Not Just Symbolic: The Harm of Indian Mascots

When seeing the dancing “Redskin” Wahoo fan below, many Americans think it’s okay as it’s “just fun,” or it is some kind of twisted way to “honor” Indians, or it’s “only a symbol” not meant to hurt anyone. However, there are real, pernicious effects coming from the public display and theatrical racism of these symbols and “race” costumes and all the antics that are an integral part of their use and history.

Protestor dressed as "Wahoo"

(Image Source)

 

When I was participating with the Black Hills Cultural Institute held in Spearfish, South Dakota, primarily for school districts on the Rosebud and other Lakota / Dakota “Indian reservations” with large numbers of Indian students, news came that the mainstream academic and media had finally acknowledged that the bodies of some of the Dakota men hung at Mankato by the United States military government, had indeed been immediately exhumed and given to those requesting the body parts, especially a prominent doctor in Minnesota (Dr. Mayo who later founded the famous clinic under his name).

Dakota survivors had long said they had done this, and much worse, but were always mocked and discounted. As a great grandson of Mayo apologized and returned the skeletal and other remains, (including skins made into lampshades and bones with tattooed numbers on them) the newspapers duly reported the genocidal stories as being true. One Dakota woman teacher of our group started crying, and then weeping, as we discussed this during a break in our workshops on “historical grief” and “generational trauma” for Indian descendants of these and many other infamous massacres. Finally consoled by her Dakota relatives, when asked what was the matter, she said “He was my great-grandfather, they are talking about my grandfather! My grandmother cried every night, and told us what they had done, and no one believed us and called us “liars” and worse, but we always knew our relatives were telling the truth.”

 

Postcard of Sioux  Hanging
The Hanging of the 38 on Dec. 26, 1862
(image source)

 

It is hard to imagine a more direct cause-and-effect of mass killings, or in this case of a mass execution, the largest government sanctioned hanging in our country’s history, than to see and hear from those who survived and yet were never allowed to tell their stories, much less be acknowledged how deep their grief may be. Symbols such as “Chief Wahoo” and team names and words such as “Redskins” racially categorize Native peoples as less than fully human, and harken back to terms such as “savages” (literally used in the Declaration of Independence) that depict “Indians” as uncivilized and war-like.

Actually, these terms have been used in genocidal attacks against both my bloodlines – the Dakota after the 1862 Mankato hangings as Minnesota offered “$200 for every Redskin sent to Purgatory” with proof from scalps or “dead bodies” for the bounty, and the Lakota as prelude to the killings of our families at Wounded Knee when newspapers stirred up racial hatred with headlines such as “Old Sitting Bull Stirring Up the Excited Redskins” and “Some Bad Redskins” with Big Foot in the winter of 1890.

 

Mass Burial at Wounded Knee

Picture of mass burial site at Wounded Knee
(image source)

In the denial of massacres and genocide and destructive conquest across the land, we must understand that these histories are not taught in the schools and universities of our nation, and they are not often  taught in the curriculum where Indian peoples attend. When I was giving my 1890 Ghost Dance on Standing Rock lectures as a Humanities Scholar at the High School in Fort Yates on the reservation, a few students came forward and would not leave, with one missing his bus ride to Bullhead because he wanted to talk after everyone left. It turns out his relatives had died at Wounded Knee, including headsman Big Foot, and this not only was never discussed in his classes, but was actually discouraged.

But with real relatives who experience the trauma of unresolved grief and unacknowledged wrongs, great psychological harm is transferred across generations.

It is amazing that a large portion of American society does not see this as racism, or even as hurtful, discounting both research and testimony of scholars and Native leaders and traditionals, and research, in how these images, names and antics cause psychological and cultural harm to Native children,

 

In their book Missing the Point: The Real Impact of Native Mascots and Team Names on American Indian and Alaska Native Youth, Erik Stegman and Victoria Phillips found that studies show such names contribute to a negative educational environment:

“Research shows that these team Indian-oriented names and mascots can establish an unwelcome and hostile learning environment for AI/AN students. It also reveals that the presence of AI/AN mascots directly results in lower self-esteem and mental health for AI/An adolescents and young adults. And just as importantly, studies show that these mascots undermine the educational experience of all students, particularly those with little or no contact with indigenous and AI/AN people. In other words, these stereotypical representations are too often understood as factual representations and thus “contribute to the development of cultural biases and prejudices.”

 

This kind of racism is repeated in the team fight songs for sports teams, for example in  “Hail to the Redskins,” the lyrics that fans sing are:

“Hail to the Redskins, Hail Victory, Braves on the Warpath, Fight for Old D.C.!… Scalp ‘um, swamp ‘um, we will take’um big score….”

These lyrics were written by Corrine Marshall, wife of R*dskins owner George Marshall.
American Indians have been experiencing a Renaissance of cultural revitalization. Part of this revitalization has been through work done with the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.  This project has found the most productive efforts are those that emphasize “nation-building” where Native peoples utilize the skills that focus on Sovereignty, Institutions, Culture and Leadership Matters. Each of these critically important areas is in direct contrast with the images and words that mascots and racial team names represent. Native children are usually taught that eagle feathers are given in respect to those who earn them, whether for civic leadership, defending the people in war, or as living with the values the elders teach – so it’s insulting and confusing when they see these plastic and turkey feathers in mock behavior of sports fans. American Indian students are taught they are the descendants of Nations and societies worthy of recognition, respect, and even reverence – so when fans go “whup-whup-whup!” as they yell “Go Tribe” or “Kill Redskins” with Tomahawk chops and little fake scalps over painted faces, their heritage is called into question. Indigenous youth are instructed in ceremonies and traditions that are culturally valuable and sacred – even as be-feathered racist antics suggest that Americans mock and denigrate their cultures.

There is abundant evidence to support the negative impact of these racist stereotypes on children in indigenous cultures, such as Stephanie A. Fryberg, lead author of a 2008 study, Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots. Most recently, Michael A. Friedman compiled a report on various studies in his The Harmful Psychological Effects of the Washington Football Mascot.

 

Redskins Fan (Image source)

 

American Indian students are involved in consciousness-raising over these issues and becoming more outspoken on the harmful effects that these represent to them as individuals and as tribal members. Recent studies are documenting these statements. The following are quotes from Indians that Stegman and Phillips spoke with on their views about names and mascots.

Dahkota Kicking Bear Brown, Miwok student and football player:

“One of our school’s biggest rivals is the Calaveras Redskins. … Worst of all, the most offensive stuff doesn’t even come from the Redskins. It comes from their rival schools, mine included. I have heard my own friends yelling around me, ‘Kill the Redskins!’ or ‘Send them on the Trail of Tears!’”

Joaquin Gallegos, Jicarilla Apache Nation and Santa Ana Pueblo:

“The issue impacts me because as long as the Washington football team and others retain pejoratives as names, mascots, and are allowed to do so, it says that it is ok to marginalize me, my family, and Indian country—that it is ok for Native peoples to remain on the periphery of American consciousness.”

Sarah Schilling, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians:

“I distinctly remember listening to a radio talk show one morning discussing changing the mascot of a local northern Michigan school because it poorly depicted Native American people. Non-Native people defending the mascot seemed to populate the airtime. They all spoke about school and community pride, or fond high school memories. A Native American mascot seemed to have nothing to do with actual Native American people to them. A white person’s school pride was put above a Native American person’s sense of identity. A white person’s fond memories were more important than a Native American youth attending a school they felt still wore the mascot of oppression.”

Cierra Fields, Cherokee, member of the NCAI’s Youth Cabinet:

When I see people wearing headdresses and face paint or doing the tomahawk chop, it makes me feel demeaned. The current society does not bother to learn that our ways, customs, dress, symbols and images are sacred. They claim it’s for honor but I don’t see the honor in non-Natives wearing face paint or headdresses as they are not warriors and who have earned the right. My heritage and culture is not a joke. My heritage and culture is not a fashion statement. For me, it ultimately boils down to respect.

 

Even more surprising is that defenders of these sports mascots, particularly the Washington Redskins, deny any negative effects and even claim that Native Americans broadly support their use, up to 90% according to one poll quoted ad nauseam by team owners and fans. This is where bad social science intersects with institutional racism, and where my work on similar issues some 20 years ago in Cleveland needs to be redressed for Washington. In my earlier research, we ran our own survey with American Indian respondents, and the results are more in line with what we know Native peoples are feeling and talking about, finding the “large majority of American Indians, when properly identified and polled, find the team name offensive, disrespectful and racist.”

 

 

Wahoo shirt

(image source)

 

That research found that American Indians were 67% in agreement, 12% were neutral and 20% disagreed with the statement: “The Redskins team name is a racial or racist word and symbol.” Whites were 33% in agreement, 26% neutral, and 41% disagreed the term was racial, generally the reverse of American Indian responses. The neutral category played a significant role for whites in allowing them to not be seen as “racist” – upon further analysis more than 60% of whites reject the term Redskins as racist, while more than 60% of Indians see the term Redskins as racist.

We released the results of this study in the spring of 2014, but got little attention from mainstream media outlets. The Washington Post interviewed me about methods, asking who did the collecting (“were they Indian?”) and so on, but have not, to date, reported on it. The dismissal and denial of Indian genocide and its lasting effects runs deep in most sectors of American society, especially those cities and universities still employing these racial mascots.

Some twenty years ago I took my first tenure line position at a Jesuit university just outside Cleveland, Ohio, where the most pernicious sports mascot icon exists, the “Chief Wahoo” of the Cleveland Indians baseball team.   Just as in Washington, they claimed it was to “honor” Native peoples or it had nothing to do with race or Indians, sometimes in the same sentence response to our survey on such attitudes. Again, how can reasonable people make such claims to any of these racial sports mascots, much less the two most egregious examples, the Washington “Redskins” and the Cleveland Indians’ “Chief Wahoo”?

Some forty and more years since this issue was first charged to the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians, we still have “be-feathered, dancing Chiefs” in straight-out racist antics, with clear connections to the worst practices of genocidal racism in our nation’s history. We still have white elites, such as George Will and Dan Snyder  supporting and defending these deeply racist images and names, citing popular support and bogus polls, and denying this is just the same-old racism of yesteryear. And we still have Native American children suffering from having been surrounded by these racist images and words, and Indigenous students in conflict with what they are taught in their schools and textbooks.

When will America wake up, and see that the perpetuation of these racist images and terms is an ongoing insult to Indigenous Peoples and Native Nation?

 

~ James Fenelon, Professor of Sociology & Director of Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies, California State University-San Bernardino

George Will, White Elites, Justify Use of “Redskins”

White elites who first developed the terminology of Indians, Savages and Redskins, are now desperately trying to justify that racist language.

George Will has been the latest to weigh in on this defense of racial privilege and hegemony, while abusing the English language. In a column titled “The government decided ‘Redskins’ bothers you“,  Will arrogantly dismisses the controversy as the result of “some people” who are “professionally indignant” and chides what he sees as the overreach of government into being coercive “about wedding cakes and team names.” 

KKK discuss term "redskins"

Cartoon by Marty Two Bulls, Indian Country Today

Will insults the lead plaintiff, Amanda Blackhorse, Navajo, in a long-fought suit on trademark protections from the Washington Redskins, that itself borders on direct racism, then he “discovers” an infamous school on the reservation that uses the moniker Red Mesa High School Redskins, and then states All Navajo support its use, when if he had done the most basic homework, would have found the Navajo Tribal Council has recently condemned its use for professional sports.

But Will is not satisfied insulting Amanda Blackhorse and the Navajo Tribal Council, but goes on to repeat the mantra-like falsehoods that “90% of Natives support” the Redskins team name usage, even as my own survey work underscores that a majority of 67% of Native Americans say “Redskins” is offensive and see it as racist, a point reinforced in work I did on the (chief) Wahoo racist icon nearly 20 years ago with similar findings. The dominant society and its white elite discourse masters simply ignore any evidence that doesn’t support what they say, and this is acceptable to a general public that wants to believe these icons and words don’t really matter.

 

R2 chiefy R3 helmet R4 wahoo plain2

 

In his racist rant, Will states “The federal agency acted in the absence of general or Native American revulsion about “Redskins,” and probably because of this absence.” Even without acknowledging recent work on this issue, the National Congress of American Indians (representing 30% of Native people in the U.S.) has been criticizing this and other mascots use for more than twenty years, along with most other Native organizations, especially those in higher education.  Will and a host of others systematically ignore Native Americans, leading Indian organizations, and the voices of their supporters and then report false information that seems to support their position, created by a dominant elite to justify its position and use of racist icons and team names. They also just flat out lie about these issues, such as their claim it is only recently an issue, when the same newspaper the Washington Post has the article “The Great Redskins Name Debate of … 1972?” stating that “people have been complaining, very publicly, about it since at least 1972. At the Washington Post’s DC Sports Bog, Steinberg presents excerpts from eight articles published in 1971-72 that challenge the name, as well as an editorial cartoon from the same era.”

 

1972 Cartoon

 

Cartoon from 1972

This is also found in Will’s support for genocidal discourse, using a Choctaw set of words for Oklahoma in justifying an English word of R*dskins, and forgetting or ignoring that the state was originally called “Indian Country” by the United States that forced the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek and Chickasaw into those lands by what nearly all scholars call Genocide in what is known as the Trail of Tears.

Will makes reference to a study done by Ives Goddard from the Smithsonian Institution that finds Blackhawk as the first being recorded to use R*dskins, even as he leads a notable fight in resistance to U.S. invasion and conquest, and from there they decide that Native peoples invented the term as a benign description of themselves. This nonsense is underscored by reference to William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) as a great influence over many students and leaders who learned from him, when Clark’s most powerful racist statement is in calling the Tetonwan Sioux (Lakota) the most “miscreant, savage race of people in the world” underscoring the rationale for the upcoming conquest of the Great Plains.

 

R5 Scalp D Review(Image from The History Commons)

All of this matters precisely because George Will is an erudite, refined columnist with a great command of language and meaning, however conservative his politics may be. Not only is Will ignorantly wrong, but he is playing to language that arose from the vast genocides of the 16th and 17th centuries where bounties were indeed paid for “scalps” of “Indian” men, women and children, all across this great land, going through the origin of the R word around 1800 (if accurate) and actually in print in 1863 Minnesota where the R word was used interchangeably with Savage, Indian and on the list goes.

 

 

R6 Bounty Minn 1863

“State reward for dead Indians” news clipping from The Daily Republican, 1863

 

In our research, we find the same conditions from studies done on the Wahoo to more recent work on the Redskins, including that 1.) institutionalized “white racism” (Feagin, Joe and Vera, Hernan.  1995.  White racism: The Basics, New York: Routledge) is evidenced in the display, distribution, and defense of the racial icon Chief Wahoo, and the team name Redskins; 2.) ethnic group orientation towards symbolic issues is influenced by perceptions of one’s own group interests, Gamson’s “framing” (Gamson, William. 1995. “Constructing Social Protest” in Social Movements and Culture edited by H. Johnston and B. Klandermans, Pp 85-106.  Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press)  of the issue (such as what Will does above) ; 3.) the racialized content and target of iconic symbols is controlled by dominant groups and a white elite  (Fenelon, J. “Indians Teaching About Indigenous Issues: How and Why the Academy Discriminates” American Indian Quarterly, Volume 27, number 1 & 2 (2004: pgs. 177-188) ; and 4.) collective ethnic group activism on racism is more likely to cause changes in perceptions of whites.

Dakota Conflict Concentration Camp (Image source) 

 

The George Wills of an educated elite join with the Snyders of an institutional  sports elite, to reinforce racist team names and sports mascots, deny their historical roots in genocide, redefine their meanings as benign or as honor, distort social science to fit the rationales, and denigrate those who resist their “white racism” calling them as “in the business of being offended” and “professionally indignant” as if their Native roots are cut off from the rest of Indigenous America. Will even ends his column in discussing these “serious matters” as including “comity in a diverse nation, civil discourse,” and “not only how we make decisions, but how we decide what needs to be decided, and who will do the deciding.”

 

Inadvertently Will touches on the heart of the matter. Will, Snyder and many other white elites want to define what race means and what qualifies as racism, with the foundationally racist and genocidal term Redskins twisted to mean “honor” and with Native leaders dismissed as radical outliers, so that racist rationales, words, images and denigrating statements can continue to be used with flagrant arrogance, and deep supremacist ideologies. As Joe Feagin points out, “white elite men get to decide what is, and is not, offensive and get to go unnamed as the racist progenitors in the first place.”

 

 ~ Guest blogger James Fenelon, is Lakota/Dakota, and serves as the Director of Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies and Professor of Sociology, at California State University – San Bernardino. 

Why do Many Whites Love Racist Epithets? The R-Word Again

James Fenelon and I are quoted a good bit in a fine Native American website article on the racist “Redskins” defenses by the DC team and many of its fiercest fans. Here.

Fenelon has done the only survey of real (vetted) Native Americans that I have seen. As the article quotes him:

Fenelon collected data for a poll about what “real Natives” thought about the baseball team. He went to large pow wows in the Cleveland area, and related events, and polled people individually, making sure that “at a high level of certainty” their tribal identity was legitimate; and that all who claimed Native ancestry were actually American Indian. “American Indians are the hardest to poll,” said Fenelon, who squeezed in an interview on his way to work. “And that’s because a lot of them claim to be Native, but it’s often dubious.”

Read more at Indian Country Today.

The Untold Story of the Iroquois Influence on Early Feminists

For 20 years I had immersed myself in the writings of early United States women’s rights activists — Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826-1898), Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) — yet I could not fathom how they dared to dream their revolutionary dream. Living under the ideological hegemony of nineteenth-century United States, they had no say in government, religion, economics, or social life (“the four-fold oppression” of their lives, Gage and Stanton called it.) Whatever made them think that human harmony — based on the perfect equality of all people, with women absolute sovereigns of their lives — was an achievable goal?

Surely these white women, living under conditions of virtual slavery, did not get their vision in a vacuum. Somehow they were able to see from point A, where they stood — corseted, ornamental, legally nonpersons — to point C, the “regenerated” world Gage predicted, in which all repressive institutions would be destroyed. What was point B in their lives, the earthly alternative that drove their feminist spirit — not a utopian pipe dream but a sensible, do-able paradigm?

Then I realized I had been skimming over the source of their inspiration without noticing it. My own unconscious white supremacy had kept me from recognizing what these prototypical feminists kept insisting in their writings: They caught a glimpse of the possibility of freedom because they knew women who lived liberated lives, women who had always possessed rights beyond their wildest imagination — Iroquois women.

The more evidence I uncovered of this indelible Native American influence on the vision of early United States feminists, the more certain I became that this story must be told.

 

A Vision of Everyday Decency

It is difficult for white Americans today to picture the extended period in history when — before the United States government’s Indian-reservation system, like apartheid, concretized a separation of the races in the last half of the nineteenth century — regular trade, cultural sharing, even friendship between Native Americans and Euro-Americans was common. Perhaps nowhere was this now-lost social ease more evident than in the towns and villages in upstate New York where Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage lived, and Lucretia Mott visited. All three suffragists personally knew Iroquois women, citizens of the six-nation confederacy (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and later Tuscarora) that had established peace among themselves before Columbus came to this “old” world.

Stanton, for instance, sat across the dinner table from Oneida women during her frequent visits to her cousin, the radical social activist Gerrit Smith, in Peterboro. Smith’s daughter, also named Elizabeth, was first to shed the 20 pounds of clothing that, fashion dictated, should hang from a white woman’s waist, dangerously deformed from corseting. The reform costume Elizabeth Smith adopted (named the “Bloomer” after the newspaper editor who popularized it) bore an uncanny resemblance to the loose-fitting tunic and leggings worn by the two Elizabeth’s’ Native American friends.

Gage, appointed by a women’s rights convention in the 1850′s, worked on a committee with New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley to document the woefully few jobs open to white women. Meanwhile she knew hardy, nearby Onondaga women who farmed corn, beans, and squash — nutritionally balanced and ecologically near-perfect crops called the Three Sisters by the Haudenosaunee (traditional Iroquois).

Lucretia Mott and her husband, James, were members of the Indian committee of the Philadelphia yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends. For years this committee of Quakers befriended the Seneca, setting up a school and model farm at Cattaraugus and helping them save some of their territory from unscrupulous land speculators. In the summer of 1848 Mott spent a month a Cattaraugus witnessing women share in discussion and decision-making as the Seneca nation reorganized their governmental structure. Her feminist vision fired by that experience, Mott traveled that July from the Seneca nation to nearby Seneca Falls, where she and Stanton held the world’s first women’s rights convention.

Stanton, Gage, and Mott regularly read newspaper accounts of everyday Iroquois activities — a recent condolence ceremony (to mourn a chief’s death and to set in place a new one); the latest sports scores (a lacrosse match between the Mohawk and the Onondaga); a Quaker council called to ask Seneca women to leave their fields and work in the home (as the Friends said God commanded but as Mott opposed). Stanton, Gage, and Mott could also read that according to interviews with white teachers at various Indian nations, Indian men did not rape women. Front page stories admonished big-city dandies to learn a thing or two from Indian men’s example, so that white women too could walk around any time of the day or night without fear.

In the United States, until women’s rights advocates began the painstaking task of changing state laws, a husband had the legal right to batter his wife (to interfere would “upset the domestic tranquility of the home,” one state supreme court held). but suffragists lived as neighbors to men of other nations whose religious, legal, social, and economic concept of women mad such behavior unthinkable. Haudenosaunee spiritual practices were spelled out in an oral tradition called the Code of Handsome Lake, which told this cautionary tale (as reported by a white woman who was a contemporary of Stanton and Gage) of what would befall batterers in the after life:

[A man] who was in the habit of beating his wife, was led to the red-hot statue of a female, and requested to treat it as he had done his wife. He commenced beating it, and the sparks flew out and were continually burning him. Thus would it be done to all who beat their wives.

To Stanton, Gage, Mott, and their feminist contemporaries, the Native American conception of everyday decency, nonviolence, and gender justice must have seemed the promised land.

A Vision of Power and Security

As a feminist historian, I did not at first pay attention to such references to American Indian life because I believed what I had been taught: that Native American women were poor, downtrodden “beasts of burden” (as they were often called in the nineteenth century). I did not know what I was looking for, so of course I could not see it.

I remembered that in the early 1970′s some feminist historians flirted with the idea of prehistoric matriarchies on which to pin women’s egalitarian hopes. Anthropologists soon set us straight about such nonsense. the evidence just wasn’t there, they said. But Paula Gunn Allen, a Laguna Pueblo/Sioux author and scholar, believed otherwise. “Before we decide,” she wrote in 1981,

that belief in ancient matriarchal civilization is an irrational concept born of conjecture and wish, let us adjust our perspective to match that of our foresisters. Then, when we search the memories and lore of tribal peoples, we might be able to see what eons and all kinds of institutions have conspired to hide from our eyes… The evidence is all around us. It remains for us to discover what it means.

Allen’s words opened by eyes, threw into question everything I thought I knew about the nineteenth-century women’s movement, and sent me on a wholly new course of historical discovery. The results shook the foundation of the feminist theory I had been teaching for almost 20 years.

About eight years ago, early in my new phase of research, I sat in the kitchen of Alice Papineau-Dewasenta, an Onondaga clan mother. Over iced tea, Alice described to me the unbroken custom by which traditional Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) clan mothers nominate the male chiefs who go on to represent their clans in the Grand Council. She listed the qualifications: “First, they cannot have committed a theft. Second, they cannot have committed a murder. Third, they cannot have sexually assaulted a woman.”

There goes Congress! I thought to myself. Then a wishful fantasy occurred: What if only women in the United States chose governmental representatives and, like Haudenosaunee women, alone had the right “to knock the horns off the head,” as Stanton marveled — to oust officials if they failed to represent the needs of the people unto the seventh generation?

If I am so inspired by Alice’s words to dream today, imagine how the founding feminists felt as they beheld the Iroquois world. For instance, shortly after Matilda Joslyn Gage was arrested in 1893 at her home in New York for the “crime” of trying to vote in a school board election, she was adopted into the Wolf clan of the Mohawk nation and given the name Karonienhawi (Sky Carrier). In the Mohawk nation, women alone had the authority to nominate the chief, after counseling with all the people of the clan. What must it have meant to Gage to know of such real-life political power?

And Elizabeth Cady Stanton — called a heretic and worse for advocating divorce laws that would allow women to leave loveless and dangerous marriages — admired the model of divorce Iroquois style: “No matter how many children or whatever goods he might have in the house,” Stanton informed the National council of women convention in 1891, the “luckless husband or lover who was too shiftless to do his share of the providing” in an Iroquois marriage “might at any time be ordered to pick up his blanket and budge; and after such an order it would not be healthful for him to attempt to disobey.” What must it have meant to Stanton to know of such real-life domestic security?

A Vision of Radical Respect

While early women’s rights activists began to be successful in changing some repressive laws, an ensuing backlash in the 1870′s resulted in the criminalization of birth control and family planning; and child custody remained the right of fathers. How then, did Stanton and her daughter Harriot envision “voluntary motherhood” — a revolutionary alternative to the patriarchal family, with women controlling their own bodies and having rights to the children they bore? Well, a short distance from the Stanton home in Seneca Falls, the Seneca women practiced it.

Among the Haudenosaunee, family lineage was reckoned through mothers; no child was born a “bastard” (the concept didn’t exist); every child found a loving and welcome place in a mother’s world, surrounded by a mother’s sisters, her mother, and the men whom they married. Unmarried sons and brothers lived in this large extended family, too, until they left home to marry into another matrilocal clan. Stanton envied how American Indian women “ruled the house” and how “descent of property and children were in the female line.” Gage, while serving as president of the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1875, penned a series of admiring articles about the Iroquois for the New York Evening Post in which she wrote that the “division of power between the sexes in its Indian republic was nearly equal” while the Iroquois family structure “demonstrated woman’s superiority in power.” For these white women living in a world where marital rape was commonplace and forbidden by neither church nor state (although the Comstock Laws of the 1870′s outlawed discussion of it), Indian women’s violence-free and empowered home life must have looked like heaven.

It wasn’t simply that Euro-American women had no rights; once they married they had no legal existence. “The two shall become one and the one is the man,” preached Christianity. This canon (church) law had been turned into common law, according to which married women were legally dead; therefore married women could not have custody of their children or rights to their own property or earnings, sign contracts, sue or be sued, or vote.

Until women’s rights advocates began to change divorce laws in the last half of the nineteenth century, divorce was not allowed by church or state. Women fleeing from a violent husband could be returned to him by the police, as runaway slaves were returned to their master. Husbands could will away an unborn child, and the baby would be taken from its mother and given to its “rightful owner.” and until the Married Women’s Property Acts were slowly enacted state by state throughout the nineteen century, any money a wife earned or inherited belonged outright to her husband.

A married woman was “nameless, purseless and childless,” Stanton summed up, though she be “a woman, heiress and mother.” Calling for an end to this injustice, the early suffragists were labeled hopeless dreamers for imaging a world so clearly against nature, and worse, heretics for daring to question God’s divine plan.

From her firsthand knowledge of the Iroquois, Stanton knew that the patriarchal “women’s sphere” was not universal. When called a “savage,” for instance, for practicing natural childbirth, Stanton rebutted her critics by mocking their use of the word, pointing out that Indian women “do not suffer” giving birth — thus it was absurd to suppose “that only enlightened Christian women are cursed” by painful, difficult childbirth. Stanton, whose major work, The Woman’s Bible, was published in 1895, became convinced that the oppression of women was not divinely inspired at all. “The Bible,” she wrote,

makes woman a mere after thought in creation; the author of evil; cursed in her maternity; a subject in marriage; and claims divine authority for this fourfold bondage, this wholesale desecration of the mothers of the race. I do not believe God ever wrote or inspired such sentiments.

Gage agreed, naming the church the “bulwark” of women’s oppression. “In the name of religion,” Gage wrote in Woman, Church and State, published in 1893, “the worst crimes against humanity have ever been perpetrated.”

In the 1890′s, when the religious right tried to destroy religious freedom by placing God in the Constitution and prayer in public schools, and by pushing a conservative political agenda, Stanton and Gage (Mott had died) determined to challenge the church. Their theory held that women in indigenous cultures had respect and authority in egalitarian and woman-centered societies that worshipped a female deity. This matriarchal system was overthrown, Stanton contended, when “Christianity putting the religious weapon into man’s hand made his conquest complete.”

A common mythology held that Christianity and civilization meant progress for women, but Stanton and Gage saw through it. At the 1888 International Council of Women, they listened as Alice Fletcher, a noted white ethnographer, spoke about the greater rights of American Indian women. Fletcher made clear that these Indian women were well aware that when they became United States citizens, they would lose their rights. Fletcher quoted one woman who told her:

As an Indian woman I was free. I owned by home, my person, the work of my own hands, and my children should never forget me. I was better as an Indian woman than under white law.

Fletcher also quoted an Indian man who reproached white men: “Your laws show how little your men care for their women. The wife is nothing of herself.” He was not alone in chastising white men for their domination of women. A Tuscarora chief, Elia Johnson, wiring about the absence of rape among Iroquois men in his popular 1881 book, Legends, Traditions and Laws, of the Iroquois, or Six Nations…, commented wryly that European men had held the same respect for women “until they became civilized”. A Cayuga chief, Dr. Peter Wilson, addressing the New York Historical Society in 1866, encouraged white men to use the occasion of Southern reconstruction to establish universal suffrage, “even of the women, as in his nation.” Today, try as I might, I cannot begin to imagine how such Iroquois men’s radical respect for women’s lives must have sounded to early feminists’ ears.

A Vision of Responsibilities

A few years ago I was invited to lecture at the annual Elizabeth Cady Stanton birthday tea in Seneca Falls with Audrey Shenandoah, the Onondaga nation Deer clan mother. A crowd of my feminist contemporaries packed the elegant, century-old hotel, and I spoke of my deep gratitude for the profound influence of the Iroquois on early feminists’ vision of women’s rights.

Than Audrey talked matter-of-factly about the responsibilities of Haudenosaunee women in their system of gender balance. Iroquois women continue to have the responsibility of nominating, counseling, and keeping in office the male chief who represents the clan in the grand council. In the six nations of the Iroquois confederacy, she explained, Haudenosaunee women have worked with the men to successfully guard their sovereign political status against persistent attempts to turn them into United Stated citizens. In Audrey’s direct and simple telling, the social power of the Haudenosaunee women seemed almost unremarkable — “We have always had these responsibilities,” she said. I caught my breath again, remembering that radical suffragists also knew such women who lived their vision.

My feminist terminology, I realized, had revealed my cultural bias. Out of habit I had referred to women’s empowerment as women’s “rights.” But for Iroquois women who have maintained many of their traditional ways despite two centuries of white America’s attempts to “civilize and Christianize” them, the concept of women’s “rights” actually has little meaning. to the Haudenosaunee, it is simply their way of life. Their egalitarian relationships and their political authority are a reality that — like my foresisters — I still but dream.

Mother Earth Does Not Revolve Around the Son: An Afterward

I arrive, hurried, at the home of Ethel, a friend with whom I work. We have exactly an hour to meet, squeezed into a tight travel schedule. After pleasantries we get down to business, moving along at a smooth clip, and it looks as if we will finish on time when suddenly her son enters. A strapping 17-year-old, he fills the room with his presence. Ethel beams at him and hangs on his every word as he describes his teachers’ deadlines, clean uniform needs, other mundane details of his day. Virginia Woolf got it right: His mother’s admiring gaze reflects him twice life size. He never acknowledges my presence, she doesn’t introduce us, and our work is forgotten. When finally he walks out, Ethel and I scramble to tie up loose ends, some of which still dangle as I dash out the door.

Ethel is Euro-American; her son stands poised to inherit the world.

A week later I sit in my friend Jeanne’s living room, enjoyably chatting. I hear her 17-year-old son in the kitchen rattling pans, perhaps cooking or washing dishes. Minutes later he appears and places cups of tea in front of us, his gift offered unobtrusively, his demeanor without display. I look up to thank him but he is gone, his back already turned as he repairs to the kitchen. Jeanne seems not even to notice, and our conversation continues.

Jeanne is Onondaga, a Haudenosaunee, descended from the traditional, “pagan” Iroquois –those who refused to be “Christianized” and “civilized.” Her son recognized his mother, and all women, as the center of the culture.

Such sons of such mothers belonged to our foresisters’ vision, too. They are sons who learned from their fathers to respect the sovereignty of women. They are sons of a tradition in which rape and battering of women was virtually unknown until white contact.

~ This post was re-blogged from Feminist.com and brought to our attention by Jennifer Reft (@refpt). The post was written by Sally Roesch Wagner and was originally published in the On the Issues, Winter 1996.

The Superbowl Ad You Won’t See, but Should

The National Congress of American Indians did not have the funds to run this ad during the Super Bowl. You should watch it and share it anyway.

Want to get involved? Here’s how to contact the DC team, the NFL, and the DC team’s hometown paper: DC Team @redskinsFacebook.com/redskins http://www.redskins.com/footer/contact-us.html Roger Goodell & NFL @NFL @NFLcommishhttps://www.facebook.com/NFL Washington Post DC’s hometown paper is still using the R-word in its coverage of the team.

More ways to take action at ChangeTheMascot.org

 

~ originally posted at Films for Action 

Nelson Mandela: The Invisible History of Indigeneity

A few years ago, I was in conversation with American Indian Movement leader Russell Means when the subject of Nelson Mandela randomly came up. I said something along the lines that Mandela was such a unique inspiration of groundbreaking political ideas. Swiftly, as is the custom of Indian elders, I was rebuked. Mandela, I was informed, was the man he had been raised to be. His ideas were those of indigenous peoples around the world. Long held, time tested.

His uniqueness was that white people actually listened and tried out those ideas. His uniqueness was not in his ideas, it was in his ability to interact with the white world while still thinking and being the tribal chief he had been raised to be. His great accomplishment in the face of overwhelming assault: “He did not let whiteness invade his mind and his heart.”

Nelson Mandela(Image source)

The admonishment to me was that I had in fact succumbed to the white portrayal of Mandela. Honestly, if I ever knew, I did not consciously incorporate the information that Nelson Mandela was raised in the tribal society of the Xhosa. He was assumed to be a future leader of his people and trained for that eventuality. I had often marveled at how seamlessly his quotes about the land and the people and the values of humanity coincided with those of my native elders. However, I had never put together the fact that this was because he had listened and absorbed the same teachings from his native elders.

Only the release of Leonard Peltier could have inspired more joy and celebration in Indian Country than Mandela’s release from prison in 1990. See Peltier’s response to Mandela’s death here.

Mandela joined the call of many around the world for the release of Leonard Peltier. Mandela and most indigenous people see no difference between the circumstances which led to the formation of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and reasoned, sometimes violent, defense of life and liberty from government sponsored terrorism and the formation of the African National Congress (ANC) and the decision, made by Mandela himself, to form the military wing called Umkhonto we Sizwe, or the Spear of the Nation.

Mandela was released after 27 years for defending his homeland from segregation, violence and murder by an oppressive white government. Leonard Peltier has served 40 years for doing the same. Three U.S. presidents will travel to South Africa to honor Madiba, an indigenous freedom fighter. All three passed up the opportunity to free Leonard Peltier.

Leonard_Peltier(Image source)

Writers in Indian Country have challenged President Obama to honor Mandela by honoring his wish to see Peltier freed.

When he was elected the first black and indigenous president of South Africa, there were acknowledgements at all of the ceremonies in Indian Country of how “our brother” has assumed his rightful place as leader of his freed people. White education and white frames conditioned me to hear this in the same way as the accolades from white liberal groups around the world or the inheritors of white colonials in governments across the globe. It was not the same. Nelson Mandela was celebrated in Indian Country as an indigenous tribal leader, acting true to his hereditary teachings, elected to preside over a modern colonial nation state. It was as if an aboriginal leader had been elected Prime Minister of Australia or Canada.

It was as if Russell Means were elected President of the United States. Native leaders, particularly traditional leaders, saw this as a validation that indigenous ideas could survive and rise in a post colonial world. He was one of us. He stayed one of us. And he made them see us and hear us.

Mandela the man and South Africa the nation have been seen as a hallmark of race relations between blacks and whites around the globe and particularly in the United States. These are important, obviously. Musa Okwonga, British black poet and activist, provides a wonderful view of this with a simultaneous takedown of the whitewashing of Mandela entitled “He will never, ever be your minstrel.” Nelson Mandela’s kinship with people like Malcolm X and Dr. King are secure enough to survive this onslaught of white platitudes.

Madiba’s indigenous identity and ideas have, as is always the case, been whitewashed to invisibility. His constant references to the beauty, importance and identity marker of the land in his famous speeches and quotes are not viewed as the universal perspective of indigenous peoples everywhere. They are seen as inspiring quotes of a singular nature from a unique iconic figure. Chief Seattle and many other indigenous leaders have talked of the land and the people in this way for centuries. I am grateful to have lived in a time when the world listened, if only briefly and partially, to Nelson Mandela speak from an international microphone with the voice of an indigenous person. I am grateful that these words, if not their historic context, will be replicated and available for all to absorb.

As president, Mandela proposed the revolutionary “new” idea of truth and reconciliation to take the nation from its bloody past to its unified future. This idea relied heavily on the indigenous African tribal concept of ubuntu. (See Bishop Tutu’s explanation of this in No Future without Forgiveness or this extensive rundown of its meanings and application with a video from Mandela himself explaining it.)

Ubuntu has its corollary in most indigenous groups. The Lakota say mitakuye oyacin, meaning everything is related or we are all one. The ideas of forgiveness and survival with dignity have been echoed by many indigenous leaders toward white oppressors. A particularly poignant rendition is this message from a Choctaw chief in 1832 preparing to relocate his people on the long Trail of Tears that would see more than half of them die. If you listen, you will hear Madiba from prison refusing to be freed while his people are banned, President Mandela as he talks of South African reconciliation and retired global icon Mandela as he discusses how every man should have a house in sight of where he was born. Perhaps, you will hear as indigenous people hear through the cacophony of whitewash which obliterates indigenous people, land and ideas.

Oneida Indian Nation Leads Effort to Change “Redskins” NFL Team Name

The Oneida Indian Nation of New York is leading a national effort urging the Washington NFL team to drop its offensive “redskins” name and mascot. The first ad in its “Change the Mascot” campaign has been released and some key people seem to be getting the message.

Recently, the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has declared that league and team officials “need to be listening” to the mounting calls for change. The commissioner’s declaration, made during an interview with a Washington, D.C. radio station.  Reporting on Goodell’s comments, the Associated Press noted that “momentum for a switch has been growing.”

Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter said:

“We are encouraged to see that Mr. Goodell is joining us and so many others in calling for a serious discussion about ending the Washington team’s use of a racial slur. Mr. Goodell is absolutely right – it is time for the Washington team’s owners to start listening. If Dan Snyder continues to be dismissive of the concerns of Native Americans and disdainful of the fact his franchise bears a name that is defined in the dictionary as an epithet, it will be incumbent upon the other owners, the League and the Commissioner to step in and take action.”

The plan is to have ads that run each week in every city the Washington NFL team visits. The campaign isn’t about mere ‘political correctness’ because this sort of language carries with an implicit violence.

 

(Image posted by Twitter user @Mzhakdo)

Even if the NFL commissioner and the Washington, D.C. football franchise doesn’t want to change the mascot because it’s racist, perhaps they will be moved to change it so that they can distance themselves from images like the one above.  Surely, someone at the NFL thinks this sort of symbolic racial violence hurts their brand.

 

“We Contend”: Manifesto of a Grassroots Indigenous Movement

On 28 January 2013 Idle No More protesters gathered in no fewer than 30 Canadian cities. They were joined by solidarity protests around the world as the indigenous grassroots movement marked a global day of action.

The movement’s Manifesto reads as follows:

We contend that: The Treaties are nation to nation agreements between The Crown and First Nations who are sovereign nations. The Treaties are agreements that cannot be altered or broken by one side of the two Nations. The spirit and intent of the Treaty agreements meant that First Nations peoples would share the land, but retain their inherent rights to lands and resources. Instead, First Nations have experienced a history of colonization which has resulted in outstanding land claims, lack of resources and unequal funding for services such as education and housing.

We contend that: The state of Canada has become one of the wealthiest countries in the world by using the land and resources. Canadian mining, logging, oil and fishing companies are the most powerful in the world due to land and resources. Some of the poorest First Nations communities have mines or other developments on their land but do not get a share of the profit. The taking of resources has left many lands and waters poisoned – the animals and plants are dying in many areas in Canada. We cannot live without the land and water. We have laws older than this colonial government about how to live with the land.

We contend that: Currently, this government is trying to pass many laws so that reserve lands can also be bought and sold by big companies to get profit from resources. They are promising to share this time…Why would these promises be different from past promises? We will be left with nothing but poisoned water, land and air. This is an attempt to take away sovereignty and the inherent right to land and resources from First Nations peoples.

We contend that: There are many examples of other countries moving towards sustainability, and we must demand sustainable development as well. We believe in healthy, just, equitable and sustainable communities and have a vision and plan of how to build them. Please join us in creating this vision.

A rather malicious reaction to the Idle No More Movement concerns the widely held belief that “it is about time these people moved out of the past and into the 21st century”. Just assimilate and get over it! After all, conventional “wisdom” suggests that white Europeans “conquered” the “Indians.” This is, of course, propaganda.

Contrary to popular belief, indigenous peoples did not surrender their land or sovereignty to the Europeans. Treaties were a scheme devised by the white man to circumvent costly Indian Wars, like those ensuing in the American West (see also here). Moreover, it was believed that once whites “killed the Indian and saved the man,” the treaties would prove unnecessary because supposedly all indigenous peoples would become “civilized” and assimilate into white society.

The white man believed indigenous peoples were just that docile! The white man was wrong!

Aaron Paquette, one of Canada’s premiere First Nations artists, recently captured just how erroneous this thinking was when discussing the Idle No More Movement. He asks: “why are Canada’s Indigenous Peoples the only ones who are standing up? Why are they now the World’s Protectors?”

Paquette continues:

This is much greater than angry protesting natives, this is about becoming aware. First they gutted the sciences, long term studies that would help us understand our ecosystem better so we could develop more responsibly, and no one said a word. Then they cut funding for our shared history and those who work to preserve it, while at the same time dumping tens of millions of dollars into celebrating a British colony war that happened before we were even a country, and still no one said anything. Then the world was made aware of the shameful conditions for small children growing up on underfunded, polluted Reservations. A small murmur and then nothing. And now, because of the apathy they see, this government has taken galling steps to sell out our wilderness, our resources and sovereignty. And not even to the highest bidder. It’s a yard sale with no regard for responsibility or care for anyone who might be negatively affected (in other words, all of us). From millions of protected waterways a couple weeks ago, we now have hundreds. Yes, you read that right.

As Kent McNeil, professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University (Toronto) has argued, the Idle No More Movement deserves the thanks of all Canadians as it has exposed a lack of respect for aboriginal and treaty rights on the part of the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

April Blackbird is a sociology honours students and politics major at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada and a First Nations activist. Kimberley A. Ducey is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.

What Do You See When You See Me? Students of Color Speak Out

Below is a collection of creative vignettes and poems from a diverse group of Sam Houston State University students who were engaged in projects that involved critical examinations of white racial framing and counter-framing. Their work contests and challenges stereotypes generated by the white racist and gendered framing often deeply engrained in both the minds of dominate group members and subordinate group members who have internalized features of the framing toward their own groups and unacquainted subordinate groups.

The first four vignettes were created by students for their in-class group presentation on “Extending the White Racial Frame” from The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Framing and Counter-Framing. The last two poems were created by two students for their personal projects that focus on racial and ethnic, and gendered marginalization:
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By Austin Campbell
African American

I think this is what you think when you see me, I don’t really have to ask. Sure I’m black so I must be a thug, full of ghetto love and talking like “yeah that’s my homeboy” or n-word what’s up? Yeah I’m black so the crack corner must be my throne, and yeah you think you got it all figured out thinking that I come from a really bad home. Oh and don’t forget to clutch your purse when I come your way because you know I’m black and looking for a pay day. So congrats to you for thinking that you’re all right, but I’m going to show you how that’s all a lie. Yes I am black and that true but let me make you aware of something new. No I don’t come from a bad home at all. In fact I may even be living next door to you. Yes my mom and dad got a divorce but my mom and step-dad raised me up too. Using the n-word, nah, that’s not my thing. Some rappers may say it but really that’s not me. And a crack corner or stealing your purse, phss, get out of here. Next time don’t believe every movie you see. You really want to know me then look around your own group and you’ll realize I’m just like you.

So next time you see me what will you say? All I want to know is after hearing me speak, is this what you will see or think when I come by your way?

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By Erik Jackson
Native American

Is this what comes into your mind when you hear my name Sky? When I tell you that I am a Cherokee and not a Native American, is this what you think? Or is it when you see me and my Native American hair that you think, “boy I bet s/he can put down the alcohol. They are known for drinking, hell they even have alcohol made after them.” Or maybe it’s a different thought, a thought about the history of how my people have come to be treated by “Americans” and the policies that have been “thankfully given” to us. You know about our lands and our casinos that barely make any money and that we must live on welfare because we spend all of our money on gambling and alcohol. In fact none of these are true about me at all. Yeah I do go by my Cherokee-American background because I’m proud of it. Another thing that might surprise you I bet would be in fact that I nor my parents or anyone in my family for that matter drinks, so no we are not able to “put them down” like you might imagine. Also, we aren’t on welfare, as a matter of fact I live in your basic residential neighborhood and once again no one I know of Native American background works at a casino.

I’m just one of many voices speaking out about Native Americans. In all honesty it’s up to you to believe what you want, all I have to question is this—is this what you will think when you see me, is this what I am to you?

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By Benjamin Prochazka
Asian American

Is this what you think when you see me? Yes I wear Sperry’s and I do tend to dress nicely on a regular basis but is this me to you? You think when you see me walk, sure thanks to my genes, I’m a little shorter, with my slanted eyes and jet black hair, and my calm quiet nature, this is me? Or is it my backpack stuffed with things weighing me down that makes you think “wow I bet he has a lot of sushi, and video games, and books in there. He’s probably on his way to study “ right? Well surprise! Most of this isn’t true. I’m an average student, C+ to be honest. You’ll find this hard to believe too that I don’t eat sushi. I’ve never really cared for it. As you can see I don’t have an Asian accent either, shocker right? I dress this way because I’m comfortable in these clothes. You know what I mean because y’all wear the same clothes as I do.

So is this what you think when you see me? Or have you always seen me as one of you?

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By Denise Castillo
Mexican American

Is this what comes to mind when I tell you that I am a Latina? Do you automatically assume that I can dance and move my hips really well? Or that I’m an amazing cook because that’s what we are known for? Or is it that you think all the men in my family are lazy and begging for jobs on a street corner and desperately taking any job they can get just so they can have the money to support their family? You probably think that we all live in a small house on welfare in some horrible neighborhood with gang members on every corner. Do you assume that any Mexican you see on the street is illegal? Or that I have some family in jail for doing some illegal activity? Do you think that I eat tacos and rice and beans all day every day? Or that we all have accents or can’t even speak any English for that matter? Well to be perfectly honest with you, none of that about me is true. I am definitely not the best dancer out there and the only one thing I’m really good at cooking is Ramen! All the Mexicans I know are actually very far from being lazy in any way. We work our asses off and a majority of Mexicans I know are very successful in the businesses they are in. I grew up in your average household with my mom and dad and only 1 other sibling. My family is not big at all and not a single one of them has been to jail or involved in any gang related activities. One thing that will be sure to surprise you is that I’m really not a big fan of Mexican food at all so there is definitely no way that I could eat that every day! I have lived here in the U.S. my entire life and English was my first language that I learned. None of the Mexicans I know have an accent and surprisingly most Mexicans here in the U.S. can speak English pretty well.

So is this what you really think of me when you learn that I am a Mexican? Is this how you’ll always picture me?

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By Lorin Perez

So Which Side of the Border Do I Belong?
I wasn’t brought up in “the barrio”
But I wasn’t raised in a white suburb either
I have never packed my car with relatives
But I would never just leave them to rot in a nursing home either
I’m not an amazing salsa dancer
But I’m not a lousy dander either
So which side of the border do I belong?

I’ve been called “illegal”
I’ve been called “gringa”
I was not born in Mexico but I am not white
So which side of the border do I belong to?

My mom makes turkey for Thanksgiving
But she makes tamales for Christmas
My dad works very hard every day of the week
But he is not a construction worker
My grandparents instilled American traditions in our family
But they didn’t let us forget our roots
So which side of the border do I belong?

I am a light skinned Hispanic
I don’t fit the stereotypical part of a Mexican girl
Yet I don’t fit the stereotypical part of a Caucasian female either
So which side of the border do I belong?

I can speak English
I’m not addicted to drugs
I have a passion for soccer
I love apple pie
I don’t want twenty kids
I like to put “chile” on my food
I enjoy country music
I don’t like PDA
I will graduate from college
I am religious
I am not racist
I would cry if my dog died
I am intelligent
I am not arrogant
I am unique
I am an individual

I am not only Mexican, and I am not only American
So which side of the border do I belong to?

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By Gilisa Walls

I decided to touch on the theory of labeling. In society today it has become the norm to place labels on those by what they wear, how they act, their skin color, and the people they hang around. I wrote a poem based on some of the things I have been labeled and how it makes me feel and how I respond to those labels. I also touched on the topics of discrimination and prejudice because whenever talking about labeling you will always run into those issues as well. Labeling can be anything from calling you or a group of people certain names because of race, gender, beliefs, culture, etc. Most people don’t live up to the labels society places on them because society usually receives their source of information through the media, family values and beliefs, or the people they hang around or admire. Once people label you they feel as if they know exactly what you’re going to do, how you are going to act and react in any given situations. They base this off of past experiences from other people they have labeled the same as you.

If You’re Going to Label Me. . .

Label me as a rare form of a human not lesbian, black, or a female.
There’s only a few of my kind and we are very hard to find.
I’m the one that walks strong with my head high not letting the stereotypes get to me.
The one that knows I’m more than what this society labels me to be.
I’m a rare form of a human that realizes that, labels are only what you wear and put on, but you, you are just pure beauty from the inside out.
Society has labeled me as this stud, this black female, this statistic that all blacks are the same.
They don’t even label me the name that my mom created for me after carrying me for nine months.
They fail to realize that I’m not a part of the African American statistics and that my personality and attitude makes the substance of beauty within, distinguishing me from the rest.
Only a few of us know how to be more than what we are said to be and know how to reflect on the external judgment that comes for us.
From that first breath we breathe, to the time society sets a description of who we are on our lives, to the moments we cherish from overcoming the boundaries and perceptions of what “my kind” should do or how we should act.
There’s going to come a time when we do show weakness, that we like the same sex or that our skin is darker than others; but we, No I, won’t allow myself to let the obvious overtake my greatness.
But if you ever find one like me, that one that is one of a kind, don’t allow your prejudice ways make you assume that I’m just like the rest.
Don’t let your discrimination take over and you attack those of my kind because they are proud to be who they are.
Don’t be about of statistics that acts on prejudice and discrimination and attack or label those that are black.
Be the one that is will to get to know that rare form of a human.
Be the one to make a change towards equality instead of labeling us according to the definitions they give us on TV.

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To Everyone Who Isn’t American Indian

With football and the fall season—which is always tough for Native folks because of the U.S.’s insistence on honoring Columbus, the awful Pocahontas Halloween costumes, and the ever-present Thanksgiving mythology of the goodness of the pilgrims and the simple-mindedness of Indigenous people—fast approaching us, I must make a request publicly. I’ve struggled over this decision, knowing many of you might judge me and say “this type of thing just isn’t done” or “that’s not how things are done around here.” I also understand my statement will have both social and political consequences for me.

The request: Think of the worst word any person could call you, whether regarding your racial, ethnic, or national heritage, your gender or sexuality, or your religion, or any other identity that you hold dear. Now, imagine hearing that word used daily all around you. Imagine seeing distorted, ugly images of that word everywhere you go. Imagine that you can’t turn on the TV, go shopping, watch movies, or even read a book without hearing or seeing what this terrible word implies because it’s that pervasive in the public discourse. Now imagine people telling you to “get over it” and that you’re being “too sensitive” when you protest its usage.

Can you empathize?

I’m a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. I don’t say that to produce eye-rolling (just as I wouldn’t roll my eyes at your heritage). I want you to understand this is more than a social justice issue. It’s very, very personal. The 90 to 95% of the population of Indigenous folk who died after the arrival of the Europeans and the mere 1 percent of the current U.S. population that remains (which includes me) deserves better than to have racialized, pejorative terms spoken about or around them/me—even if others believe it’s still socially acceptable.

 

Specifically, I’m referring to these terms: redskins, skins, chief(s), braves, red Indian, injun. More broadly, I’m speaking about terms used in ways that do disservice to different Native Nations: tipi, wigwam, squaw (which means whore or c**t to many tribes), tomahawk, etc. You get the drift. If you research a topic with these words, by all means, use them, but please contextualize the terms.

Many of you may not know how offensive these particular words and others are to Indigenous people. Then again, some just don’t care. Whichever the case, this is an official notice that I consider the term “redskin(s)” a racist term. I’m not calling you a racist just because you use that term. But I am saying if you continue using it after knowing what it means, then you are choosing to consciously participate in the maintenance of white privilege and systemic racism.

I’m not being overly sensitive (which is often the claim of the dominant and those who have internalized the narrative of the dominant), and it doesn’t matter if you know one or more “Native” people who don’t find it to be a bad term (that’s called internalized oppression or racism).

Better yet, join us in our fight against racist mascots, name brands, products, entertainers using sacred headdresses as costumes, and other harmful stereotypical practices. Help us change the public discourse about Native peoples. Support us in our efforts to speak truth to power and bring about social change. We’ll support you, too!

Here’s some text from Cheryl Head’s blog that conveys this issue concisely.

“There is some debate about where the name “Redskins” came from. To my mind, its origins don’t matter … Native American activists have engaged in a 13-year legal battle to get rid of the offensive name. These activists claim the name is disparaging and violates a federal trademark law. Three trademark judges agreed (1999); but were overturned by a federal district court judge (2003); and an appeal (Harjo, et. al vs. Pro Football, Inc.) was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009. These activists posit the R-word is on par with the use of the N-word. I’m African American and offended by the latter so if my Indian brothers and sisters say the R-word has deeply disparaging connotations for their people, I believe them and support their efforts to discontinue the use of this name.”

Remember, the Supreme Court also ruled that there was such a thing as “separate but equal.” And less than 100 years ago, women could not vote.

In closing, socially acceptable doesn’t mean ethical, decent, or right. Slavery, lynching, and the right to refuse service to people of color used to be socially acceptable. Social acceptance cannot be the benchmark for social justice. History bears out its incompetence. We’re a long way from social parity, but we can do our part by respecting each other.

 

~ Dwanna L. Robertson is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, a PhD candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, a writer for Indian Country Today Media Network, and a public sociologist. This post originally appeared  here.