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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New York Daily News - Home - Stanley Crouch: It's racist, and not in name only

New York Daily News - Home - Stanley Crouch: It's racist, and not in name onlyIt's racist, and not in name only

Back when Jane Fonda was married to Ted Turner, she made mention of the discomfort she felt when the home fans of the Atlanta Braves, which Turner then owned, used the gesture called the "tomahawk chop." Fonda surely considered it warlike, stereotypical and offensive, which was an idea pushed by the American Indian Movement, or AIM.

That idea recently led the NCAA to ban schools from postseason play if their nicknames or mascots use American Indian names, calling them "hostile" and "offensive." Is this just some more overstated and self-righteous bunk? Is someone jockeying for the opening of another untaxed casino? Can this be dismissed as no more than Guilt-Mongering 101?

Not quite. We all know that the American government destroyed whatever got in its way and broke treaties with indigenous Indians that would have hampered expansion and economic development. Warlike Indians, such as the Apaches, were overrun, and so were those who were not warlike - the pastoral Nez Perce, for instance.

Distinctions between Chief George of the Nez Perce and men like Geronimo, a butcher as cruel as Pol Pot, were not important. They were Indians and they were in the way.

Nothing is going to change history, but we should contemplate whether some people are dehumanized so others can have what they claim is "innocent fun."

I say that because there were people who "harmlessly" wore blackface in the yearly Mummers Parade held in Philadelphia. A man named Cecil B. Moore brought this to an end when he headed up the city's NAACP during the 1960s. He did not find it harmless, but reminiscent of minstrelsy, an entertainment that brought howls from whites but set up a number of stereotypes that still bedevil us as recycled in the extremes of rap.

Of course, none of this is simple. The NCAA had to reverse restrictions upon Florida State University that were imposed with sanctimoniousness dripping from every word. Florida State's mascot name, the Seminoles, had long been approved and supported by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. A complaint against the school, it turned out, was raised by a group of Seminoles in Oklahoma! Apparently, all Indians sounded the same to the NCAA.

Distinctions are always the problem and always the goal. Before we try to make up for every wrong committed against the American Indian nations, it would do us some good to know just what we are talking about and just whom we are talking about. It always begins with correct information. That is forever better than pompous good intentions.

Originally published on August 29, 2005


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