Saturday, January 5, 2013

Native American mascots - an essay

By James Baker

Since nothing is really happening in Birdland I feel like I have to take a moment to discuss something else. Recently, MLB unveiled updated batting practice alternate caps for each team and to the surprise to many the Atlanta Braves went retro and brought back their cartoon native mascot affectionately(?) called “the screaming savage.”

This, of course, has resurrected the controversy over MLB teams using Native American names, cartoons, and paraphernalia.  Is it offensive? Should these names be retired? Are ALL offensive, or only some? Do some of these organizations get a pass on their extensive histories in the league?

To me these are all very complicated questions with equally complicated answers and the debate speaks to this nation’s continuing struggle with its own social history.

Myself, I am not necessarily offended by any of this stuff simply because it is not my place to BE offended by these various caricatures. I am a suburban-born white-guy, end of story. There is no way that I will ever truly feel the sting of discrimination as if I was someone from one of the multitudes of demographic minorities. Yes, even though I live in Baltimore where I am a demographic minority I am still part of the cultural hegemony of white-ethnic-Europeans that run most of the developed world. Some of you may roll your eyes at that last line, trust me I am not espousing some sort of self-loathing white-guilt when I write that – it is just simply the facts of the matter; 500 years ago Europeans took to boats, sailed around the world and subjugated the native peoples of those lands in the name of gold, glory and God. It is the reason we speak English, it is the reason most of us are some sort of Christian and it is the reason we believe in capitalism.

So no I am not offended, but as a person that has spent the lion’s share of his life studying American history I look at these things and wonder, “Why?”  Ethnic-stereotypes and ethnic-caricatures are not anything new in America, one does not need to go far back into American cultural history to see what I am talking about. (TRY THIS AT HOME(!): Do a quick search of “old racist ad” and… enjoy? )But what is interesting to me is that virtually all other types of those mascots and advertising strategies have been relegated to the dustbin of history along with the minstrel show. Today they are largely a bygone curiosity, except for Native American imagery.

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