Friday, March 20, 2015

Still Waiting for the Change...

So... racism has been a thing for quite sometime and recently it has become a big deal in the media and public conscience.  In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, because you've been living in a box for the last year and a half, or because you're a rich white person who can ignore reality when it gets uncomfortable, let me post some links as examples...

What Happened in Ferguson?

Trayvon Martin Shooting: Fast Facts

The Death of Eric Garner

That ought to bring you up to speed...

The thing about all of this and the whirlwind of media coverage that surrounded each event, and many others, was the lengths major media outlets went to try and defend the status quo. This lead of course to the victims in each case being vilified as criminals doing criminal things. However, the evidence in each case would never aspire to condemn those victims to death.

Underlying all of these events, and many others that gained some level of heightened media scrutiny is race. Each victim in each case was a black man, and each antagonist in each case was white. Every time something like these incidents happen, racist motivations are questioned, as they should be. And every time racism is brought up, the majority cringes.  Some people get outright hostile.  No one likes to be insulted, and the term Racist has become one of the worst things to be tagged.

So... people on the defensive who feel insulted, come up with ways to deflect blame and excuse themselves from the conversation; or just shut the conversation down as quickly as possible. Here are a few ways that is done, especially in the news media:
  1. Its not about race. "This particular issue isn't actually about race. Racism is a thing of the past. There must be another reason".  
  2. Shift blame. ie: Black people ought to take responsibility for their own poor education/high crime rates, etc.  
  3. Reverse Racism. "You can't blame white people for being oppressive. That's racist!"
  4. When someone makes a comment about racism, question their character/education/age/motivations, anything to discredit them as an expert
  5. Demanding undeniable proof, and then attempt to construct strawman arguments to discredit the proof, or counter facts to try and discredit all of the proof to the contrary.  
I think that covers everything. The thing that I find interesting is the perception about what racism is, and what racism actually is. This is probably at the root of the problem we have as a culture when it comes to discussing racism and how to change things.  We should be actively working together to attempt to make the lives of all of our people better. But instead, we keep asking if racism is actually a thing.

It is a thing. But racism is no longer a bunch of Klansmen lynching black people in the dead of night, sponsored by their local governments, nor is it Jim Crow laws that legally force black people to pick up food at the backdoor of restaurants, sit at the back of public buses, or use separate and inferior schools, restrooms, and drinking fountains. With the word Racism comes a picture of an overtly prejudiced person calling for the active oppression and exclusion of an entire group of people. And although white supremacy groups do still exist in this country, they are at the very margins of the society as a whole, and no one in the majority wants to be associated with them.

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Racism does still exist however, in a more sinister covert sort of a way. Slavery was only one (a very big one) of many examples of American culture oppressing a minority group. This history goes back to before the United States was actually a thing, and has been informing our collective behaviors ever since. After slavery states were forced to end slavery, this idea of white people being superior to black people didn't disappear. Racial prejudices had been so ingrained in the culture at large for over 100 years, and continued unchallenged for decades after.

It is easy to forget racism exists today. Instead of advocating openly that black people or any minority should not be given equal rights, the language has changed. Politicians who value their careers can't say anything overtly racist, but they can declare "war" on poor people taking advantage of social programs.  They can make it difficult for poorly performing schools to receive funding. Supporting the war on drugs and mandatory minimums is perfectly acceptable. And voting for voter fraud legislation is okay. All of these seem like legit campaigns, until it is realized the communities who most need social programs, have the poorest performing schools (which are already underfunded), and would be most affected by voter ID laws are the communities with the most minorities. The words urban, and poor have become the new code words for black.

Institutional racism is a term coined by Stokely Carmichael in the 1960s to describe the systemic failure of institutions, public and private, to provide appropriate services to people based on their skin color, ethnicity, or culture. The US has a long history of oppressing their minority populations. Now the language has adapted to help continue barring minorities from enjoying the same paths to success.

This is what institutional racism is, a systemic cancer. It has been infused into our society from the beginning and, at this point, dwells in the subconsciousness of the nation. Most of us have not been willing participants, which is why the majority (white people) get so defensive in the first place. White privilege is a good example of institutional racism. The majority on an individual basis reap the rewards of being part of the majority. I can walk around a retail store without a store employee following me around. I only get pulled over by the police when I actually do something wrong (like speed, or run stop signs). And it is easy for me to believe white privilege doesn't exist, because I never experience life from another point of view.

This is not actually what I set out to write about today. But there it is. This has all been context for what I actually want to write about, one of my favorite topics: The Washington football team.

There has been a movement that began in the '40s to retire disparaging athletic mascots. I've written about it before on this blog, a bunch of times. Clicky click the label on the bottom of this post for all the other posts.

Slowly things have begun to change in this country. This movement gathered some steam with some help from Civil Rights gains in the '60s. Since 1968 there have been 27 division one colleges to discontinue their Indian mascots, and rebrand as something else. This trend is also prevalent in high schools, but I couldn't find any actual numbers. However, to date, according to FiveThirtyEightSports there are still 2,128 American Indian mascots in the US.

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92% are high schools, and the rest are pro, semi-pro, and college teams. To be fair, that number may be a little inflated, as 780 Warriors and 343 Raiders are included. Personally, the terms Warrior and Raider don't invoke images of Native Americans in warpaint, unless of course the iconography (logos) that matches the name is distinctly Indian, then it counts. Also, if the full name is the red Warriors, or Red Raiders, chances are it is an Indian mascot. However, this data doesn't necessarily reflect that. Regardless, this doesn't take away from the importance of the rest of the information in the graph.

Also in this article on FiveThirtyEightSports are maps showing state populations of actual native peoples, and states with high schools with native mascots. Spoiler: there isn't a correlation. So... if the schools do not represent their actual population, why cling to an outdated mascot? I especially don't understand the need to stubbornly refuse to change to a mascot that is not a representation of an oppressed minority group that still exists.

The backlash to mascot changes is really what this is about.

Internet news is awesome. There are so many new outlets to read from, with a variety of specialized topics, from a variety of places and contexts. However, the downside is the creation of the "comment section". It allows for everyone who reads an article to engage the article, and everyone else who may read it. It allows people to share their opinions, which is awesome, I suppose, but it also exposes individuals' archaic, backwards, and mostly uneducated thinking. And in comment sections regarding changing disparaging mascots, you can witness some horrible examples of racism, ignorance, and apathy.

 Opponents of Change the Mascot campaigns make many of the same arguments heard in conversations about race. In fact, the Washington team's fansite sells a children's book to help rationalize cheering for a team named after a skin color. SB Nation has a satirical review of the book here. It amazes me the team and league can't see this for what it is, a shameless attempt at propaganda. It has it's own website. Google it if you're interested. I'm not going to link it here and provide it web traffic. The page reminds me of white supremist websites, it's pretty disgusting. The part I think is most offensive is that its a children's book, which helps highlight Alex Haley's statement that racism is taught.

But it's part of our history!
Bottom line: defending American Indian mascots is part of this country's love affair with institutionalized racism, and should continue to be part of the ongoing conversation about racism in this country.

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