Back in the 1990s, my father took his ship models to a “collector’s fair” at the Adventure Science Center in Nashville, and I went to see the event. Set up right next to my father’s table was a black couple that had a collection of racist advertising imagery going back to the 1800s. Some of it was just absolutely horrifying.
About this time last year, I went with the youth from my church to Youth 2019, a nationwide conference held in Kansas City. It’s apparently United Methodist policy that when a big UMC event is held in a city with a team name that’s considered racist, the issue of mascots is addressed somehow in the programming. In the case of Youth 2019, there was an optional breakout session on the topic, as well as a video presentation during one of the big group sessions.
I attended the breakout session, and it was really eye-opening. The speaker, a Native American who serves as a United Methodist pastor, did an eloquent job, passionate but without antagonism or hyperbole, explaining how images and stereotypes have been used throughout modern history to dehumanize other cultures. The type of caricatured Indian used as a sports mascot is part of a long line of such images and stereotypes.
White fans may claim that the caricature has lost its racist connotations. The people who root for the Kansas City Chiefs or the Washington Redskins or the Atlanta Braves may think to themselves, “I’m not racist,” and they may say that a cartoon mascot is a silly thing, unworthy of protest. They may dismiss such protests as examples of political correctness gone too far. But the fact of the matter is, many of the people whose culture is being mocked and dismissed are offended, and they have reason to be, and isn’t that their call to make? If you just dismiss their concerns out of hand, without any attempt to understand their thinking, you have to ask yourself: Why?
Aunt Jemima pancake mix was named for a minstrel song that one of the inventors saw at a vaudeville show. It was part of the caricature of the southern mammy. Apologists for slavery, those who like to portray the antebellum south as a charming era of gracious living, like to emphasize the story of those precious few slaves who might have had a favored role in the household, like the fictional “Mammy” of “Gone With The Wind.” Did such slaves exist? Sure. They were a tiny fraction of the people who were bitterly whipped, bought and sold, forbidden from being taught how to read or write, and mistreated in any number of other…