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Images Of Native Americans Essay, Research Paper

Images of Native AmericansThe term “American” brings a lot to the table. It is used to describe such a diverse group of people that differ ethnically, culturally, and economically but are supposed to be looked upon as “one”. One group, that makes this country what it is today, and what it will become in the future. But are we really “one”? In some ways perhaps. But, throughout the short history of the United States the interests of a large number of minorities have been repeatedly overlooked. None more perhaps than the interests of Native Americans. Woman, African Americans and even Hispanic Americans have all seemed to make great strides toward equality in the past 200 years. Native American’s however, seem to have been set aside by the government with a “out of sight, out of mind attitude.” This must change. The interests of this people must no longer be ignored by the masses. It is only then that we can truly look upon this great country as “one”. The issue of race comes up almost daily. Whether it be the O.J. trial or a racial slur that one might overhear in a conversation, race is definitely a hot topic. Why? After 200 years one would think that the people of this country would be able to set aside their notions that people of different races are really that different. Yes, science has proven some physical differences but none that make one inherently better than the other. The problem, as I see it, is that the people of this country choose to look at the problem of racism as something that will never change. Many believe that racism exists and always will, and trying to change will be useless. This is definitely not the case. Look at the tremendous advances the African-Americans have made in the past 200 years. Today there are African Americans in the government, boards of Fortune 500 companies, and top quality universities all over the country. Not bad for a people that only a short time ago were not allowed to learn to read or write. Yes, there are still many issues that must be addressed in regards to the equality of African American but they are making it. The disproportionate amount of African Americans living in poverty stricken slums is less do to racism of today as it is to racism of the past. After all, African Americans have really only had “rights” on par with that of whites since the 1960’s. Changing the economic condition of an entire race in 30 short years is asking a lot. But they most definitely are making it. It will just take time. Racism against Native American is different. It is a topic that does not make the nightly news on a regular bases and is of little concern to most. This attitude amazes me. How can we overlook a race that has been on this continent far longer than anyone else. Native Americans are our history. So why are issues associated with them often put on the back page of the paper or later in a newscast? Because that is the way the government wanted it! They knew there was no possible way that they could ever justify the atrocities that they inflicted upon the Indians long ago. The government simply took there land. There was no debate. Putting Native Americans on reservations was just a way for the government to have a level of control over what they thought were savage people. A wonderful way to thank a race that helped Europeans settlements survive in a harsh new land. Today, although some progress has been made, there is still far to much indifference to the concerns of Native Americans. This was shown in clear view during the 1995 World Series between the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves. Native Americans had a forum in which they knew they would be able to voice their concerns to a large national audience. Finally, there was a chance for a change. What do you suppose would happen if the New York Times ran the headline: ” New York Negros defeated the Chicago Jews 2-1″? Could you imaging the aftermath of such a headline? There would be no more New York Times, I ca guarantee you that. But how does this scenario differ from a headline ” Indians beat Braves”? What is it that makes one offensive and the other not? It is just a blatant disregard for the feelings of Native Americans and it was illustrated even further by the lack of any real coverage by the networks that covered the series. NBC had a two minute interview with the head of the NCRSM (National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media). Only two minutes devoted to an issue that has such a strong meaning to so many people is a slap in the face to all Native Americans. What they are asking for is not something outrageous or something that will cost a zillion dollars to change. They just want their concerns heard. Many people scoff at the notion that a sports team mascot could be offensive. I myself am not offended in the least by the Fighting Irish name and to a point, I sometimes even feel proud to be associated with an ethnic group that is known for its fight and desire. The story of how Notre Dame got this name is one of great debate but it is generally linked to an oppositions sportscaster assessing the play of the football team as ” they are fighting like a bunch of Irishmen!”. How would this be viewed today. I believe many more would take offense. The whole concept of the “Fighting Irish” is demeaning, but it is a concept that has become outdated and has relatively no negative meaning to the casual observer. Most importantly Irish Americans are not victims of oppression( in general) in the same way that Native Americans are in today’s world. To look at this debate a little closer one must consider what it is that Native Americans actually find offensive. Personally, I do not find the names Indians or Braves any more degrading than that of the Vikings of Minnesota or the USC Trojans. These are very different however. They don’t bring with them the racial undertones that Native American nicknames have due to the fragile nature of our relationship with Native Americans in this country. But perhaps the objection goes beyond the name. It is the image that has evolved through the use of these names that really should be the focus. If you watch a Florida State Seminoles or a Braves game you see all kinds of things that we, in this country, should have outgrown. Watching the fans has become as much a part of the game as the game itself. Seeing 60,000 people painted in dayglo “Indian” paint doing the “tomahawk chop” while signing a Seminole war chant , insults so much that Indians hold sacred. Feathers from the heads of the cheerleaders insults a practice of most of the tribes of the Great Plains. The eagle feather is a sacred thing given in a religious ceremony to honor. And here it is, a practice held sacred for generations, being used for nothing more than entertaining a bunch of drunk fanatics.

The biggest argument that people use for not changing these team names is that it is an honor. Are you kidding? It is a honor for people to generalize an entire race as hostile and war-like? I really don’t think so. Names like Chief Wahoo(the Cleveland Indians mascot) have been used for far to long. It is time we changed these names and gave Native Americans a voice. It all comes down to a simple matter of courtesy and education. I’m not saying that they should have Native American information booths at ball parks or anything like that. But rather just some general education on the origins and meanings of the team names and traditions. For instance The Tribe (commonly used to refer to the Cleveland Indians) is named after Lou Socklexis of the former Cleveland Spiders, the only Native American ever to play Major League Baseball. It was an honor to that individual. Is that racist? Not in the general meaning but it is what it has become that brings the racial aspects into play. The term ” Indian” in itself then is not racist, but the proliferation of characters such as Cheif Wahoo has led to where we are today. The same can be said for the Braves. The name alone is not a racist term, but put together with the “tomahawk chop” you can see the problems that are bound to arise. So how does this debate get settled? Well, if I knew I would not be writing this, but there are some fundamental things that must change. First, lose the names that are blatantly offensive. Washington Redskins for example. It amazes me how in a town such as Washington DC where one has to watch every word that comes out of his/her mouth, a name such as this could still exist. Secondly, as previously mentioned, a certain amount of education must be brought to the publics attention. If more people would learn about the origins of the names and the history behind them, much of the debate would take care of itself. Staying with the Redskins example, if people would stop and think about the word Redskin and how it reminds Native Americans that there was once a going rate for the scalps or “redskins” of every Indian man, woman and child one would have to say that it is a useless degrading name. Third and most important we as a nation must start to look at ourselves as “one” people. Looking at ourselves as “one” is much easier said then done as Takaki points out. It has been such a major issue in this country that we as a people have become immune. Immune to the fact that we are “one”. Yes, we in this country will always have the “hate” groups such as the KKK, but I believe that that only makes us stronger. If we look at the utter stupidity that these groups attempt to get across in their messages, Americans will eventually see that there really is only one true alternative: unity. A unity that must transcend all racial and economic boundaries. To think about the possibilities of cooperation and unity between European settlers and the Native American tribes long ago would be astounding. Where would we, as a country, be if the problems between the white man and the Indians of Colonial America did not exist? Would we still have the problems that we are facing today? Most likely not. Native Americans would be looked upon as heroes rather than as a once savage people who could not take care of themselves. Unity then, if we look to our past, is the only answer for the future. The problem of using Native American names for sports team mascots may seem rather trivial in the big picture. But is it? Not in my opinion. It is not the name, but rather the lack of respect for the wishes of a people that must become the focus. A lack of respect that we must overcome if we are to advance as a united people. From the beginning of this country we have always had to deal with problems of racism and it all stems from the fact that ” whites” in this country are arrogant to the problems that those from other races have been and are faced with on a daily bases. It is sad to say but I do not see a change in sight. The roots of the problem are just to deep and extend into the very framework that made this great country. Unfortunately these roots are also just getting stronger. Mass-media has enabled millions to watch the beating of Reginald Denny during the Los Angeles riots and the utter stupidity that was the “O.J.” trial. Images such as these strike right at the heart of the problems that we have in this country, and just built another wall around each races view of the other. This is why we will never be “one”. To much is said, to many have opinions, and most importantly: to little respect is shown.

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