Sunday, June 23, 2013

This is what privilege looks like.

You know, I am 33-years-old and before today had never been personally offended.

Oh, I grasp offensive things as a concept.  There are racial slurs, and sexual slurs, and slurs of all sorts.  I know these things are out there, and I've encountered them toward other people before.

I think I told this story before:

One night in, oh, 2000 or so, right after the ex and I moved to Virginia we went to a Mexican restaurant. When I got my food, it was wrong, so I called the waitress over to send it back.  And when I said it was wrong, her response was something along the lines of "Well, they got it wrong 'cause there's Mexicans in the kitchen."  And then she walked off.

And I sat there, and I looked after her, and then I got up and went to the hostess stand and asked to speak to the manager.  And when the manager came I repeated what the waitress had said and told him it was inexcusably racist.  His response? It was OK, because it was a joke.

Of course, that was idiotic and I told him so and we never returned and warned everybody away from it when we lived there.  And yes it was offensive, but I was offended not because it was insulting to me personally, but because a) sane people don't stand for things like that and b) there are no few Mexicans in my extended family.

Well, tonight Erik and I go to dinner and I'm not going to go into too much detail aside from this, but one of the people--someone I cannot tell to go fuck themselves--was wearing a shirt with this logo on it:

And I stopped and stared, and was very tempted to turn around and leave right then, but for the sake of not making a scene, I did not. But we left as soon as we could and I told the children why I was angry and frankly even my nine-year-old understood why this is offensive.  (I didn't ask the seven-year-old.)

I realize there is some controversy over this logo, and many people who claim it is neither racist nor offensive.  These people are, to not put too fine a point on it, wrong.  That it is a sports team logo makes no difference.  That it is supposedly not intended to give offense makes even less.  It is offensive, and it is racist.

It barely fucking looks human.  But it's an Indian.  A red Indian, get it? Heh-heh.  Even got the little feather and shit.

But you see, Indians don't look like that.  Indians look like this:

And Indians look like this:

(Hey look, there's the feather.)

And Indians look like this:

And do you know what else Indians look like? They look like this:

You will note there is not a single centimeter of red skin present.  Or...well, any of the rest of that shit.

If you look up there at the photo of Sitting Bull, it is kind of fucking  obvious where that logo came from.  It is a caricature of one of the greatest chiefs out there, and of one of my personal heroes.  It is an attempt to reduce him from a great man to a punchline, for all that it's called 'Chief Wahoo'.  Yes, that is fucking offensive.

I'll admit, it has always somewhat bemused me that we even have to have the conversation anymore.  Pretty much everybody in the world, in 2013, can look at this and tell it's racist and offensive:

And of course, it is offensive for the exact same reasons: it is a caricature of a black person intended to make black people look less than human.  It is exaggerated far beyond anything any black person even could look like.  It exaggerates ethnic features until it dehumanizes the type of person it represents.

But somehow the other is not offensive.

Yeah, right.

Let me put them side-by-side, just for the dense folks:

Get it now?


Dave said...

Sabra, this was a very informative post. I've always considered myself to be amongst the least racist people I know. I throw in the obligatory statement of "I have black friends" as though it is some sort of certificate of non-racist-ness.

I have no doubt that when the initial caricatures wee created for the various sports teams using Native American symbols, there wasn't a little bit of racist thinking involved. I can just imagine some guy telling his teammate, "we should make his teeth bigger, his eyebrows sharper, his face redder", but certainly, the choice they made was informed by the generation they lived in. Wrong, ill-informed and inappropriate? Yes.

But just like the Florida Seminole fans who refuse to change their traditional mascot, I simply can't believe that the guy you saw at a restaurant got up in the morning and said, I hate Indians so bad, I'm going to go out and spend $120 on an Baseball jersey that depicts those savages in a totally inaccurate portrayal of reality. Ditto for fans of the Washington Redskins. And I mean this honestly, not sarcastically, I hope the use of that NFL team name does not offend you.

The monkey looking character (nearly Elmer Fudd in black face) is simply despicable, though I can't think of any sports team that would have found good cause to use it as a mascot.

Therefore, I think your point would have been much more clear had you, instead of using the vulgar blackface cartoon from sometime before I was born, instead, used the horrifically offensive (and yes, now I'm being sarcastic) caricature of a cowboy seen wandering up and down the sidelines of Cowboy Stadium.

Could you not make the very same points about the physical characteristics? Do I actually believe there was some racist Mexican guy or a Native American sitting at the drawing table saying, "Let's make his ears bigger, and those cheeks have got to be rounder", of course not.

But if you were born today, you don't even consider where these mascots come from or whether or not there is racism involved. They simply are the symbols of the team a person likes.

I guess it is all in the eye (or ear) of the beholder. You cannot walk around in modern society without hearing the N-word coming out of the mouths of young people, yet, this Paula Deen character admits to growing up in a time and place where people used the N-word, and she is fired. I'm not here to defend her use of it, I abhor the word, but when I hear it coming from the mouth of some young kid who doesn't understand or appreciate the history of that sort of language, I don't see them as racist. Stupid, not racist.

Is it at least possible that there are some things in today's society that no longer merit the the sting of racism that they once warranted?

Sabra said...

Obviously, Dave, you don't have to prove your non-racist bonafides.

And there is no doubt these things were not created out of hate. Racism is far more involved and more nuanced than that. It is about power as much as anything, and the concurrent ability to reduce "the other" to an object of mockery. You know as well as I that there was a time in the world's history where anyone other than white was literally considered subhuman and less-evolved, and that in this country (I do not know enough of the recent history of other countries to comment)it was still OK to consider yourself better.

What sets both of my examples apart from yours is rather glaringly obvious--they were developed by one race as a joking depiction of another. The same cannot be said of the Cowboys' mascot. If, on the other hand, it had been developed by a group of Blacks and Mexicans as a joking depiction of whitey, it certainly would qualify as an example.

For the same reason, although I find the use of the term "nigga" to be offensive as hell, it's different when young black people use it to one another than when a white woman in a position of power uses it to a black person. The issue there is one of power.

In regard to the logo no longer having the sting of racism...Well, it does. And stubbornly clinging to a relic of the racist past when objections to it have been lodged for years doesn't make it less offensive. The conversation surrounding Chief Wahoo has pretty much gone "This is offensive!"

"But we like it!"

"But it makes us appear less-than-human. You should change it to something that doesn't make us look less-than-human."

"No! We're not racist except how much we love this one racist caricature and besides no sports team has changed its logo in the history of forever. The Spurs are still using their circa 1976 logo, and the New Orleans Hornets aren't now the New Orleans Pelicans."

It is precisely that we have moved on as a society that these things are not and should not be acceptable. It's why the renewed Mission Drive-In theater mural no longer has the snoozing-in-a-sombrero Mexicans painted on it: while the lazy Mexican caricature was once funny in San Antonio, of all places, now it's just kind of embarrassing.

And had this been a random person in the restaurant, I would have (as I have in the past) simply rolled my eyes and gone on. But I know the person, and while I sincerely doubt she woke up and decided to make a statement of hatred, this is the same person who told me last year that it was important for my children to live in a neighborhood where they were in the majority, and when called on the racism of that statement, in part defended herself by speaking of her opposition to mixed marriages because of all the trouble that causes. So, yeah, there's the missing context for you.

Dave said...

Everything in context.

I totally get the power issue but I submit that a little white child using the N-word to describe his best friend who happens to be black does not do so to assert power, he does so because his ignorant parents are racist bastards and taught him wrong.

For me, and I guess we can agree to disagree to some extent, I draw a similar parallel to the sports logos and the idiots who might wear them. You don't look at the Spurs logo and seek to learn if it may have come from some long ago racist, power asserting hatred of something. It just is a Spurs logo.

In a perfect world we could eliminate the hateful baggage that comes with so many of these things, and yes, you'd think that owners could come up with some cool contest to get fans to come up with a new team name/logo that everyone can grab onto and take pride in. I just think that a large percentage, even a large percentage of Native American people (though who am I to even speculate) think there are more pressing issues.

As always, you present a very strong case and I am happy to say you sway me for the most part, in the category of getting rid of these outdated offensive logos, especially given the context of your experience.

Tacitus2 said...

Supposedly the Indians were named in "honor" of an early Cleveland player named Louis Sockelexis. He was a native American from Maine, of the Penobscot tribe if memory serves.

His was a sad story, lots of talent but tragically abused alcohol and died young.

Of course he did not look anything like Chief Wahoo.

I thing the Washington Redskins are a more egregious offence.


monte davis said...

I find this blog rather interesting. My wife just so happens to have the same shirt, bought as a fund raiser for our grandsons' baseball team. They are 11 and 12 y/o. In fact we ate dinner with you that night and never heard a peep from you or anyone in your group about you being offended. In fact when you and your group left almost immediately after eating I asked Erik "what's the hurry" and he said "getting late have a long drive." Sounded good to me. Looks like now it was something other than that. i.e. Erik felt the need to lie to his parents and friends based on your being offended by someone wearing a logo shirt. You have every right to pick any battle you want, however, for you to now admit that you caused your family to remove themselves from a family gathering that is few and far between, because of something as innocent as a person wearing a T-Shirt, to me is OFFENSIVE. I would hope that the next time you are placed in such an OFFENSIVE situation, one that you just can't bear or handle, that you would contemplate doing what any strong willed and opinionated person would and that is speak to that person. " hey mr./mrs. are you aware that that logo is offensive to some people? Oh, You're not, well let me explain" That would be how you could have and should have handled this situation, it would have done many things on many levels. But most importantly it would have shown your children how these situations can be handled and turned into a lesson learned as well as allowed everyone in your group to become aware of your particular situation as to native americans. You might have been surprised as to how the people at your table would have handled that. Because, and I'm sure I'm right on this account, you have no idea what our relationships are with native americans. But, then again how could you as you decided to take the easy way out. And finally I know this is your blog and you have the "right" to say whatever it is you would like, But, your use of the F-word is offensive to me. Not that I can't handle it, but to know that you are doing this in such a way as to let your children read and be privy to this language is inexcusable. Again I say, do whatever you want, it's your bag so drag it. But, just as the logo shirt offended you, the F-word offends folks as well. So, is this a case of What's good for the goose is good for the gander? Or, is it just the goose? and screw the gander?

Sabra said...

You are quite welcome to be offensive as you want. But don't pretend as though a word that, in fact, has only ever been unevenly offensive is the same as something that dehumanizes a group of people. Because it is not. Nevertheless, the same remedy I took--to remove myself from the situation--remains to you.

My desire to depart as soon as possible was because, out of respect for my husband, I did not want to make a scene. And really, this is 2013. You would have to have lived in a hole for the past 20 years to not know a lot of people find that logo offensive. This isn't something I pulled out of an over-sensitive ass, this is something activists have been pretesting against for literally decades now. And given that I have been on the receiving end of a ridiculous speech about my kids "needing" to live in a white neighborhood followed by, as I've said, a defense that hinged on the unacceptability of interracial marriage (without which, by the way, I would not exist), not to mention casual lunchtime conversation about how Mexicans are, I sincerely doubt I'm somehow missing secret racial tolerance.

monte davis said...

I have no doubt that your IQ far exceeds mine, but it would take a Philadelphia lawyer to make me understand what you just said. However I think? the gist of your comment has to do with race? and that a "scene" would have been made? Again I think you would have been surprised as to how that would have been handled. One thing is for certain we will never know!

Tam said...

If the Braves could get rid of Chief Noc-A-Homa, I think that Cleveland can find their way to ditching Chief Wahoo.

Come on, Indians: If you really want to show some respect for Lou Sockalexis, lose the caricature.

Bee Carlton said...

If we're going to "go there", the truth is, INDIANS don't look anything like the pictures you posted either. Indians are from India. The pictures you posted were of Native Americans.

Not a huge deal, but if you're going to get offended about the tee shirt, I would think you'd at least use their proper name.

Sabra said...

Not a huge deal, but if you're going to get offended about the tee shirt, I would think you'd at least use their proper name.

I've actually addressed this issue in m blog before, and since it's Sunday and the boy is screaming bloody murder since Mommy isn't holding him, I'm going to be vaguely lazy and simply provide you with a link to the other post, and a brief quote from it (a quote from someone not me):

In the end, the term you choose to use (as an Indian or non-Indian) is your own personal choice. Very few Indians that I know care either way. The recommended method is to refer to a person by their tribe, if that information is known. The reason is that the Native peoples of North America are incredibly diverse. It would be like referring both a Romanian and an Irishman as European. It's true that they are both from Europe but their people have very different histories, cultures, and languages. The same is true of Indians. The Cherokee are vastly different from the Lakota, the Dine, the Kiowa, and the Cree, but they are all labeled Native American. So whenever possible an Indian would prefer to be called a Cherokee or a Lakota or whichever tribe they belong to. This shows respect because not only are you sensitive to the fact that the terms Indian, American Indian, and Native American are an over simplification of a diverse ethnicity, but you also show that you listened when they told what tribe they belonged to.

I'd provide the link to where I took the quote from, but it's in the post I did link to, and Doug needs me.