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Friday, March 13, 2009
Retiring WahooIn addition to some spirited discussion in the comments thread, Wednesday's post about Chief Wahoo brought about an email from the folks at the Cleveland Frowns blog thanking me for raising the issue. Given their singular devotion to Cleveland sports, the Cleveland Frowns guys have spent a lot more time thinking about this than I have and, not surprisingly, have a much more thoughtful take on the subject. From their signature post on Wahoo last summer, some words worth remembering:
Those who want to bury Wahoo have to acknowledge why he has lasted so long -- that in doing so they would be burying more than a racist caricature; they would be burying a part of our childhood and our culture. They must acknowledge that our collective attachment to Wahoo has little to nothing to do with an intent to disparage a race of people. So much of the resistance to attempts to get rid of Wahoo is a natural reaction by Tribe fans who feel that those who protest Wahoo are accusing them of racism, and telling them that there is something fundamentally wrong with those magical trips to the ballgame. This would offend anyone’s sense of justice. These activists must acknowledge the innocent aspects of our attachment to Wahoo before their appeals to his harmful effect will ever be well-received.
The Frowns' have couched their anti-Wahoo campaign in a curse they believe his visiage has brought down upon Cleveland sports. I don't believe in curses (or Buddha, Manta, Gita, Yoga, kings, Elvis, Zimmerman or Beatles) but one need not believe in them in order to want to relegate Chief Wahoo to the dustbin of history. Likewise, one need not demonize as racist the Indians' fans who grew up with Wahoo and take issue with folks who think like I do on the subject.
Either way, I highly recommend that you read the Cleveland Frowns' post because it is devoid of the kneejerk p.c. sentiment so many people accuse the anti-Wahoo camp of harboring. And if their arguments convince you, sign their petition to retire Chief Wahoo.
Posted by Craig Calcaterra at 9:47am
@Ron - I can’t really think of a better way to help educate the masses to the plight of Native Americans than for the Cleveland Indians Baseball Club to step up and make a public statement regarding their mascot, their logo, and its history by announcing plans to get rid of it and the ridiculous story of its origin. Ideally, with some monetary action to back it up. (It sure would be nice for some of these organizations that use Native Americans as mascots to contribute some of the teams’ wealth to their plight.)
@Craig - Effect, when used as a verb, means to create or generate an action or effect. (e.g., The spin of a ball in flight effects a force orthogonal to the direction of the spin, causing it to curve, slide, sink, or “rise”.)
Affect means to influence the outcome of something else. (e.g., The transverse force upon a ball in flight affects its path to the plate either by making it curve, slide, sink, or “rise”.)
Extra credit for using both correctly in a single sentence.
Posted 03/13 at 02:43 PM
kranky kritter said...
Bernie, simplify my argument into something I didn’t say if that pleases you. Good luck with such practices over the remainder of your life. Hopefully you shall earn and keep many friends this way.
It’s utterly unclear to me what you’re trying to achieve here beyond winning an argument. I apologize for engaging with you in what I had hoped could be a good faith discussion.
Far too many folks haunt blogs trying to win arguments, and far too few make any effort to better understand the viewpoints of other folks or, shudder, learn something.Or acknowledge when someone else makes a decent point.
Feel free to keep believing that a cartoon of a fat beer-guzzling guy who happens to be white has precisely the same level of symbolic meaning as a dark red-skinned bucktoothed cartoon that represnets a team called the Indians. If you do indeed believe that in your heart, then I have no quarrel with it. I have an extraordinarily hard time believing that you truly believe this, but it doesn’t seem worth pursuing, to either of us.
Posted 03/13 at 03:04 PM
Jacob Rothberg said...
hey all - proud to have started a bit of a fire on this issue, the core of my argument is thus: these kinds of images are, and should be, offensive to all rational people. Discussion can be had and “traditionalist” fans can be succored, but only after these things are removed. There does not need to be a value statement, or debate, attached to their removal, other than that no racial group deserves this kind of public marginalization and stereotyping. In this circumstance I believe it is fully justified to shoot first and ask questions later.
Posted 03/13 at 03:14 PM
fifth of said...
Craig, where is my advocacy or rubbing people’s noses in guilt? My previous post critiqued the notion that people should be ensnared in other people’s definitions of innocence or guilt. It is a raging double standard that a culture hell-bent on assigning guilt to the people at its margins demands to have its innocence stroked
Chief Wahoo should inspire people not to redefine themselves in terms of the BS binaries their culture has created of innocent/guilty, racist/non-racist, and so forth.
I don’t want to rub people’s noses in the guilt of their white ancestors, nor do I consider it guilt as such. Chief Wahoo should be a symbol of the urgent demand that people consider their everyday lives, their desires, and their ways of adapting to the world in a realistic context. The fixation on guilt/innocence has extremely important historical foundations that are inextricable from the birth of a colonial regime of power and its maintenance in the present era. Among many other works that explore this point, I would highly recommend Jacob Pandian’s “Anthropology and the Western Tradition: Toward an Authentic Anthropology,” written 1985. This text represents a sustained and important effort at tearing down a historical lineage of enormous power in order to build anew, rather than tear down.
In classical statements of radical critiques of the colonial orders, there is an overwhelming concern for how to transcend the techniques of dehumanization created by coloniality. The questions raised by Frantz Fanon in Black Skin White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth are not about how the colonized can wrestle power from the colonizers, but about the struggles faced by the colonized in restoring the humanity of the colonizer - struggles whose overwhelming limit is the systemic dehumanization of the colonized. How to build a radical theory of colonial society premised upon the unwavering belief in the humanity of the people composing the colonial order has been a fundamental concern in the works of the most influential radical decolonial theorists, such as Waman Puma de Ayala, Gandhi, Fanon, Aime Cesaire, Martin Luther King, Enrique Dussel, Sylvia Wynter, and William R. Jones. Many of the elements of Barack Obama’s - who critics such as Anthony Bogues have attempted to place within the context of the neglected history of radical decolonial critics’ influence - approach are highly indebted to these thinkers, but the mainstream is content to reduce this influence only to narrow bands of the thought of Gandhi and King.
While critics such as Derrick Bell (cited in my previous comment as a major figure whose critique of American racial politics is the most specific and sustained in its analysis of Shyster’s forte, US law) have widely been interpreted by reactionary respondents as part of an anti-humanist black radical vanguard, the clear, nuanced, and ultimately friendly elaborations upon his work by the generations that followed make clear that what is at stake is finding a common ground to analyze our common human existences. The tainted epistemology that has emerged from 500 years of coloniality enmeshes our lives, and radical critics are interested in the construction of an ecumenically humanist world. They have discovered that speaking only within the language and institutions of the colonial regime is incapable of achieving this goal, and so they have set out to build new languages and institutions, using an epistemology that honors and values all humans and their histories.
Richard Delgado, Derrick Bell’s most influential and prolific follower, has dedicated his life and legal career to exploring the humanist and existential dynamics created by the insights of Bell and other critical race theorists. He has used alternative literary devices and relentless efforts to build bridges to accomplish his goals - moves that met with unrelenting criticism from the same legal community that educated Mr. Calcaterra. While colonial power no longer functions to dehumanize nearly all people of color as it previously has, it still functions overwhelmingly to deny the humanity and humanism of its radical critics.
I believe that Mr. Calcaterra is skating on grounds paved by a misleading conflation of pragmatism and praxis. The point of the protests against Chief Wahoo should not be to convert the theoretical objection to his continued existnce into an action that eliminates Chief Wahoo - an action that achieves the desire to cause tangible change, no matter its significance. This point should be given careful thought in light of the critiques of the US’s past “pragmatic” reforms. Praxis, on the other hand, is the demand that those theoretical objections shape action. Praxis calls for sustained action that retains, spreads, and adapts theory, rather than action that surveys theory, makes a decision, and moves on.
Posted 03/13 at 03:25 PM
Wow, there’s a quote from ‘Blazin’ Saddles’ that comes to mind, and since I’m from Kansas City, I know well.
Unfortuantely, it would never pass the censor.
Posted 03/13 at 03:30 PM
Sara K said...
One worthwhile (I think) observation about the cartoon portion of the debate is that while we have caricatures of white people, such as Homer Simpson, we also have *thousands* of other representations of white people, most of which are fairly accurate depictions of white people as they live, work, and recreate. Almost the *only* widely-viewed representations we have of Native Americans are sports mascots, which most often represent a cultural image of the Indian as a feather-wearing, face-painted warrior, which is not an accurate representation of how actual Native Americans live their lives.
Another random rhetorical cul-de-sac in this discussion is just what a mascot is intended to be/do. I’m sure there are various valid answers to this (do chime in, y’all). My assumption is that the NA mascot is supposed to be a well-meaning effort at symbolizing the “warrior spirit” of the team, an idea that is now distorted and ironic. Other mascots must work differently, though. I don’t know what a Cardinal is supposed to represent, aside from quickness, redness, and a total lack of relief pitching.
FWIW, almost all of the Native Americans I have ever discussed this issue with don’t spend a lot of time thinking about NA mascots, but they don’t like them.
Posted 03/13 at 03:30 PM
Wait, delete the Kansas City reference. Wrong one.
But the first quote still applies.
Posted 03/13 at 03:31 PM
Chris H. said...
Jacob: and if one of us here had the power to eradicate Chief Wahoo by fiat, I’m sure we’d do that.
Since we don’t, it behooves us to build popular support for the idea. Do I wish the Indians would just do it? Yep. But since they haven’t, what other choice do I have?
Ron: it sounds like you’re saying that because (A) the drawing may not have been “intentionally” racist and (B) it doesn’t solve all of the greater ills of Native Americans that we should abandon this altogether.
First, whether it was “intentionally” racist…what does that even mean? Racism based on ignorance as opposed to vehement hatred is still racism. I’m not sure motive matters in the context of this discussion.
Second, the fact that redressing the wrong that is Chief Wahoo does not solve the more serious issues facing Native Americans does not mean it should be ignored or discarded, does it? Do we need to prioritize all the problems of the world, sort them by severity, and then make sure only to discuss them in order?
Posted 03/13 at 03:34 PM
Based on my experience at Marquette—where we tried to revive the Warriors nickname, 100% sans Native American context three years ago—anything caricaturizing Native Americans isn’t very long for this world. Then again, branding issues for a pro team with more money and clout make for a lot more inertia. So maybe I’m wrong.
Posted 03/13 at 03:44 PM
Has anyone mentioned that the Indians organization has effectively (and quietly) whitewashed the logo from their organization?
You will not go into Progressive field and see any evidence of Wahoo on anything other than merchandise sold in a team shop. You will not go into their new park in Goodyear and see it in any signage. You will never see it on any memo or any webpage.
It merely exists in the realm of merchandise that still remains extremely popular among their fans.
Posted 03/13 at 04:07 PM
Sara K said...
Adam - that’d be a start, though I just went to their MLB site and while he’s not a headliner, he’s plenty there.
Posted 03/13 at 04:17 PM
Aaron Moreno said...
I won’t lie, I haven’t read any of this, and as an ethnic minority myself, I don’t have to. That said:
“tell me when the American Government and people carried out a concerted effort towards a genocide of the Irish, and then your comparison will hold water. “
You obviously haven’t been watching Notre Dame football.
Posted 03/13 at 04:19 PM
Craig Calcaterra said...
He’s on the caps, which are visible on every play of every broadcast. Well, except when they wear those alternates they introduced last year which are SWEEEEEEEEET.
Posted 03/13 at 04:20 PM
Chris H. said...
Aaron: piffle. The American Government hasn’t done anything to Notre Dame.
Notre Dame has done it all by itself.
Posted 03/13 at 04:26 PM
Sara: Big oops there on my website comment.
Also, I don’t think Wahoo has been the featured logo on any Indians uniform for quite some time. He might be on the sleeve on a few of the alternates from 2003-2004.
Posted 03/13 at 05:02 PM
Craig Calcaterra said...
Adam: Wahoo has been the primary logo on the caps for at least 15 years:
The I and C are both alternates.
Posted 03/13 at 05:07 PM
Wow! I just want to weigh in and share that this really has been a great debate. I plan to re-read it over the weekend.
Posted 03/13 at 05:23 PM
Does anybody else remember a NY Times article I’m sure I read sometime in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s in which the writer professed amazement at stopping for gas on an Indian reservation and seeing many of the locals in Wahoo caps? His (her?) take was that they viewed the symbol as somehow “theirs”; the writer made no generalizations about its overall acceptability, and the reader definitely got the feeling that this was something of an inside joke. I know I haven’t made this up—Wahoo irritates me as much as he does any of you. BTW, could those “I” and “C” caps be part of a slow, gradual process of dewahooization? Let’s hope so.
Posted 03/13 at 05:30 PM
fifth of: just fyi, Derrick Bell has been completely discredited since Operation Shutdown.
Posted 03/13 at 06:09 PM
fifth of said...
Hizouse - just because you quit your tenured Harvard Law post in protest doesn’t mean you are discredited!
Posted 03/13 at 06:24 PM