was a “I’m behaving like white people do, and it’s not acceptable” situation.

      I have a great example of the double standard I see in Nivi’s description, as I’ve seen it before, with my own family.

      For a white girl, going out in public in your PJs is just having a lazy day. For a black girl, going out in her PJs is being “ghetto” _even to black people_ because the racism _really is that bad._

      That’s the problem, not a bad parenting situation – it’s a “brown” parenting problem, which saddens me greatly.

  2. In what way is a caricature indian racist? Is a caricature Santa racist against white people? Racism is unacceptable but simply wiping out all teams which represent cultures from the history of the USA is not doing anyone a service.

    1. There was a protest outside the stadium in October by hundreds of Native American activists. I would say they are in a better position to judge whether it insults them than you are.

      Other teams using Native American names or mascots have done this in a respectful way. The Univerity of Florida Seminoles have reached out to the local tribe: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/colleges/florida-states-unusual-bond-with-seminole-tribe-puts-mascot-debate-in-a-different-light/2014/12/29/5386841a-8eea-11e4-ba53-a477d66580ed_story.html?utm_term=.d5c442ca4590

      1. Shared heritage belongs to everyone. It’s not an us and them situation. And it’s not up for a handful of people to find offense in something which isn’t offensive and declare moral ownership. Not to mention 90% of cleveland supports the mascot (and that includes a far larger number with indian ancestry than protest against it) A lot of this political correctness is more a white republican movement to sweep away traces of native american history so that no one has to feel guilty about the way the USA was founded.

        1. I really, truly, pray for this to one day be no longer an “us” v “them” situation, but that’s exactly what it is. None of this post is a Republican movement. This is an article by a non-white person expressing continued concern over a stereotype that has been only beneficial to white people.

          Also, nobody is trying to erase the guilt of how our nation was founded. If anyone was actually trying to tackle that issue, then Standing Rock wouldn’t be an issue at the moment. Nobody cares about the things we should be ashamed of, and this logo is a continuance of that negligence.

          This isn’t a matter of political correctness. This is a matter of racist behavior being protested by the individuals discriminated against by the systemic racism represented by the decision made by the Cleveland Indians.

          1. Native americans don’t worship your god. ‘Praying’ for them is far more offensive than an historically accurate charicature of a warrior in red warpaint.

          2. Bob, it’s not me praying for native americans, it’s me praying for white people and peace. Also, native folk pray. It’s an old-as-shit religion that reveres the Great Spirit.

            Also, who said I was praying to a God? Not me, certainly. Prayer can be a communication with a deity, but it can also be a plea to others (which is how I meant it).

            Also, I’ve found that most people appreciate prayer no matter the context. It’s a way of saying, “I love you, and want the universe to treat you well.”

            As a white person, please don’t tell me what’s offensive to colored folks on their behalf. I happen to have (a lot of) family that is native, and I promise, your broad statement does not reflect the actual things they might take offense to.

    2. There’s a difference between a caricature of an Indian as a team mascot and a caricature of Santa Claus, really—that’s not a great example. A better example would be, say, the white characters in some Hong Kong kung-fu movies: they were often caricatured—”the foreign devils”—and I would argue that, yes, that WAS racist against white people. Santa Claus is not meant to represent “white people” in the same way as Chief Wahoo is representative of “Indians.” Now, if you had a team called the Portland Whites, and you had Santa Claus or some other caricatured white person—well, that would be racist, too, particularly if you gave it a terrible name.

      This article isn’t about “wiping out” the Indians. It’s about asking the team to reconsider the mascot.

      1. I think a more fitting example would be the stereotypical image of a cowboy. Drunken, shooting up towns, etc. Thing is, white people don’t take offence at cowboys because it is not an image that represents all white people. Likewise a historical tribal indian chief does not represent modern americans with native ancestry.

        1. “A historical tribal indian chief does not represent modern americans with native ancestry.” I think that statement right there about sums up why perhaps that mascot is worth reconsidering.

          Also, your analogy is still not quite the same: if the mascot and logo of the Dallas Cowboys was a drunken, disheveled cowboy, then I would say probably cowboys (the few that are left) would take offense. The team’s name is “Indians”—that makes the claim that it represents all Indians. It’s not a specific tribe, or person. Again, I posit that if your team was called “White People” and you had a drunken cowboy as a mascot, there would be white people who would take offense. The fact is, in this country, you’re never going to have a perfect analogy that applies to white people because whites have controlled the narrative for so long that there aren’t any equivalents for what happens to other races.

          1. The mascot isn’t drunken or disparaging in any way though. It has a red face because natives wore red face paint when they went to battle and its a baseball team going into a contest. That’s not racist, it is pure ignorance of history that uneducated people assume that it is a skin colour slur.

          2. Person of color says “this is problematic, could we talk about something that would represent our city better and that many Native American have already objected to?”

            Bob (if that’s his name–he bears quite a resemblance to the Pornstache character on Orange Is the New Black), “It’s not racist at all! I know because I am a white person. With knowledge. And you have none.”

            Me: ::facepalm::

    3. Santa is a caricature of white people? Absolutely!! The perfect caricature of creepy old white man, enforcing his overly conservative values on all despite their own beliefs and values, pushing his expectations through stalker-ish bullying guilt-trip tactics on a demographic that really doesn’t know how to argue for an alternative. Sounds pretty right for our current White social environment.

      What’s that? You don’t like the gross generalisation? Neither do Native Americans. Or any other minority. Got it?

  3. Thank you for an insightful article, Nivi. I’ll admit, sadly, I never gave too much thought to the Indian’s logo – probably because it’s not my heritage that a major league sports organization is jacking.

    I think that if we started seeing things like the New York PolyWops (Polish/Italian heritage here) or the Long Island Potato Eaters (for all of you from Irish heritage), people would take this sort of “caricature” more seriously.

    “It’s tradition” or “that’s the way it’s always been done” is lazy and ignorant thinking. I’d like to think that, despite what popular politics tell us, we’ve grown past that kind of myopic drek as a society.

    As I’ve matured and started raising my own children, I’ve come to realize that most conflict and strife comes from fear or misunderstanding. The things I railed against when I was younger as “stupid” or rolled my eyes at as “too politically correct” revealed my own shortcomings rather than strengthened me or those around me. It’s only by listening, by trying to understand what’s causing someone pain, that we can grow.

    Attacking and tearing down, erecting straw man arguments to tilt against is done purely out of ego and not out of any true concern for the matter at hand. Rob/Bob go take your narcissistic predilections back to the cheap seats. Leave us out of your self-aggrandizing.

  4. I find it interesting that when I was a kid, I heard a lot of ethnic slurs and jokes aimed at white people; now it seems Archie Bunker was the last person to call German people “Krauts” and French people “Frogs.” Why is that, I wonder. Could it be that white people figured out that it’s rude to label others with derogatory nicknames like “Limey,” “Mick,” etc., and they stopped doing it. Now if only we could extend the same courtesy to people who aren’t white.

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