On Tuesday, Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham was asked by Fox News host Brian Kilmeade what she thought of the “crazy behavior” of two high school lacrosse teams refusing to play Lancaster High School near Buffalo, New York because they find the Lancaster mascot — the ‘Redskins’ — offensive.
Ingraham responded: “I think the students in upstate New York, maybe they think they’re having their Selma moment by acting against this other team,” Ingraham replied. “Everyone is bringing in witnesses to say I’m more offended than the other guy.”
According to Ingraham’s flippant quip, our “Selma” is taking place only now, 50 years after the more serious battles over Civil Rights were fought and won. Apparently, due to genocide and our much ballyhooed “disappearance” it just took us Native Americans a bit longer to get to that bridge.
However, we have already had our “Selmas”. Many of them. They had names like Wounded Knee, Alcatraz, and they are ongoing even today. Native American people are still holding protests on the land against the Keystone XL Pipeline and fighting for the Apache sacred sites in Oak Flat, Arizona. It’s in the news. The Keystone XL pipeline fighters even put up their tipis on the Washington Mall last year and rode their horses through Washington, DC past the White House. Ingraham might want to read the news.
This is not a new issue. The National Congress of American Indians, the nations largest and most representative organization for tribes, began their campaign against mascots in 1968. The radical American Indian Movement who were leaders in many of Native America’s Civil Rights era “Selmas’” also joined the fight against mascots in 1968.
The reason for Ingraham’s stunning ignorance of this issue and why Native Americans are still being caricaturized is directly tied to the history of genocide in this country against our people. We are the “disappearing Indians” riding out into the sunset, but really we had to disappear didn’t we? For progress, for Manifest Destiny, for America to even exist. In very real ways, mascotting “disappeared” peoples can be seen as a form of trophy-ism: like the head of a noble beast on the wall.
What is extraordinary is that 50 years after the Civil Rights movement, Native Americans are still being caricaturized in our public schools to a degree unknown by any other ethnic group. Native Americans make up 1.3% of the population and there are nearly 1,000 Native American mascots in high schools across the United States. The African American community is 13% of the population. Imagine for a moment there were 10,000 African American mascots in high schools across the U.S. Imagine how that would exponentially increase the burden upon the black community to educate the public as they have to deal with each new outrage these mascots would undoubtedly unleash?
Mascotry — the practice of mascotting a people — gives the community the license to act out outdated and often ugly stereotypes and reinvigorate them in public. Witness the outrage last year over the offensive “Trail of Tears” banners that teams playing against mascot high schools “innocently” used at games in Arkansas and Oklahoma? Or the Sonic Drive-in sign at a Belton, Missouri that read, “KC Chiefs will scalp Redskins Feed them Whisky Send 2 Reservation”?
Imagine, for a moment, the negative stereotypes mascotting would unpack for blacks, Asian Americans and Latinos. There is a reason no one wants to be mascotted. There is a reason no other ethnic group is mascotted to the degree Native Americans are. Mascots are grotesque. Mascots are clowns. There is no honor in being mascotted.
And as was so movingly depicted in the Oscar-winning film “Selma”, in the fight against stereotypes, Native American lives are on the line, too. Studies have shown that exposure to Native American mascots reduces young people’s self-esteem. This effect is even more pronounced in participants who claimed to be “okay” with mascotting and suggests the deep toll being caricatured exacts from a young person’s self-image.
Native youth have a suicide rate 3 times that of their peers. Native American high school-aged males have a suicide rate that is 8 times greater. Mascotting Native Americans in light of these statistics is an extraordinarily reckless act that needlessly endangers the most vulnerable population of young people in the country. And it is done purely for entertainment purposes.
At a Lancaster Board of Education meeting a Native American parent, Donald Grinde Jr, a professor at the University at Buffalo said his son, who runs track at a neighboring high school told him he was glad his team wouldn’t be running at a meet against Lancaster because of their mascot.
This information troubled Lancaster Trustee Kimberly Nowak and Lancaster High School alumna:
“You’ve given me a young man who doesn’t want to come to our school. It makes it different because you realize the dignity that has been lost, completely unintentionally. It’s a bit overwhelming to understand what it means to you when it clearly hasn’t had that impact on the rest of us.”
Such introspection is without a doubt beyond the intellectual and emotional grasp of Ingraham who, of course, had to give an on-air cheer for her old high school shouting, “Go Tomahawks!” And Kilmeade, of course, answered back with “Go Chiefs” a cheer for his high school mascot.
“And you hate your mascot, right?” Ingraham asked him, “We loved our mascot, we don’t hate mascots, we loved our mascot.”
Love mascots? Ingraham doesn’t get that we don’t want to be her mascot, hence the emergence of the hashtag #NotYourMascot. Native Americans trended it during the 2014 Super Bowl. Being mascotted means enduring stadiums full of fans dressed in ‘Redface’ as we saw at the last two Rose Bowls when the FSU Seminoles played.
It means having our culture misappropriated without our consent and to have it clowned. Mascotting another group of people without their permission is not about love but about power — the same power that marginalizes Native American people and our nations every single day in the United States.
Watching the video, I noticed neither Ingraham nor Kilmeade acknowledged that the two high schools that boycotted Lancaster this past week have lacrosse teams that are over 50% Native American. Lancaster, itself is 98% white and the school district has only 6 Native American students out of 6,000. It occupies land that was once part of the Iroquois Confederacy; the sport of lacrosse, itself, is an Iroquois game which they call “the Creator’s game.” The Native American students on these teams are mostly drawn from nearby Iroquois reservations, and their school districts, Akron and Lakeshore, had no problem supporting them.
“It was an easy decision for us,” Lake Shore superintendent James Przepasniak said. “We feel this action is in support of the Native American community.”
Ingraham however insisted they were misled by non-race specific “adults”, “I think this is being egged on by a lot of the adults who should act more adult.”
“I’m offended by Mr. Met,” Kilmeade said. “His head is huge.”
And really, Kilmeade’s simpering analogy-fail says it all. The fact that after spending their high school years “honoring” Native Americans by acting out and applauding stereotypes about them that these two cannot differentiate between a baseball-headed humanoid being and the concerns of actual, living Native American people shows that mascots teach us nothing at all of value about each other.