Tag Archives: Race

Unidentified Me

Image Source: http://www.cinemablend.com/images/news_img/41140/Despicable_Me_3_41140.jpg
Image Source: http://www.cinemablend.com/images/news_img/41140/Despicable_Me_3_41140.jpg

How do you identify yourself? There’s a lot of ways to approach that question. I could approach it in terms of my name, Jason Cantrell. Or by considering nicknames, like Jay to some friends, JDizzle to others, Hey You to strangers in the Walmart parking lot, or Baby to my ex. I could consider my race, which is white, or my national background, a third generation Irish/Lithuanian immigrant descendant. I could call myself a writer, a poet, a publisher, a procrastinator, a space cowboy, or Maurice. Then there’s things I, personally, consider more complicated, like gender, sexuality, and orientation. For some people, myself included, those things are harder to put a name to.

I read a lot about gender-related subjects. I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve taken classes on it, I follow a number of gender- and sexuality-related news accounts such as the No Shame Movement, various feminist and transgender or queer bloggers, and anyone else who talks about open, progressive, and inclusive ideas and philosophies. I try to read up as much as I can because I like to learn and I want to improve myself. But I rarely write about these subjects because I don’t feel like what I have to say adds something valuable that can’t be expressed better by someone else. In other words, I leave it to the experts, and just read and learn from them.

So why am I writing about it today? Well, several things popped up on my social media feeds that related to my personal experiences, and they got my mind going. First there was an article posted on Fox News about parents protesting the type of sex education being taught in certain schools, which led to me reading an infographic titled “The Genderbread person” (as well as a related analysis of it). Then, I stumbled across a separate subject on Twitter, asking people about their thoughts on cisgender authors writing transgender characters in their novels.

That led to me asking a lot of questions of my own, because I have a transgender character in my novels, but I don’t identify as a cisgender author. But I don’t know how to express what that means.

Gender, sexuality, and so forth can’t be expressed in terms of certain key points. Instead, there’s a spectrum. For example, many times I see people writing or tweeting about orientation using only gay, straight, or bisexual. But when you consider the number of possible genders someone could be, and the number someone could be attracted to, the definitions quickly spiral out of control. Just to name a few, you could be male and be attracted to cisgender women,  cisgender men, transgender women, transgender men, or combinations of the above (cisgender women and cisgender men, cisgender women and transgender women, cisgender women and transgender men, etc). Even without expanding this to include androgynous, asexual, or any other options, there’s easily dozens of possible orientations that can be created on that list, and that’s before considering what gender you personally identify as.

One article I found listed 63 different identity/orientation combinations, and I don’t even think that’s inclusive. I don’t think any list can be completely inclusive, because you can always break categories down into deeper subcategories. For example, some people just think bisexual means “attracted to both men and women.” But I’ve seen lots of people discuss how it’s not simply a 50/50 ratio. You might be more attracted to men, more attracted to women, or anywhere in between, but the various possibilities all get caught under the umbrella term “bisexual.”

Here’s another way of looking at it. I read a study once on perception and categorization that asked people to divide colored tiles (like the paint swatches you get at Sherwin Williams) and sort them according to color. But what groupings people use depend on their culture and their perceptions. For example, depending on the common words in your native language, you might create a different number of categories. The Russian language includes the words sinij for “dark blue” and goluboj for “light blue.” English doesn’t have individual “common” words for these variations (words like “cyan” or “navy” not being the first words people think of for a color, but rather being words people think of for various “shades” of blue). This could lead to a difference where the English speaker would put all the “blue” tiles in one pile together while the Russian speaker would divide them up into one sinij pile and one goluboj pile. Other languages might blur the distinction even more by counting blue and green as different shades of the same color.

By comparison, the “common” terms we have for gender and sexuality might lead to people sorting each other into certain “categories,” but those categories aren’t nearly as well-defined as people might think. Most people I know don’t use a common word for something like “a cisgender man who is attracted to both cisgender and transgender women” or “a transgender woman who is attracted to cisgender men and cisgender women” or “a cisgender woman who is attracted to cisgender men and transgender women.” If you were “sorting” people according to those definitions, would you put the above examples under the category “gay,” “straight,” or “bisexual”? Or would you use a broader selection of terms that don’t fit neatly into those three common categories? Do you consider “straight” to only include cismale/cisfemale, “gay” to only include cismale/cismale or cisfemale/cisfemale, and “bisexual” to include everything in between? Or do you consider “straight” to mean any trans or straight male attracted to any trans or straight female (and vice versa)? And this is before adding more definitions to include gender expressions of masculinity vs femininity, or any of the other areas of the different spectrums.

In the long run, the only respectful thing to do is accept whatever terms or definitions people use to identify their own selves. But even defining your own self can be more complicated than picking a label from the list and slapping it on.

So how do I identify myself? I really don’t know. I could only describe it by going into a detailed explanation of where I fall on every one of the different spectrums: identity, expression, sex, and attraction. And that personal of an explanation is something I’m not comfortable sharing, but I can tell you I don’t fall into any easy categories. Though if anyone ever asks me why I decided to write a transgender character in my novels, the answer is simple. Because it’s something I can relate to.

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Interview with Reverend John Norwood

As part of my ongoing research into Native American culture and the debate over the Washington Redskins name change, I felt it was important to reach out to members of the Native American community in order to hear their perspectives. As I’ve mentioned previously on the blog, I’m extremely aware that from my standpoint as a white American, I’m incapable to fully grasping the struggles and perspectives of another race. Speaking to members of that community to hear their voices is the best way to learn about their perspectives.

To this end, I reached out to the Nanticoke Indian Tribe in the hopes of finding someone I could speak to about these issues. My request for contact was forwarded to the Chief and Council of the tribe, and I was then contacted by Reverend John Norwood, who said he was asked to respond to my request and serve as the spokesperson on behalf of the tribe. He was gracious enough to speak with me in a telephone interview on Tuesday, March 26th.

After greeting Reverend Norwood and telling him about my research into the name change, I asked him for his thoughts on the debate.

“The position I take on the mascot,” he said, “is that people don’t understand how devastating it can be, even when you are trying to honor the tribe.”

He explained that matters like the use of Native American images in mascots have to be handled sensitively, and that they should be handled on the local level. When Native American images are used at the national level, such as with major sports teams, he said that can make it difficult to teach people about the needed sensitivity. In some cases, the use of Native American imagery is handled properly and respectfully.

“Our southernmost community has a relationship with their school district,” he said, explaining how that tribe has granted permission for their local school district to make use of their tribal images. “That is between that tribe and that school district. But the school does not own the images, and the school is teaching about sensitivity.” The fact that the individual school is addressing the issue with respect and sensitivity, he explained, is an important variable.

“Most of the time it’s not the case,” he added, explaining that many other uses of Native American images aren’t handled properly. “What you have are mascots that do harm to the history and psychological well-being of tribes.”

When I asked him more about how some institutions improperly use the images, he said, “Native Americans don’t have the opportunity to control how the mascot is displayed. That is actually the stealing of heritage. The way it was taken is the same way our lands were taken. Most of the institutions don’t have any link to tribal heritage, and the images used are stereotypical about 90% of the time.”

He then explained some of the issues about the specific ways in which the mascots are displayed. He referenced some of the violent conflicts from the past where many Native Americans were killed. “Indians were being decapitated,” he said. “Whole villages would be decapitated. When people see a floating Indian head, that’s what they remember. If it brings up painful memories and painful history, then that’s offensive.”

This point is one that I haven’t seen raised in the other articles I’ve read regarding the mascot debate. Most of the articles I’ve read tend to speak about how the name “Redskins” is racist and offensive, but the image of the mascot itself is often ignored. Yet it turns out that the image itself can be associated with a violent and traumatizing past.

Reverend Norwood also spoke of the ways in which Native images are often portrayed as caricatures and stereotypes. He told me about how his son played in an intramural basketball league, and when his team played against a school with an Indian mascot, the images painted on the walls were of “a racist looking caricature of an Indian.”

“If an African American had walked in and seen a caricature of an African,” he said, “or if it were a Jewish or Asian image, something would be done about it. When it’s Indian people and we say we’re offended, they say, ‘We’re just honoring you.’ We are dismissed.”

His words reminded me of a number of articles I’ve read in the last few weeks that referenced that same point. People who defend the use of Native American mascots often argue that they do so to “honor” the Native American people. But Reverend Norwood explained that the use of these images in improper, misrepresentative ways does not honor them.

“Only certain people were allowed to do certain things and earned that honor,” he said. “When we say we are offended and these people who say they are honoring us, they dismiss us.

“It is possible to gain the support of a local tribe to bless the use of an image. To truly honor by engaging and understanding that is a privilege. Not a right. Typically, there is an arrogance. The misappropriation of badges of honor.”

What Reverend Norwood was referring to is called “cultural appropriation.” It is defined as “the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group,” but it can also be referred to as “the act of stealing and corrupting.” Along with the debates and protests over the use of Native American images in sports mascots, there are protests over individuals using traditional Native American clothing and adornments as fashion statements. One example that has gained recent notoriety is the band Pink Pony, which sparked protests when they posted photos of one of their band members wearing a Native headdress “that is traditionally reserved for Native Tribal Chiefs and not for members of unsigned Electronica bands.” This is another example of what Reverend Norwood referred to when he said, “Only certain people were allowed to do certain things and earned that honor.”

“It wouldn’t be tolerated with any other race,” he said. “The history of American Indians is unique in this country because we’re the only indigenous people.”

He then explained how his people are often excluded even in the language used by many others in the country. As an example, he spoke about how many politicians will use the phrase, “We are a country of immigrants,” a phrase that was even used by President Obama on Citizenship Day 2013. Yet as Reverend Norwood explained, such phrasing excludes Native Americans who have lived here since long before our current country was founded.

“My people were here,” he said. But he explained that his people have a sense of exclusion, and that they are viewed as a conquered or vanquished people who are often ignored by politicians and the government. “They don’t want to deal with the plight of the tribes today. It’s a huge insult.”

I then asked him about the Washington Redskins as a specific case. “The term is a term we don’t call ourselves,” he said, echoing the words of the “Proud to Be” video released by the National Congress of American Indians. “It’s an insult. The arrogance of the owners is a travesty. If it was any other race, they would understand. We are dictated to, more so than any other individual group. The mascot issue is symbolic of the continuing struggle of American Indians.”

He then continued, “An institution will get an individual group to say it’s okay. That doesn’t matter.” Instead, he explained, a team would need the support of the tribal nations. An example of what Reverend Norwood was referring to can be seen in the recent news about Redskins owner Dan Snyder and his efforts to reach out to Native American communities. As reported by The Nation, Dan Snyder recently released a letter in which he described how he spoke “face-to-face with Native American leaders and community members,” but as The Nation’s article points out, he didn’t speak with the oldest Native American civil rights organization, the National Congress of American Indians. In essence, what this means is that while Mr. Snyder may have gained the support of some individual communities, that support cannot be said to represent the beliefs and views of the tribal nations as a whole.

When I asked Reverend Norwood to explain when a mascot would or wouldn’t be okay or under what circumstances permission would be granted, he said, “When it crosses the line into disrespect, then it’s a problem. It’s a direct insult to your very identity. And when you say that, you’re cast as being unreasonable.

“Opinions vary. Some extreme people will say, ‘It’s all wrong.’ Some say ‘Oh, it’s not a problem.’ Something in the middle is where the real problem is.”

We then discussed the way certain individual schools and institutions could gain permission. “Let’s say you have an area with a tribe that is still active in the area,” he said. “The tribe continues to educate and advise so that the school doesn’t think that they own it.” In this way, he said, the use of a Native American mascot can be monitored by the tribe to make sure they don’t devolve into an insulting image. Without this continued relationship with a tribe, he said, “Mascots will deteriorate into a caricature and an insult.”

As an example, he told me that his local township uses an Indian symbol. “But the township has a formal relationship with the tribe,” he said. “Their engagement and understanding is valuable. That was blessed. That’s okay. This is how we can respect and honor the culture. But I have never personally spoken to a tribal Indian who thought it was okay to have an offensive mascot.” It is important, he explained, for there to be continued engagement between the institution and the tribe, and that the tribe should retain the rights to withdraw their permission in the future, should they feel the need to do so.

“There must be a continuing relationship of respect,” he said. “And if you’re not going to do that, stay away from it.”

But this type of continuing relationship, he explained, can only occur on a case-by-case basis with individual tribes and their local schools and institutions. On the national level, he said, “There’s no tribe to get consent from. They need to change. If you’re using those images, you need to engage them. If you do anything less, you’re doing violence to them.

“I’ve had to wipe the tears off the cheeks of my own children and the tribal children dealing with that. When racism happens, we are all victimized by that racism. All are affected. Our mindset is affected. It has a negative influence on our society and our cultures. We are all victims. We are all victimized by it, in some way, shape, or form.

“Even the head of the Redskins is bound by that,” he said in conclusion. “It kills a bit of his soul. It affects all of us.”

Reverend Norwood also forwarded me a publication by the National Congress of American Indians, titled, “Ending the Legacy Of Racism in Sports & the Era of Harmful “Indian” Sports Mascots.” It is a compelling document that I strongly recommend reading.

Sports Culture Interview, Results, and Reflection

As I recently mentioned, on Monday, March 24th I conducted an interview on the topic of sports culture. I wanted to get the perspective of an avid sports fan in order to learn what his views are on the significance of sports in modern life, and on the debate over the name of the Washington Redskins. This is just one of multiple interviews I’m conducting on this subject, and during the course of the next couple of weeks I’ll be trying to learn from the perspectives of multiple individuals from different backgrounds.

The individual I interviewed was a man named George, who works as a bartender at a local Chili’s. I was introduced to him through a friend, who told me that George was extremely knowledgeable on the topic of sports. I soon found out that this was an understatement, and George ended up sharing a lot of fascinating information with me.

I arrived at the Chili’s early, and I was shown to the bar. While I was waiting for George to arrive, I took some time to look around at the environment. The bar area was quiet, since it was a Monday afternoon and many people were likely still at their day jobs. Two TVs hung over the bar at either end of the room, both playing sports channels. One was playing “Intentional Talk,” a sports talk show on the MLB Network. The sound was muted so the on-screen discussion couldn’t be heard, but the show moved back and forth between the discussion and clips of recent baseball games, along with statistics displayed on screen updating the audience about various games. At the bottom of the screen, a scorebar showed live updates of the scores of various spring training games taking place that day.

The second television was playing ESPN’s “NFL Insiders.” On that muted screen, three men and a woman discussed football stats, while the screen alternated between the discussion and lists of various player statistics.

George soon arrived, full of pep and energy. Since I was interviewing him during his work shift, he spent the first few minutes checking the stock levels of the bar’s supplies and getting his cash register setup. Yet even before I started asking him questions, he already started talking about sports with the other bartender.

“I can’t even hate the cowboys anymore,” he said when the other bartender brought up football. “They’re just not good.”

“Hate on principle,” the other bartender said. The directness of her comment made me smirk; even though I’m not a sports fan, I’ve been conditioned to hate the Dallas Cowboys from a young age, as are most others who live in the Philadelphia area. Rivalries, it seemed, could become a part of the entire region.

“I’m getting too old to hate,” George said.

Once we settled into a serious discussion of sports culture, one of the first things George brought up was this idea of fan identity. He explained to me that Philadelphia fans are well-known, even notorious, for their passion about their teams. “Philly fans are the best fans,” he said. “A sports franchise is supposed to take on the identity of the city.”

That identity is strongest in Philly, he explained, partially because Philadelphia is one of only three cities where all their teams for the major sports (football, baseball, hockey, and basketball) are within the city limits. This immediately reminded me of my recent trip to a Flyers hockey game, where I noticed that the stadiums for all of Philly’s teams are built within sight of each other in a closely-packed sports district. It turns out that only Philadelphia, Chicago, and Denver had such a self-contained set of sports franchises all within their city limits, and only a total of twelve cities even have stadiums for all four major sports within their greater metropolitan area.

George then started explaining the importance of this identity connection between the fans and the city. “The number one thing is not about winning,” he said. “It’s about how you reflect the fan base. Even if you have bad moves for winning, you bring fans into the ballpark.” He then proceeded to explain how some fans might complain about their team making a certain trade or a certain draft pick that they disapproved of, because the decisions don’t always seem like the types that will lead to more wins and more championships. But, he said, the teams made moves that “developed their identity with their fan base.”

I asked him to describe the “Philadelphia identity,” and he began making comparisons to other widely-known Philadelphia cultural icons. “We have Rocky,” he said, referring to the Sylvester Stallone film, which was set in Philadelphia. “People think Rocky. They think the Liberty Bell. They think the art museum. They think the Flyers.” As George explained this, I thought back to my experiences at the Flyers game. I told him about how they had played images of the Liberty Bell on the JumboTron before the game started, along with other images of American icons. Playing those images in association with the sporting even is part of how this “Philadelphia identity” is forged and reinforced.

When I asked him for more details about the identity of the Flyers in particular, he pointed out that their nickname, the “Broad Street Bullies,” says it all. “Flyers are not finesse,” he said. “Flyers have lots of hits, lots of checking.” Other teams, he explained, might have players who make careful, finesseful shots. The Flyers, on the other hand, are more likely to rush the goalie and score in a more forceful manner.

I then asked George how this “Philadelphia identity” and the “Flyers identity” connected with the fans themselves. “Philadelphia fans have sports, but that’s it,” he explained. “That’s our focal point in Philadelphia. It’s sports.” We discussed how, in Philadelphia, there isn’t much else in the local area, like New York’s nightlife or Florida’s beaches and resorts. As an example, he spoke about the Florida Marlins, known now as the Miami Marlins. He said that they are a good team (and have won two World Series championships), but they don’t draw in the fans. In fact, I found that Miami’s attendance was ranked 28 out of 30 in 2013 (with Philadelphia coming in at #8), 18 out of 30 in 2012 (with Philadelphia at #1), 29 out of 30 in 2011 (with Philadelphia at #1), and 28 out of 20 in 2010 (with Philadelphia at #2). The attendance boost in 2012 is mostly attributed to the fact that the team built a brand new stadium that opened that year.

The low attendance doesn’t seem to be entirely due to poor performance, since while the Marlins ranked #29 in performance in 2013, they were #25 in 2012, and #22 in 2011, and #17 in 2010. So why would the team’s attendance be so consistently low (ranking 28th, 28th, and 29th  for the three years excluding when the new stadium was built), when their performance only matched that low ranking in one of those years? George told me that it was because Florida has a culture that is more focused on resorts, families on vacations, and senior citizens who have retired in the area. They simply don’t have the same focus on sports that the Philadelphia area has.

After having learned about Philadelphia’s sports culture and the way culture can vary from one city to another, I asked George what he thought about the Washington Redskins name change debate. He explained, “Fans don’t see the Redskins name as a problem. A very small group of people are offended by the name. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t know if it was meant to be an insult when they came up with the names. Look at what was acceptable language in different eras.”

When we started discussing language and the evolution it’s taken over the years, George pointed out the differences between sports team names during the late 1800s and early 1900s compared to those today. He pointed out that newly formed sports teams, like those found in major league soccer, tend to use more “modern” names, like the Houston Dynamo, the Philadelphia Union, and the LA Galaxy. Since major league soccer wasn’t founded until 1993 (compared to major league baseball which was founded in 1869 and the NFL which was founded in 1920), the naming traditions some from a very different cultural viewpoint. Many forms of language that were accepted in the years when other sports leagues were founded are no longer accepted today. Teams like the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians, therefore, gained their names during an era of language that is no longer appropriate today.

After giving this topic some thought, George said, “Does it make it right, necessarily? No, I don’t think it makes it right. Is it a form of genocide? We as humans take things from the past, and there’s this sense that we’re making fun of something that’s extinct.”

“It’s tough, though,” he added, “because there’s so many arguments. It’s not right, though. Everybody has a tolerance for pain. If you find words painful, you can’t help that sometimes. Is that a form of cultural extinction? Is that what we’re doing to people?”

Since we had begun discussing baseball more than any other sport, I decided to ask George how he felt about the efforts to change the offensive names and mascots like the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo. A recent Twitter movement has sprung up under the hashtag “#DeChief,” encouraging people to remove the Indians’ logo from their hats, jerseys, and other sports gear. Some fans are now starting to attend games wearing their “dechiefed” gear, while others protest that anyone who doesn’t like the mascot should root for another team.

“They’re trying to go with the ‘C’ more than the chief logo,” George said. “There’s this identity with that. It’s tough. It’s definitely a tough gray area. You feel differently about it every day. There’s tradition, and there’s offending people.”

One of the TVs above the bar had started playing a baseball game, the Cleveland Indians vs the Cincinnati Reds. We discussed the game for a time. Then, just before I left, George said, “Here’s my best advice: Don’t get involved in sports. Too many wasted emotions. It’s fun, though. You have to compete with somebody. Some people take solace in being able to compete with themselves. ‘Can I do this, can I do that.’ But baseball is head to head. There’s somebody else that is going to lose.”

After the interview was over, I had some time to reflect on it and to consider what I learned. I definitely felt that George and I had a good discussion, and he revealed a lot about the nature of sports and identity. I was also pleasantly surprised about how smooth the discussion went, even when we touched on sensitive topics. This was good, since as I discussed in my pre-interview post, I was hoping for an open flow of communication that would help both George and myself to discuss and learn as we went along. George’s introspective questions about the morality of the situation and about cultural extinction led me to believe he was considering ideas he hadn’t considered before, and I certainly know that I was.

Of course, one limitation of this interview was that George is a Philadelphia fan, rather than a fan of the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Indians. If possible, I may try to seek out a fan of one of those teams in order to learn what they have to say about these debates. Though George did tell me that if the name and mascot of one of his Philly teams were to be changed, he would probably find that upsetting. When I consider everything George said about a sports team being a part of a city’s identity, and how the team works to connect with the culture of the people who live in their area, it makes sense that people would take it personally. The challenge, then, is to address the need for change while still keeping in mind the emotional impact it will have on fans who see their sports team as a part of their identity. From what I’ve seen in many of the online debates I’ve witnessed, many sports fans react harshly, which makes it difficult to have a discussion about the need for change. In fact, a study that I read (Fandom and Psychological Enhancement: Effects of Sport Team Identification and Imagined Interaction on Self-Esteem and Management of Social Behaviors, Keaton, et al, 2014) stated that “When identity or ego becomes threatened (such as after a loss) much research finds that aggressive behaviors occur because highly favorable views of the self are disputed by others” (p. 4). If fans strongly identify with their sports team, and that sports team’s identity is disputed by others, it makes sense that fans would end up taking it personally.

I plan to keep these ideas in mind in my future interviews. I have several others planned this week, and I’m hoping that they will also go smoothly. My conversation with George went well largely due to the rapport we built up early on and how comfortable we became with the discussion. I think it also helped that I was able to share my own experiences with him, such as when I discussed my recent trip to the Flyers game. It helped us to establish a connection and it helped fuel the conversation that followed. With any luck I’ll be able to establish similar connections with the others I interview.

I’m Going To A Hockey Game

My first ever ticket to a hockey game.
My first ever ticket to a hockey game.

As you may know, I’ve been doing research lately into sports culture and Native American culture and history. The core of this research relates to the ongoing debate over the Washington Redskins name change, and I’ve found news articles arguing both for and against changing the team’s name.

In addition to reading about the news and debates on this subject, I’m conducting field research. I’ve come to view the debate as a clash between two cultures. On the one side are the Native American cultures that have thousands of years of history in these lands, including a long history of racism, genocide, and oppression. On the other side is the modern American sports culture, comprised of fans from various social and cultural backgrounds who are unified by their common interest and participation in a community-building activity. In order to fully understand the conflict taking place, I am trying to study both of these cultures in depth.

In order to study sports culture, I decided I need to go to a sporting event and take part in the activities there. I’ve never been a sports fan; my dad took me to two baseball games when I was a child, and one of my uncles once took me to a football game, and each of these experiences bored me. I never understood the passion, camaraderie, excitement, and bonding that people experience around sports. That means that to me, this culture is a foreign entity, and I’m an outsider.

I’m therefore going to attend a game with an open mind and a notebook in hand, hoping to gain some better understanding of what it means to be a sports fan. The book “Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes” says that understanding and getting close to a culture requires “physical and social proximity to the daily rounds of people’s lives and activities” (p. 2). A researcher needs to immerse themselves within a culture and experience it firsthand in order to report on it. While attending a single game will only be a minor amount of “immersion” into this culture, it should nonetheless be an enlightening experience.

While at the game, I will be making a specific conscious effort to study the fans there, and hopefully I will have the chance to interact with some of them and learn about what drives them. I plan to take a lot of notes, since “Fieldnotes” says that fieldnotes are “the primary means for deeper appreciation of how field researchers come to grasp and interpret the actions and concerns of others” (p. 17). Understanding and interpreting the actions (such as cheering on your team) and concerns (such as fearing your team’s defeat) will be a difficult task for me. I’ve seen people watching sports on TV, and I’ve always been confused when the spectators (both those at home and those visible in the stadium on TV) get up and start cheering and shouting over a certain part of the game. I really do not understand what prompts this reaction, and I’ve never experienced this excitement firsthand.

While at the game, there is also a secondary subject that I will be observing. During my research, I read an article by Amanda Blackhorse, “Why the R*dsk*ns Need to Change Their Name.” Blackhorse’s stance is that the name is racist and oppressive, and she argues that it should be changed. In addition, during her article she detailed her experiences attending a football game between the Washington Redskins and the Kansas City Chiefs, both of whom have mascots based on Native American cultures. Blackhorse described her experience and specifically pointed out her reactions to the team decorations, posters, and other paraphernalia:

“Meanwhile, we were surrounded by imagery that mocked Native Americans and our cultures, in the form of posters, paraphernalia and even a portable toilet in the shape of a teepee. I did not feel safe. It was an ugly display of hostility and disdain toward my people.”

This is another dimension to the conflict I am studying. In addition to the name “Redskins,” there is an issue regarding the mascot images and how they portray Native Americans in a stereotypical fashion that Blackhorse described as “mock[ing] Native Americans and our cultures.”

I’m not currently able to attend a football game like the one Blackhorse attended (since football season ended several weeks ago). However, by chance it turned out that the hockey game being played in Philadelphia this week is between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Chicago Blackhawks.

Now, during my research, I found references to a number of other football and baseball teams with Native American-themed mascots. Some of the other teams were also the subject of controversy, but according to an article I read on CNN.com, “The Florida State Seminoles, Central Michigan Chippewas, Utah Utes and Mississippi College Choctaws have all been granted waivers to keep their nicknames after the respective tribes gave their support to the schools.” I therefore realized that some teams might be more accepted than others. Hockey teams didn’t come up in my original research run, so when I saw that the game being played tomorrow included the Blackhawks, I decided to look into it and find out whether they are also the subject of controversy.

The first article I found zeroed in on the exact question I was asking. The article, “Redskins Rep Asks Why Blackhawks’ Name Isn’t Being Challenged,” was tied in to the Redskins name change, and explained some direct comparisons between the Redskins and the Blackhawks. Both teams have been around for a long time (the Blackhawks since 1926 and the Redskins since 1937). However, the article states that the Blackhawks team is “named after the “Blackhawk Division” of the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 86th Infantry Division during World War I.” That infantry division, in turn, was named after Suak Chief Black Hawk. The name was chosen by Frederic McLaughlin, who was a commander with the Blackhawk infantry division. McLaughlin became owner of the Blackhawks hockey team several years after the end of World War I. It therefore seems plausible to consider that since McLaughlin named his team after his own WWI infantry division, there may be more of an argument in favor of the legitimacy of the name. By comparison, several articles I read referred to the Redskins team name as a racial slur, which is definitely different than naming a team after a Suak Chief.

In addition, an article on ABC.com quoted Joe Podlasek of the American Indian Center:

“Podlasek runs that center in Chicago and was instrumental in the fight to get the University of Illinois to bench its mascot, Chief Illiniwek. He says what makes the Blackhawks a bit better is they don’t use a mascot to dance around and, in his opinion, mock his heritage.

In the locker room, players are told not to step on the chief logo, and fans in the stands don’t do a tomahawk chop, like at Braves games in Atlanta.”

Comparing this quote to Amanda Blackhorse’s description of her experiences at a Redskins vs Chiefs game, I see a more complex reason for the lack of controversy over the Blackhawks’ name. Blackhorse described how the mascots of the Redskins and the Chiefs “mocked” her culture. According to the ABC.com article, the Blackhawks don’t do that. Likewise, another article in the Chicago Tribune said that the lack of controversy could be related to “Chicago’s small American Indian community [and] the team’s support of a local American Indian organization.”

After reading all of this, I will be curious to see what it is like to watch the Blackhawks play firsthand. While I might get more of a feel for the culture of the Blackhawks as a team if I attended a game in their home city of Chicago, I still expect there will be Blackhawks fans at the Philadelphia game. So while observing fans in general in order to understand sports culture, I will also be looking out for anything I can learn about the Blackhawks fans, their team, and the way they behave with regards to their mascot.

Though I should note that since I grew up in the Philly area, I am going to be rooting for the Flyers. It’s the principle of the thing.

The Racism Behind A Name

This post is part of my ongoing research into Native American culture and modern issues of oppression. To see all posts on this subject, view the category page.

“Should the Washington Redskins change their name?” This topic is one of major debate right now. The basic argument is that the name is offensive and racist, which makes many Native Americans argue that is should be changed, while many sports fans say that it is a long-standing tradition and a symbol of pride for their team. I’m going to explore both sides of this issue.

There are many different aspects of Native American Culture, history, oppression, racism, and modern views to explore. I haven’t yet narrowed down my primary focus, so for the moment, I’m going to explore some thoughts and ideas here on the blog. Much of this will be a sort of “thinking out loud,” where I try to sort through ideas that I’m not very familiar with. I’ll be sharing research material that comes up as I explore these subjects.

The first thing I want to do, however, is declare my standpoint. In Communication Studies, Standpoint Theory is a theory which states that an individuals perspectives and views will be altered by their place in society, their history, their knowledge, and their power. On a basic level, this means that people from one standpoint can’t understand the troubles of another. For example, a wealthy white male from a privileged home who went to private school and works in the government can’t understand the troubles and life of a minority female who is a single mother living on welfare. Their experiences are different, and that can affect the way one views the other.

Every aspect of your standpoint can influence your view. If you’re the same race as another person, but one of you is rich and one is poor, you’ll have a similar standpoint on some issues and a different standpoint on others. There is no single “catch-all” category that will allow anyone to fully understand anyone else’s viewpoint.

Because I will be attempting to understand a culture I know little about, I am entering this research with firm awareness of my standpoint with regards to this subject. Therefore, I think it is important to declare who I am, so that both myself and anyone reading my research will know my standpoint and be aware of any possible biases or preconceptions my standpoint might bring.

I am a white, heterosexual, single male. I come from a lower-middle class family. I have experienced life working for minimum wage, and I know what it is like to be uncertain where my next meal is coming from. I do not have children, nor do I have any experience raising children (including personal understanding of the struggles and financial burdens of childcare). I am a college graduate, but I am also a nontraditional student and I didn’t graduate college until I was 33.

Based on my standpoint, I understand that I have a limited awareness of racial issues. I read about them, I learn about equal rights in school, and I support equality in every way. I have not, however, experienced the type of oppression that many people from minority groups have.

With that in mind, when I sat down to begin addressing the issue of Native American culture and oppression, I found that I went through a train of thought that ended up leading to an interesting question. The rest of this post will be exploring those thoughts and ending with that question.

My first thought when I was faced with the question “Should the Washington Redskins change their name?” was “It’s football, who cares?” I obviously had to move past this thought, but it’s important because it adds another dimension to my standpoint: I am not a sports fan.

Why is that important? Sports aren’t a crucial social issue, or so I might have said. But then I thought deeper about it, and I realized that someone’s status as a sports fan has some deep cultural implications. Here’s a list of why someone’s standpoint as a sport’s fan is important:

  • There has been research done into the psychological effects of “Sports Team Identification” (when a fan considers themselves part of the team’s group-identity) on a person’s behavior. A study by Keaton, et al., found that “Identified sport team fans who used catharsis, conflict linkage, and relational maintenance report a greater inclination to commit negative social behaviors as a result of team performance” (p. 3). In short, devoted sports fans develop a psychological connection that links their own self-worth to the performance of the team. If the team fails, the fans can feel like failures themselves. This can lead to aggressive behavior such as lashing out.
  • Sports also play a cultural role in our society. They are a group activity with customs, traditions, and an emotional impact on people who are involved with them. Orlando Patterson, a historical and cultural sociologist, said that sports have a “cultural and economic significance” and that “sport is a highly crystallised form of social structure, not found in other areas of society” (p. 550). In essence, this means that sports can be viewed in a cultural context in the same way art, music, and religion can. In fact, it can be argued that sports brings an even greater sense of community, a stronger emotional impact, and more cultural fixation than art does (just compare the number of fans at a sporting event to the number of visitors to a museum).
  • Sports fans are very well known for defending their team, and Sports Team Identification can lead to an “us vs them” attitude. Rival teams (such as the Cowboys vs the Eagles) can lead to fans feeling that fans of the opposing team are “enemies” or at the very least “others” (as in, not part of the “us” group). This can lead to segregation, and if someone from a rival team enters, say, the wrong sports bar, they may be subject to ridicule and aggression.

So by looking at sports in this way, I shifted my understanding of sports as “just another waste of time” (no different in my mind than any other activity), to “a complex, cultural activity that leads to the formation of groups and altered emotions and social behavior.” I think that distinction is important because of the points I’m about to address.

When considering the question of the Washington Redskins’ name change, I think it’s important to address what that change means. Originally, my view was “It’s not a big deal.” When I start thinking about sports teams and their fans as cultural and social constructs, however, it becomes more complex. The proponents and opponents of the name change debate become two different cultures, each with their own history, traditions, beliefs, and practices. Is one set of beliefs more important than the other? Well, I don’t think that’s the important factor here. The important factor is racism.

When I first heard the argument that the Redskins’ name was racist, I stopped and tried to put myself in the shoes of the Native Americans who would be insulted by this name. At first, I had a hard time. I’m Irish, and I could label myself as “Irish-American” instead of just “white.” My grandfather’s family was born in Ireland, and his parents and older brother all moved here before my grandfather was born. I have distant second-cousins still living in Ireland, and my family keeps in touch with them.

Based on my standpoint as an Irish-American, I tried to think how I would feel if the debate about the name change was over another team: the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. My thoughts on the matter basically amounted to, “I could be offended that this team name stereotypes Irish as both drunkards and brawlers.” It did not, however, move me to any real emotion (I didn’t get angry or offended over this; I merely considered the possibility that others could).

I felt like I was missing some important point, however. Sports fans in favor of keeping the Redskins’ name have said they feel that the name “honor[s] the Native Americans” as “a symbol of loyalty and courage.” Those statements are easily open to dispute, but rather than focusing on the statements themselves, I want to look deeper.

After giving the issue some thought, I ended up considering the following scenario:

Imagine you are an African American. You find out a new sports team is forming nearby. The team uniforms will be inspired by colors used in the flags of African nations, and the team is meant to “honor African Americans” as “a symbol of African pride and heritage.”

Then you find out that the team will be named “The Mississippi Coloreds.”

Would you find this offensive? Would you want them to change the name? I went to Twitter and asked if people would consider “coloreds” offensive. The responses were consistent: yes, they find it offensive. Along those lines, I am sure there would be a LOT of protest to naming a sports team in this way.

This then brings me to a better understanding of the Redskins’ name change debate. If it’s not okay to name a sports team “honoring African Americans” by naming the team based on the color of that race’s skin, then why do people think it’s okay to name the Redskins in the same way?

Perhaps our society hasn’t had enough education in this regard to view “Redskins” as an offensive term in the same way we do other racist words. Though you might need to consider whether you would ever use the word when speaking to a Native American. I think that a more appropriate way to “honor Native Americans” would be to only use names they embrace, rather than names they find offensive.

This train of thought has certainly influenced the way I view the name change debate. I think that when taken in this context, it should be clear why the name is offensive.

There are a lot of other angles for me to pursue as I take this research forward, but I think what I’ve covered here is helping me to narrow my focus. Some of the key issues are cultures, the “us vs them” perspective that can develop between cultures, and the offensive nature of referring to a group of people based on their skin (even if people claim they are doing it to “honor” them). I’ll be exploring these issues more in the future, and hoping to increase my own understanding as I go along.

Research

Superbowl XLVIII took place on February 2nd, 2014, at the MetLife Stadium located in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Not being a sports fan, I don’t normally pay much attention to anything related to the Superbowl. However, this year, I happened to notice a series of tweets protesting the Superbowl and stating that it was taking place on Native American lands. My curiosity was piqued, and I decided to look a bit deeper into this subject. My preliminary searches brought up a few interesting points:

  • The National Congress of American Indians released an ad during Superbowl weekend, titled “Proud to Be.” As of February 6th 2014, the video on YouTube has already accumulated over one million hits since it was uploaded on January 27. The video speaks about the many names of different Native American tribes and the many diverse roles they have within their culture. It ends with a protest against the name “Redskins,” stating this is a name their people would never use.
  • The video includes a link to “ChangetheMascot.org,” a site devoted to urging the NFL to “end the use of the racial slur “redskins” as the mascot and name of the NFL team in Washington, D.C.
  • I also found some protests on Twitter, stating that East Rutherford, NJ, where the Superbowl was being held, is “occupied Native American land.” Some basic web searches brought me to the Rutherford Chamber of Commerce website. The brief history listed there confirms that the land was originally settled by the Lenape, long before European settlers moved here.
  • Some basic historical research reveals that the Lenape were exposed to smallpox in the early 1600s, along with a number of other diseases. Between disease and warfare, the Lenape population suffered greatly, and “by 1750 it is estimated that the Lenape lost almost 90% of their people.”
  • Many of the Lenape eventually relocated to Oklahoma and Canada, but after some further searching I found that the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation still lives in New Jersey and the area around the Deleware Bay. Their headquarters is now located in Bridgeton, Cumberland County, New Jersey, about 120 miles from where the Superbowl was held.

All of this preliminary research shows me that there is a lot of ground to cover on this topic. In addition to the initial topic of the Superbowl and the protests against racism and oppression, there is also a lot of history and culture to be uncovered right here in New Jersey. I plan to apply this research to an article that may end up specifically focusing on the racial issues raised by the “Proud to Be” video, or instead focus on other local issues faced by the Lenape nation here in New Jersey, or possibly end up going in another direction as my research reveals more related topics. My initial plan is to gather as much information as I can, in order to narrow down a focal area that I can use as the main topic of the article I plan to write.

One of the obvious target publications if I focus on the Superbowl/Redskins name change angle is Sports Illustrated. A search of their website reveals a number of articles on the subject, including a recent one quoting Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner as saying that “nine out of ten Native Americans support the Redskins’ name.” The number of articles on the subject shows that there is an interest in this area, but I was unable to find any that specifically addressed more focused issues, such as the fact that the Superbowl took place on former Native American lands. The lack of previous articles on these more focused areas may mean that the magazine would be open to something new and fresh.

Another possibility is Native Peoples Magazine. This magazine is more specifically focused on Native American culture, including interviews with interesting Native American people. Their website specifically states that part of their mission is “to provide a ‘sensitive portrayal’ of the Native peoples of the Americas,” so it seems like an ideal place for an article that speaks on Native American culture and offers the viewpoints of Native Americans themselves on current social issues.

A less focused publication that publishes articles on general social issues is The Nation. They specifically seek articles related to civil liberties and civil rights, and a search of their online archives reveals several articles related to the debate surrounding the Redskins’ name change.

Research into this topic should be quite extensive. It’s a subject I’m not familiar with, considering that the only real experience I have with learning about Native American history and culture was what I learned in grade school. Since I’ll be going into this subject with nothing more than the general “common knowledge” level of understanding, I won’t have any preconceived ideas or biases and that should help me to explore this subject with an open mind. In addition, I’ve never engaged in deep research into this sort of social, cultural, and historical topic before. My primary research areas in the past have been related to communication studies and gender issues, so this will be new ground for me.

Furthermore, since the subject has both local areas of research (from the Lenape nation in South Jersey to the East Rutherford lands in North Jersey) and more far-reaching areas (since the Redskins’ name debate is a nationwide issue), there will be a lot of ground to cover. The fact that the Superbowl took place in New Jersey this year may even add a unique perspective to any research, since I may find more local issues and perspectives that can be related to the greater debate.

As I continue with this research, I’ll be posting my findings under a research category on the blog. Also, additional practice research and reflections on research methods themselves will be posted under a secondary category.

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Note: This post was originally a “page” before I figured out how to do some rearrangements that compiled all research posts into a single category listed as a menu item. In order to preserve the content when I took the “page” down, everything from that page was copied into a new post. Original comments are compiled below as screenshots since WordPress unfortunately deletes them along with the page, and there was no way to convert them. I didn’t want to lose the comments and the discussion that took place in them.

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