People Are Not Mascots

This evening I listened to episode 3 of the All My Relations podcast because I was interested in hearing what the hosts and guests had to say on the subject of Native mascots.

I want to be unequivocal: I can’t believe we are still discussing the appropriateness of Native mascots. When we studied Native history and literature in my Social Justice this year, the subject of Native mascots was popular among my students as a writing topic. One of my students used this resource from the American Psychological Association (APA) to reinforce her argument that Native mascots harm the self-esteem of Native children, which is the topic of All My Relations podcast guest Dr. Fryberg’s research. All of my students who wrote on this topic agreed that the name of the Washington football team is offensive, which is made abundantly clear in this podcast. This fact is underscored by the fact that many reporters and news outlets will not use the team’s name in reporting. Including the team’s own home city paper’s editorial board at The Washington Post.

I think the video in this tweet presents the issue from another point of view. If this man’s shirt makes you angry or you find it “disrespectful,” but do not find Native mascots offensive, you should think about why.

I was surprised to learn from my students that the Florida State Seminoles have a relationship with the Seminole Tribe, so even though the issue of Native mascots may seem clear to me, it’s definitely complicated. The National Congress of American Indians opposed the use of Native mascots. The organization’s website includes this video that further supports the reasoning that the podcast’s hosts and guests used:

One important point made in the podcast is that “data gives us power.” The harm caused by Native mascots is clear in the data. Another takeaway from the podcast is the importance of representation among researchers. I appreciate also the emphasis on “utility framing”—explaining why learning is important for the community. I understood this argument as another way to say “relevance.” I also really connected to the goal of making schools “identity-safe places” for all students. Here is a link to guest Amanda Blackhorse’s website No More Native Mascots.

If your school or city team has a Native mascot, what are you doing about it?

Update, 7/2/2020: In a turn of events I couldn’t have predicted, this issue became a hot news story the day after I wrote this post when FedEx, which sponsors the stadium where the Washington football team plays, asked the team to change its name. In addition, Nike has apparently pulled all the Washington football team apparel for sale from its store. Honestly, if this issue starts to hurt the team’s bottom line, I predict we will see a name change. I’m really happy to see companies like FedEx and Nike taking these steps. FedEx’s next step should be to sever ties with the team if they don’t change the name.

Update, 7/14/2020: I am thrilled to update this post with the news that the Washington football team has decided to change its name. The new name has not been announced yet. A side note: journalists don’t have to use the racial slur that used to be the team’s mascot in reporting about the name change. It was very hard to find an article about the update that didn’t use the racial slur.

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