Thursday, September 8, 2016

All about the name, continued

My July 27th post was about team names in sports, but in order to avoid sentencing brevity to death, I chose not to broach the topic of teams with American Indian Native American names.

Now I am here to give that topic its own post because it deserves one that spells out what would, I guess, be called an "alternative" viewpoint these days: Namely, that there is nothing wrong with teams having American Indian Native American names.

This shouldn't even be a topic worth mentioning, but unfortunately, legions of thought police and sanctimonious scolds are running roughshod over our land seeking to impose their psychobabbly nonsense on others and micromanage everyone else's affairs, and they insist on making this a topic... and America's media figures are too airheaded and noodle-spined to do anything but nod in agreement with the mantras, like an army of Pavlovian dogs drooling whenever they hear a bell... so here I stand, unafraid, ready to rebuke the rubbish by thrusting my shoulder against the tide.

(And aren't you glad I never exaggerate, act pompous, or use too many adjectives and adverbs?)

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This is not exactly a new topic for me, so I'll start by quoting myself from 2014:

You always name your team something that will make fans puff out their chests with pride... many Native American high schools in this country use "Redskins" as the nickname for their sports teams... In the only recent poll to ask native people about the subject, 90 percent of respondents did not consider the term ("Redskins") to be offensive... when the citizens of North Dakota voted in 2012 to make the University of North Dakota drop its long-time Fighting Sioux nickname, they did so against the wishes of the Spirit Lake Tribe...

To reiterate: When you name your team something, you choose a name that elevates it. Therefore, naming it after something honors that something.

Pretty much nobody in the United States thinks negatively of American Indian Native American culture, or of American Indian Native American people in general, and this has been the case for generations. For many of us, our perception of American Indians Native Americans was molded by this commercial that was released the year I was born, and which I remember seeing on the tube a few years later.

Nobody has ever rooted against the Atlanta Braves or Cleveland Indians due to not liking American Indians Native Americans. A person who roots against the Atlanta Braves or Cleveland Indians does so because they are playing against his own home team or because there is something he doesn't like about the cities of Atlanta or Cleveland.

On the other hand, ever since the beginning, if a kid wasn't from Atlanta or Cleveland yet rooted for the Braves or Indians, it was usually because those teams were named after American Indians Native Americans.

Ditto for the Washington Redskins. American kids still played cowboys and Indians when I was in my single digits and many of us (myself included) chose to be Indians. When the stuck-up Dallas Cowboys played against the Washington Redskins, we cheered on the Skins for a reason.

For a bunch of comfy upper crust white people who have never been on a reservation or ventured into the woods to suddenly act like they need fainting couches and smelling salts to cope with the supposed bigotry of homage-paying team names is... well... effing ridiculous.

And yes, a vastly disproportionate number of the people who act like that are comfy upper crust whites who have never been on a reservation or ventured into the woods.

Spend any time with real life American Indians Native Americans or read the writings of real life American Indians Native Americans, and not only will you find that most of them are perfectly fine with such team names, you will find that most of them refer to their actual selves as Indians, not Native Americans.

Plus, you will find that among those who do not call themselves Indians, a majority also don't use the effete leftist term "Native American." Instead they identify themselves simply by their tribe (Cherokee, Apache, etc.) or by terms such as "indigenous" or simply "native."

But I am starting to digress, so allow me to take a breather and get back on point.

And from here on out, I am going to stop using the strike-through effect (American Indian Native American) and just say Indian.

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I already said that naming your team after something honors that something.

In the case of giving teams Indian names, the naming does more than just honor. Whether intentional or not, it often serves an educational purpose by keeping historical and cultural memory alive.

Take the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of three of the last seven Stanley Cups. By naming themselves Blackhawks and making an Indian visage their logo, they salute the history of the Upper Midwest by drawing attention to Black Hawk himself. A leader of the Sauk Tribe who lived from 1767-1838 and co-wrote America's first Indian autobiography, he was an undeniably important figure; but I daresay that without the hockey team, he would have long since been forgotten by everybody except a handful of academics and the tiny number of people who are tribal historians.

And with apologies to Gordon Lightfoot, were it not for the Central Michigan Chippewas I might not have known there was a Chippewa Tribe.

Were it not for the Utah Utes, I might not have known there was a Ute Tribe.

When I was a senior at Auburn University, way back during the first George Bush's presidency, I listened to a graduate assistant professor in a public speaking class talk about how inappropriate it is for Florida State University to call its teams the Seminoles. This forced me to raise my hand and defend a rival school by pointing out that the actual Seminole Tribe, comprised of actual Seminoles, loves the affiliation and even helped FSU design its mascot and create its famous "tomahawk chop" chant. The educator in the room was uneducated (not a huge surprise) on the topic about which she was professing to students (though to her credit, she did thank me for edifying her and it was obvious she meant it).

Meanwhile, nobody says it's anti-Greek bigotry for Michigan State to call its teams the Spartans -- because it's not.

Nobody says it's anti-Turk bigotry for USC to call its teams the Trojans -- because it's not.

Nobody says it's anti-Roman/Italian bigotry for Ottawa's NHL team to be called the Senators -- because it's not.

And nobody says it's anti-Gaelic for Notre Dame to call its teams the Fighting Irish -- because it's not.

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Although this post began by talking about the names of sports teams, the issue is much bigger than that.

The mindset that finds (actually, seeks) offense in team names is one that seeks (and thus finds) offense in every walk of life. What makes that mindset poisonous is that: 1) it is exclusionary when it comes to the groups on whose behalf it seeks/finds offense, and 2) it aims to metastasize itself throughout America's entire population until everyone conforms to its wishes.

Where does this all end if you follow the (ir)rationale to its (il)logical conclusion?

Should the city of Seattle be shamed into renaming itself because it took its name from the nineteenth century Suquamish leader? After all, metropolitan non-Indians have been so successful at "appropriating" Chief Seattle that nobody today has heard of him and everyone associates his name with pale-faced IT execs who sip lattes.

Think of all the other places in the USA that would need to be renamed if it's "offensive" or "insensitive" to name something after an Indian or Indian tribe. Say goodbye to Cheyenne, Wyoming; Pueblo, Colorado; Wichita, Kansas; Waco, Texas; Pensacola, Florida; and both Pontiac and Point Huron, Michigan.

What if we expand the list to include not just places named after specific Indians and tribes, but also places that were named using words "appropriated" from Indian languages? In that case, all the bleeding hearts in New England should storm the grounds of Quinnipiac University and demand that it start calling itself...what? Mount Carmel Polytech?

And while New England's bleeding hearts do that, a large number of entertainment industry liberals should stop saying they live in Malibu and start demanding that their one-percenter enclave change its name to...what? Beach City?

Other places in need of new names would include Ohio, Manhattan, Milwaukee, Miami, Tampa, Chattanooga, Spokane, Topeka, Tuscon, the Potomac River, the Willamette River, and the Poconos Mountains.

Oh, and Chicago. Maybe instead of the Chicago Blackhawks, that hockey club should from now on be called the Lake City Birds of Prey?

And what should we do about the great state of Indiana? The word "Indiana" means "Land of the Indians," and surely there are some Indians saddened by the fact that the state bears that name when so few of its residents are Indians, right?

Come on, people. The ubiquity of Indian words and names in our country accomplishes more than anything else does when it comes to perpetuating Indian history's importance to American history.

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I am all for cultural awareness and enlightenment. I am all for tolerance and understanding and acceptance, and for the resulting melting pot that is supposed to distinguish our mongrel nation from all the other nations of the world. However, knowledge is an integral part of all that and there seems to be very little knowledge among those who claim to champion "diversity."

As far as Indians are concerned, American culture should certainly include them -- they were here first, after all -- but we must not deceive ourselves and our offspring about what "Indian culture" entails, and therefore we must abandon the pretense that Indians were/are a bunch of calumet-smoking peaceniks and selfless environmental stewards.

Like I said, I always chose to be an Indian rather than a cowboy when I was a tyke, and today, at age 45, I retain a healthy appreciation for many things Indian -- but I am also aware that the basic idea of "Indian culture" is bogus because every tribe is different, and I know that the reality of many tribes is not at all what the makers of Dances With Wolves would have you believe.

Up until the white man's arrival (and continuing after his arrival) many tribes were in a state of constant warfare with one another, and not only were they "merely" violent to each other, they were, yes, savagely so. On some occasions whole tribes were murdered into extinction by opposing tribes.

As Michael Crichton put it in his seminal 2003 address to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, about distinguishing truth from propaganda: "The warlike tribes of this continent are famous: the Comanche, Sioux, Apache, Mohawk, Aztecs, Toltec, Incas. Some of them practiced infanticide, and human sacrifice. And those tribes that were not fiercely warlike were exterminated, or learned to build their villages high in the cliffs to attain some measure of safety."

When the white man arrived on the scene, the rules he played by were not ones that Indians disagreed with or were unfamiliar with. He played by the same rules they had been playing by since time immemorial. It's just that he came with better technology and in greater numbers... This is not to say that his treatment of Indians in the 1800's was rightful by today's standards, it's just to counsel against believing that Indians would have been any more merciful had the shoe been on the other foot.

Then there is current reality. Every Elizabeth Warren voter in Massachusetts thinks that declaring his opposition to the name "Washington Redskins" puts him on the side of the angels... but does he know even one thing about the lives of Indians in America?

The rates of depravity on Indian reservations are much higher than the national averages, and when I say "depravity" I am referring specifically to child abuse, rape, and alcoholism.

According to Charon Asetoyer, a women's health advocate on the Yankton Sioux Reservation, a girl being raped there is "more expected than unexpected."

In the Navajo Nation, 329 rapes were reported in 2007, and five years later only 17 arrests had resulted from those reports (one-half of one percent).

Class 3 sex offenders are those deemed most likely to commit more sex crimes after getting out of prison. On a per capita basis, as reported last year in the New York Times, the Rosebud Sioux Reservation has almost ten times the number of Class 3 offenders living there as live in Boston, and almost twenty times more than Minneapolis. The Tohino O'odham Reservation has more than thirty times as many resident Class 3 offenders as Boston and more than sixty times as many as Minneapolis.

Such numbers point to a dangerous environment for women and children, and they are not exactly anomalies. It was reported in 2014 that 22 percent of Indian juveniles suffer from PTSD -- a rate on par with that of battle veterans returning from the Middle East.

In her recent book The New Trail of Tears, Naomi Schaefer Riley writes about a school on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Once per month, on a day scheduled to coincide with the arrival of federal welfare checks, the school literally locks the children inside for the day -- and although the children play games and such, the reason for the "lock in" is that when the checks arrive, people load up on booze and get blitzed and are considered a clear and present threat to abuse the kids.

Pine Ridge is an enormous reservation of almost 3,500 square miles that sprawls across the southwestern corner of South Dakota, practically abutting the state line with Nebraska. Life expectancy there is just 48 for males, 52 for females. Alcoholism has been an enormous problem for much of its 148-year history even though the sale of alcohol on the reservation itself has been prohibited for most of that time.

In a 2013 report, Jay Nordlinger mentioned the town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, which sits just south of the reservation and is one of the places where Indians go to purchase what was once known as "firewater." At the time of Nordlinger's report, Whiteclay's population was a grand total of 12 -- not 12,000 or 1,200, just twelve -- yet it had four liquor stores. Those stores were selling a staggering 12,000 cans of beer per day, which is even more staggering when you consider that the population of the entire vast reservation is only about 28,000 (including children) and many of them live far from Whiteclay and get their booze elsewhere.

One can certainly make a case that the 12 white people of Whiteclay (or at least four of them) are "vultures of capitalism" who prey on the vulnerabilities of their minority neighbors. However, to make that case is to ignore the elephant in the room, for it is the Indians of Pine Ridge who choose to marinate in alcohol. No one forces them to.

And it is the Indians of Pine Ridge who choose to behave in such ways that teachers feel compelled to lock children in school to protect them from adults -- just like it is Indian men who choose to rape women and girls in such massive numbers on the Rosebud and Tohino O'odham reservations (and other reservations).

Of course, these dark realities do not reflect on every Indian and should not be considered the defining features of "Indian culture." They do, however, prove that "Indian culture" should not be unthinkingly flattered just so white people can pat themselves on the back for being "culturally sensitive."

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Getting back on point: Those who feel offended by sports teams having Indian names are the kind of people whose understanding of Indians and Indian history is less than skin deep. For all practical purposes, it is limited to what they were told by their kindergarten teachers when they cut out those construction paper feathers to make those construction paper headdresses for Thanksgiving. It is limited to that because none of their other teachers through the years bothered to educate them.

The headline of this post says it's "all about the name," but considering how the post has taken on a life of its own, it's obvious that the headline is wrong. People getting offended to the point of lather about things as superficial as Indian team names, while possessing no knowledge of Indian lives and the real troubles which plague them, is a sign of intellectual and moral decay.

If people truly care about a subject, they endeavor to learn about it and then focus their energies on the heart and soul of whatever problems afflict it. Because "Indian team names" is not really a subject, but rather a shibboleth to signify that one cares about "Indian issues" writ large, it stands to reason that those who criticize the team names would also be heard talking about the need to combat alcoholism and misogyny and child abuse on reservations -- yet we almost never hear them mention those things.

And, it stands to reason that the "caring" people would be out front expressing concern about something much more elemental: The prospects for Indians to simply survive in the modern world. There are only three million of them in the United States, which makes them less than one percent of our population. This means there are 1.3 million more people living in just the Tampa Bay Area (where I'm from) than there are Indians living in the entire country. It also means that the number of illegal aliens estimated to be in the United States is almost four times the number of Indians.

Ponder those scant population figures, then think about how that population is fragmented across the Lower 48 and Alaska, and about the fact that many parts of that population are plagued by the kinds of social pathologies noted above. If Indians were animals instead of people, the government would declare them an endangered species and high profile 501(c)(3)'s like Greenpeace would rally to save them.

But Indians get none of that love, concern, or even attention. Not from our government, not from our philanthropists, and certainly not from all those TV sports anchors who ostentatiously say "the Washington football team" instead of "the Washington Redskins."

Those white folks are blissfully unaware of actual human tragedies because they are too busy congratulating themselves for caring about fake ones. And that is not just effing ridiculous -- it's an effing disgrace.


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