Growing up on the west side of Cleveland next to Rainbow Park, I was outside nearly every day playing baseball. I took my bumps and bruises those summers just like the other kids on the diamond. I wore my Cleveland Indians t-shirts. I wore my Indians caps. What I never grasped as a kid, though, were the bumps and bruises an entire people were taking because of Chief Wahoo.
See, my father’s family came from West Virginia near the Great Indian Warpath in present-day Randolph County. My great-great-great-grandmother was Native American, and my grandmother was actually raised by her after her own mother died from a blood clot two weeks after childbirth. But all that was lost over time. When my grandparents met and my grandfather needed work, they moved to Ohio. Everything was left back home.
I never had any ties to the culture. And honestly, I can’t identify in even the slightest. But what I do know as a human being is that the Wahoo logo is offensive. I’m stunned by how someone can look at it now and not realize. I don’t care how big a fan. If blackface is offensive – and we can all agree that it is – then the photo above surely is as well. Native Americans’ skin isn’t red, just like African Americans’ skin isn’t black. And now is the time to really do something about it.
“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society.
From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles of racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade.
Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or to feel remorse for this shameful episode.
Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can’t Wait, 1963
The Cleveland Indians have at least decided to take a small step in the right direction to disparage it:
Indians changing primary logo to the block-C. No change to uniforms, Wahoo still on home cap, sleeves. pic.twitter.com/0EEopJ3ph2
— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) January 8, 2014
But that isn’t enough; neither is removing all remnants of the mascot at the Spring Training facility in Goodyear, Arizona. Marc Tracy at The New Republic spoke with Curtis Danberg, the Indians’ senior director of communications about it:
“Spring training’s a different animal,” he said, “and when we’ve been in Arizona, we’ve really focused on the block C—being in that region, in that area, we’re certainly cognizant of that.”
It’s interesting that the team chose to remove Chief Wahoo during spring training, specifically in an area that still contains many indigenous people. It’s obvious they’re aware of its racist nature. In fact, in his ranking of the most racist mascots in sports, Tracy doesn’t pull any punches:
“The name of the Washington team is by no means a term of honor, or even a neutral descriptor; it’s a slur. But somebody could at least come to it without knowing its history and not understand how problematic it is. By contrast, there is nothing in the world of sports quite like Chief Wahoo, who at the first glance is revealed to be a demeaning and racist caricature. It does not get more racist…”
“The logo is a negative stereotype against indigenous people. What is sacred to the indigenous people is made a mockery of. If there was an African-American logo similar to a black Sambo, or if it was a Jewish character, it would not have lasted this long.”
And that’s the same argument the National Congress of American Indians made years ago. The NCAI released a poster in 2001 containing a series of baseball hats to raise racial awareness. Next to the one from the Cleveland Indians, the other hats depicted caricature images of a Jewish man (“New York Jews”) and a Chinese man (“San Francisco Chinamen”). By comparison, it’s hard to refute how someone could be offended.
But there are many Indians fans who say the logo is not offensive, that it’s a part of history. They give the argument that it’s actually meant to honor Native Americans, some citing former Cleveland Spiders outfielder Louis Sockalexis as proof. But even Sockalexis wasn’t treated as an equal.
In 1998, Drexel University professor Ellen Staurowsky published an article titled, “An Act of Honor or Exploitation?: The Cleveland Indians’ Use of the Louis Francis Sockalexis Story.” In it, she concluded that there is little evidence to support the naming of the team to honor Sockalexis, and that he was sometimes heckled and ridiculed because of his heritage.
“I’ve always found it compelling that the club has claimed that the whole purpose of the naming is to honor an American Indian, and the behavior of the fans when they’re confronted with actual American Indians protesting is quite contrary to honor.”