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.