The Fighting Whites
I was driving home from work when NPR announced that the University of Northern Colorado Intramural Basketball team, which includes several Native Americans, had taken on the name The Fighting Whites, and had adopted the logo of a stereotypical 60s white male.
I wanted to be a mascot.
I think this is a great idea. These students are turning the tables on the plethora of Native American-named sports teams. I attended Miami University, home of the Redskins. Nearly every year I attended, there was a controversy whether to keep the Redskin name for sentimental value, or to obliterate it because of its racist symbolism.
Miami's Redskin logo does look like an actual human being rather than a caricature. This puts it ahead of a lot of schools using names like "Redskins" "Injuns", etc. Most likely as a result of the ongoing debate, well-researched Native American dances were performed at football games, and Native American culture was celebrated by the school - in a limited fashion.
Many people believed that since research was done and aspects of real native American culture presented, the Native Americans were overreacting when they protested the use of the name. After all, Redskin just isn't used as a pejorative any more.
So what is so offensive about presenting carefully researched materials? It is because, by presenting this show in a context in which most people know nothing about Native American culture, the assumption develops that what is presented is both
a) a predominant part of the culture, and
b) an unchanging, unchangeable, timeless truth.
We commonly learn to identify entire cultures on the basis of one small, pinhole-sized view, and base our opinions of the culture, the people, on that extremely limited perspective. It is human nature to create assumptions based on what we know (or think we know), however limited, and to keep those beliefs until they are challenged and proven incorrect. Sometimes they must be proven incorrect repeatedly before we are willing to let go of our assumption-based opinions.
I want to be a mascot to help create a phenomenon large enough for people to get a glimpse into what it means to have a culture supposedly your own forced upon you by the public mind. This can be achieved by selecting a somewhat obscure portion of American culture which, while undeniably American, is no longer part of mainstream culture. I imagine a stereotypical cowboy and cowgirl. The girl would have long, blonde braids, a blue gingham dress and a white apron. The boy would have the big cowboy chaps, the white shirt, and the red-check neck scarf. The pair would square dance.
Square dancing is fun. Square dancing is healthy. Square dancing hasn't been part of mainstream culture in decades, but there are communities in almost any large town which are avid square dancers. The next step is to get immigrants and people from foreign countries interested in learning about "traditional American culture." Eventually, people would begin to get annoyed when they met complete strangers who asked them to dance, or why they weren't wearing their native costume, or asked them to shout the traditional cheer: "Yeee-haw!"
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