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The Effects of Native American Mascots

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INTRODUCTION

There have been occasions when Native American Indian names, mascots, or logos were used in sport teams in America. The examples are Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins, and Atlanta Braves. A number of high schools also use such names. Example of a school that uses these names for its college sport team is Florida State Seminoles. A number of other schools also use names and logos that are perceived to be symbols of identity and honor rather than disrespect for Native Americans (Brady 12). In addition, schools that use these symbols usually refuse to stop using them claiming that redesigning their logos can contribute to enormous losses of thousands of dollars. On the other hand, American Indians believe that these logos and mascots insult them. They have always made every possible effort to ensure that this stereotypical illustration of their culture is avoided. A number of schools have responded to these resistances and changed their names. For instance, Stanford University changed its mascot in 1972, which previously was an Indian mascot. Indian mascots are often illustrated by idealized facial expressions and dress types featuring headdresses and insufficient clothing (Melmer 42). In addition, sport teams use symbols that possess indigenous characteristics such as tomahawks, paints on faces, and drums or mock-indigenous characteristics such as people chanting, beating drums, engaging in war, or scalping (Hinkle 9). Significant effort was put in place to ensure that the use of Indian mascots in sports is totally avoided (Brady 26). This has been mainly advocated for by tribal organizations, educators, and youth activists. This paper presents a discussion with regards to whether the use of mascots of indigenous people in sport teams and college names should be encouraged.

THESIS STATEMENT

There has been a heated debate about the use of using names such as ‘Indian’, ‘Redskin’, or ‘Vickers’ since 1960’s. For instance, some people argued that using such names is associated with racism or stereotypic ideas, while others considered this argument completely ridiculous and supported the use of mascots, Indian images, and nicknames. This debate is ongoing up to the present time.

It is expected that sport teams’ names and logos should not be racist. They are also expected to represent the history of the team, its origin, and the expected mode of behavior of players as well as it is expected to honor the past. For instance, a number of teams represent cultures of people living in a place such as Notre Dame (Brady 26). Cleveland baseball club name was referred to as Naps in honor of Napoleon Lajoie.

Examples given above indicate that there are numerous controversies today that were caused by lack of cultural awareness and by violation of human rights. Racist stereotypes grew to an extent where aboriginal people were not recognized by the country that was legally theirs. Furthermore, the public viewed them as a nuisance (Melmer 22). The use of mascots was, therefore, introduced to serve the purpose of promoting Native Indian Americans. There are many arguments in favor of the use of aboriginal images, logos, and nicknames. It has even been observed that a large number of aboriginal people believe that the use of such logos should be encouraged (Hinkle 18). However, there is a general agreement that Indian nick names and mascots should not be used in names of colleges, sport teams, or names of high schools. This paper supports this notion and provides and justifies arguments against the use of mascots and native Indian American nicknames in naming colleges and sport teams.

REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE

Arguments Against the Use. Persons that argue against the use of mascots and Native Indian American names in sport teams and names of schools have a number of arguments in support of their view. They argue that it matters a lot to indigenous communities, as they encourage reduction of people to status of a caricature. A report by a number of education researchers indicated that the use of traditions and local people’s names have caused negative consequences for self-esteem and self-respect of local American children.

According to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, the use of Native American names and images for sport teams and colleges should be prohibited because the act contributes to insensitivity and may result in violation of anti-discrimination laws. The campaign against the use of mascots and team names by American Indian leaders has been opposed by many individuals and organizations. This is due to the fact that they mock the Native American religion and culture.

The other reason for the opposition of the use of these names and mascots in schools is because schools are social institutions, where people of different cultures come to learn. This environment is not focused on a certain culture but is multinational (Melmer 22). The use of these mascots and images are stereotypical and contribute to the creation of hostile learning conditions by making Indian students intimidated. It is argued that American Indians are the ones who have the lowest graduation rates in the country due to the perpetuation of stereotypical ideas against Indian students.

The use of such images and names has resulted into students learning dangerous lessons of being racists and discriminative in public educational institutions where they are supposed to learn high moral standards. Schools are expected to make their students get the right education and to use their influence to ensure that the culture of a group of people is interpreted correctly.

Another reason for the opposition of the use of Indian imagery and references is that it does not stimulate interest in Native American culture or cause recognition to Native Americans. Institutions that use these references and Indian imagery have not listened to the arguments of Native groups and religious leaders that accuse them of inaccurate representation of Native Americans due to numerous inadequacies. For instance, these groups claim that images that seem to be supportive are nostalgic in nature, creating an impression of the past. As a result, non-Native American Indians are unable to understand their actual historical and cultural roots. They also promote biases and prejudices which contribute negatively towards the understanding of Indian culture by the non-Native Indian Americans. Images and mascots encourage beliefs in mythical ideas regarding the dominant culture and prevent understanding of modern Native Americans (Hinkle 35).

Another argument in favor of using mascots and images, which does not make sense, is that controversies are caused by personal taste and people who are not impressed by the idea can take off. This argument does not make sense because most schools that use mascots and images are publicly owned, unlike professional sports teams that receive subsidized exemptions from the municipality. As a result, names such as Washington Redskins or Atlanta Braves are understandable because they represent decisions that such private institutions have made. However, government-owned institutions need to ensure that involvement of ethnicity is avoided. The use of stereotypic mascots and nicknames is likely to violate this rule. Naming of institutions is not dependent on opinions of a person, but on a public policy under the sanction of the state (Melmer 29). Due to the involvement of the state and federal taxpayers in contributing resources for maintaining public policies of institutions, all taxpayers have a right to influence the manner in which these resources are used. Taxes contributed by taxpayers are used to finance such public institutions, whether he likes it or not. Therefore, the manner in which such resources are spent is an issue that needs to be addressed collectively by a society.

Arguments in Favor of the Use. Despite the arguments against the use of Indian images and mascots in sport teams’ names and names for schools and colleges, there are a number of arguments in favor of their use by these institutions. One of the arguments is that it emphasizes the pride of being Indians by promoting the Indian culture.

Another argument is that using such names brings honor to Indian heroes, who were not recognized during their lifetime and those who were killed without any conviction. Proponents of the use of mascots argue that they symbolize bravery, courage as well as the urge to fight any activity that is derogatory. For instance, Washington Redskins professional football team is considered to be a symbol of bravery, courage, and control over others. In addition, the president of a team explained that Redskin is a symbol of greatness of people and their efforts to make their culture known to others, who may not be aware of the significance of the team.

Other scholars argue that it is appropriate to use mascots as long as it improves understanding and learning about the Native American culture (Danson 69). They also argue that the process should be carried out with the support of the Native American community.

Another reason to encourage the use of mascots and Indian names for sport teams is that it promotes athletic abilities and invincibility. Using Indian mascots in a team is a symbol of winning attitude, which is considered essential by sports fans. A team that uses a mascot increases the popularity of that mascot when it wins. The mascot becomes a property of both the team and its supporters.

The other argument in favor of the use of Indian names and mascots is that there are many regions, countries, cities, and places named in honor of original Native American inhabitants. Thus, it is not wrong to continue the tradition that is not considered offensive by most people.

Finally, the factor that has promoted the use of mascots and Indian names among sport teams and colleges is that a large number of Native Americans are indifferent to whether it is offensive or not (Melmer 58).  A research conducted by ‘Sports Illustrated’ showed that Native Americans do not consider this an issue. The report indicated that 85 per cent claimed that Indian names and mascots should continue to be used, while 2 per cent reported that teams need to stop using Indian characters or mascots. This is an indication that most Native Americans are not concerned with whether these names and mascots are used or not.

CONCLUSION

Rationally speaking, it can be argued that the use of mascots and Indian names for sport teams and colleges is an issue that has to be considered if stereotyping biases are to be avoided in any learning institution or sports club. It is also necessary for people of various cultures to be able to learn effectively when they meet in institutions such as colleges and schools. This paper concludes that opposition of the use of Indian mascot and images in American schools and sports clubs is results from lack of concern regarding effects of their use on schools and sport clubs.

Initially, when Indian imagery was first used for sports mascots, there was no intention to offend Native Americans (Hinkle 98). This paper proposed that the use of offensive imagery needs to be avoided irrespective of how popular it is. It also proposed that it is necessary to continue the attempts to sensitize the public and institutions to prevent usage of images and mascots that are insulting. Dialogue and education will also contribute tremendously towards the success of the fight against the use of these images and mascots in sport teams and learning institutions. Problems facing the community such as poverty, lack of education, shelter, and health are constantly experienced by Native Americans (Brady 52). In order to fight these challenges, a starting point needs to be determined by eliminating the use of Indian references and mascots in institutions and sport teams. This will benefit both: Native Americans as well as entire population of America. By eliminating prevailing stereotypes, it will be possible to improve conditions for education for Indian Americans, Native Indian Americans as well as it will be possible to bring harmony to American Indian culture in the US.

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