Monday, April 8, 2013

Opening Day – Indians vs.Yankees

Location: Nederland, CO 80466, USA
It is opening day for the Cleveland Indians vs. the New York Yankees, and time to dust off an article I co-authored in 2007:

Milton Berle in F-Troop
[Joe] I grew-up in an upper middle class suburb of Cleveland, Ohio in the 1960's. If I had a chance to ask my parents now, I assume that it was quite convenient that I was never placed in a situation to interact with, or perhaps even see, people of color. I was unaware of this and certainly nobody ever talked about it. Consequently, my racial opinions were largely shaped by television stereotypes. Flip Wilson, Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier, Diana Ross, Hank Aaron, Mohammad Ali and Stevie Wonder were my examples of African Americans. For Native American examples, Hollywood only offered fictional characters like Tonto on the television show "Daniel Boone" or the silly American Indians in the television show, "F-Troop" where Indians were played by Don Rickles, or Milton Berle.

Our neighborhood (which happened to be mostly girls) did not play "Cowboys and Indians" preferring to play Kick-the-Can, SPUD, tag, kickball, baseball, football, dodgeball, or soccer.

Don Rickles in F-Troop
I attended a private catholic school. The fifth grade traditionally went on a field trip to view the Hopewell Culture Burial Mounds near Chillicothe, Ohio. Even though these ancient burial mounds were created by people at least 2,000 years before the modern tribes of Ohio, all North American Indians were somehow lumped together in our minds as savage, primitive, and either wiped away from existence or converted to Christianity. The burial mounds reinforced our impression that the Buffalo were totally extinct and the only remaining Native Americans were on a reservation somewhere "out west".

The same field trip included a stop at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio where every football fragment is collected and preserved, like Lou "The Toe" Groza’s shoe or Johnny Unitas' thigh pad. Here you will learn the legendary Paul Brown put his name on one team, The Cleveland Browns. People from Cleveland have a long tradition of following their teams through thick and thin. I think that for the most part of my lifetime, the Cleveland teams have lost more games then they have won, but a trip to the hall of fame proves that they were once great.

My school made such an effort and expense to take us to these places so we could see for ourselves that the great athletes really did exist, and that the American Indians were either, corralled into a reservation, converted to Christianity, or are gone, dead, and buried.
[Marty] As an Anishinaabe Ojibway educator who has experienced the effects of racism firsthand in both my personal and professional life, I am what could be called hypersensitive to many stereotypes, inaccuracies, and other forms of bias against American Indian people. Among the worst of these biases, in my opinion, are the mascots, logos, nicknames, and caricature’s that are promoted by professional sports teams, schools, and universities as "honorable" representations of American Indian people. It is my estimation that many of the folks who fall into the camp that thinks it is okay to use these representations, are not being blatantly racist in their views and interactions, rather, I think they are just desensitized to the issues involved. Of course there are always those who are hopeless bigots who have made it their business to champion the cause of saving the mascots, etc. from being replaced.
[Joe] It was around this time in my life that my father took me to my first Cleveland Indian's baseball game which was downtown at the historic Cleveland Municipal Stadium. This ritual was indeed a right of passage performed by every father that I knew. My dad taught me as much about the "sacrifice fly" as he taught me to keep a distance from black people when we went downtown.

My family vacationed on, Lake Chautauqua, and Chippewa Lake. I've boated on the Mohican, Cuyahoga, Miami, Olentangy, Maumee, Tuscarawas, Muskingum, and Mississippi rivers. I've been on the shores of Lake Erie, Michigan, Huron, Ontario and even Catawba Island yet it hadn't occurred to me that we were living on someone else's land. I've been to Cincinnati, Tecumseh and Pontiac, Michigan yet I hadn't thought for a moment that I would ever meet a Native American face to face.
[Marty] As the former director of Native American Programs at Central Michigan University, I have first hand professional experience in dealing with the Central Michigan Chippewa nickname issue. As part of my initial interview for that position, I was asked by the university president if I was going to have any problem with the nickname. My response was that I did see it as a problem but that as long as the university kept their pro-opinion out of the public media, I would keep my anti-opinion out also. This lasted about two years into my tenure when a university newspaper reporter published his opinion about the nickname. At that point all bets were off and I responded to his article in the local community newspaper. Unfortunately, the University has found that there are certain influential local tribal representatives who condone the university’s continuing use of the nickname. It only takes one desensitized Indian to undermine the work of many.
[Joe] My actual heritage is mostly German, and at one point, I was told that it was possible that my mother and grandmother are the result of Adolf Hitler’s desire to genetically create a master race, and that might have been the reason why I was always at the top of my class in school.

It probably did not occur to them that I was completely surrounded with a blanket of privilege born an able, white, Christian, American, upper-middle class, heterosexual male. In fact, I'm not even left-handed. I've truly been awarded every privilege that one can have. Yet, my parents still attributed my skills to my race, which is unfounded.

It turns out that I've always been at least above average, in just about every measurable indicator. I am not bragging. I just have to ask, "Who has been doing the measuring?" Other white guys. I can't really call it an achievement, when the system is rigged in my favor.
[Marty] So why am I so hypersensitive to this issue? That is the question I wish a lot of those who stand on the other side of the fence would ask. Maybe if they stopped long enough to learn about the impact of the issue they would join us on the other side.
It is a Pandora’s Box. Once you allow it to be opened, there is simply no controlling it, no matter how many controls you put in place, and how many freshman seminars you hold to increase awareness of local tribal cultures. I used to present on American Indian issues during those seminars at CMU. I almost fooled my self at times in believing that if I was just a little more charismatic in my presentation that I could influence the student body at CMU to not perform tomahawk chops, or do the 'war cry thing' at games, or put fake eagle feathers in their hair, or to dawn war paint, or to not dress up like Indians at Halloween, or to not go hi-ya-ya-ya as the Native students sang honor songs on the drum. I was wrong, dead wrong. The issue is way to big for any one person to control. CMU still has the nickname as of the writing of this article.
[Joe] After college, sometime during the Regan Administration, I was working in Downtown Cleveland, and met some friends for cocktails. They were talking about racism at work. I said, "Racism? People don't sit in the back of the bus anymore. The equal rights amendment was a long time ago. Why don't we forget about ancient history, isn't this the eighties?" At the table was an African American man, a lesbian woman, and another woman who had an African American child, all whom I had respected.

They looked at me and said, "Are you blind? We still have racism; it just went underground." I felt like the biggest idiot on the planet. I wanted to grab my words which seemed to be still hanging in the air, put them back in my mouth and swallow them.

For whatever reason a woman at the table decided to enlighten me on exactly how naïve I was. For the next decade, I spent much of my time focusing on human rights issues and connecting with as many diverse people as I could. She took me to countless cultural events where I was the only white person. I volunteered at AIDS hospices (the eighties version of leper colonies) and made friends only to watch them die when their own families could not. I tutored inner-city youth. I delivered food for Meals on Wheels. She changed my life, to say the least. This article is not long enough to give examples of all the revelations that came to me during this time. I feel my life was hollow before I enhanced it by exploring diversity.
[Marty] I am also well aware of how the Marquette Area Public Schools Redmen logo has impacted the Marquette, Michigan community where I used to work as the director of the Center for Native American Studies at Northern Michigan University, and where my wife used to work as the director of the Title VII Native American Programs at Marquette Area Public Schools. Between the two of us, we heard so many stories from students how the logo had impacted their lives.
One American Indian student suggested that she almost lost a best friend over the issue because her friends mom was part of the alumni association who supported keeping the logo and she asked the Indian student directly if she saw anything wrong with it. Fearing a bad relationship with her best friends mom, she choked back her true feelings and lied, saying that Indian people were just being overly sensitive and that she thought it was an honor. She is embarrassed as she tells that story today, and wishes she had the courage to stand up for her self then.
Another non-Indian student on the year book committee approached my wife and asked her if it would be okay to take a picture for the year book of a student whose face was painted red and was wearing an Indian costume. Although the student at least had the notion that he should ask if something was okay, he obviously had little idea about why that might be distasteful to Indian people and others. Marquette Area Public Schools still has the Redmen logo as of the writing of this article.
[Joe] By this time I was a senior officer at a large corporation. I developed a program that allowed people to have access to upper management. I gave people a voice who normally would not have had a voice in Corporate America before. The results were phenomenal and I was promoted for it. I am also proud to say that many of those people are now successful corporate executives, and I am not.

Through more twists of fate, I made another lifestyle change. My parents died, I became vegetarian, quit my corporate job, moved to the mountains in Colorado, got married, began working for a public school district, and was elected president of the Vegetarian Society of Colorado. My wife and I and took several classes on Deep Ecology and Voluntary Simplicity, organized a series of nationally recognized speakers, gave numerous presentations on animal rights, wrote magazine articles, and I was even featured on a public radio program. I drive a hybrid car, and installed a large residential solar panel system on my home. I teach classes for the Master Composter Program. Almost all my clothes are recycled from garage sales or second hand stores. Indeed, I went from thousands of dollars worth of corporate suits, to shirts I get for less than a dollar.

Throughout this process, I have learned much more about our Native American culture through environmentalism than I had in my entire lifetime. Furthermore, I discovered that the buffalo is not extinct after all. (It's true. I've seen and photographed several buffalo.) Another misconception perpetuated in my youth.
[Marty] Undoubtedly, there will be those who are not satisfied with my brief explanation about why I am so hypersensitive to this issue, but these are just two examples. There are, unfortunately, many more examples that I and others could share. That brings me to the point of this article. One of the more recent experiences I have had in dealing with this issue was rather unique among the stories I have heard surrounding this issue.
[Joe] At work I am an accountant, but I try to help the Multi-Cultural department as much as I can, and I have become an equity trainer for the school district.

As a white male, I know that I am expected to perpetuate oppression of all sorts, and when I don't, I can be targeted by other white males. I also know that I am looked at as a "trouble maker" when I defend some people. I know I can't fight every battle; otherwise I will loose the ability to be effective at all, or perhaps lose my job. So I try to make the best choices.

In my career I have seen an entire department decorate their offices in Colorado Avalanche paraphernalia; I've seen other offices adorned in red and white Kansas City Chiefs motifs from top to bottom, and certainly offices covered with CU Buffaloes posters, calendars, even a signed football in a glass case.

So I received a denim shirt from "my-wife's-sister's-husband" who was throwing it away and it had the Cleveland Indian's "Chief Wahoo" logo on it. It hung in my closet for about a year and I never wore it. For whatever reason on casual Friday, I supposed I could earn a few points with the sports fans in my office by wearing it even though they all know that I haven't watched much of any sports game on television for more than a decade.
[Marty] As a research associate with the Interwest Equity Assistance Center at Colorado State University, I participate in a professional association known as the Colorado Chapter of the National Association for Multicultural Education (CONAME). The group is composed of others like me, school teachers, professional development workers, school administrators, graduate students, and others. It is a well established group that does very meaningful work on multicultural education issues throughout the state of Colorado. It is because of the nature of this group that I was so taken aback when a man was introduced as part of our group and he was wearing a Chief Wahoo logo on his shirt.
[Joe] That same day, the Director of Institutional Equity and Multi-Cultural Education pops into my office and asks if I would join her meeting in the Superintendent's Conference Room and show some people the website I was working on. I gladly followed her to the conference room. After about ten minutes into my presentation of the website, a man on the other side of the room says, "I'm sorry but I cannot pay attention to your presentation because I am so focused on the logo on your shirt."
[Marty] Chief Wahoo is the official logo of the Cleveland Indians baseball team. To me, it is one of the more offense logos. It depicts what is supposed to be an Indian person with a feather in his hair. His skin is bright red and he has a smile that is obviously disproportionate to his face and a big nose. The intent, it seems, is to make this image funny yet somehow reflective of Indian cultural identity. Thus, it feels like a racial joke without many words, only "Chief Wahoo" as it has come to be known. Because it is attached to a professional baseball team, the Chief has become a symbol of team spirit which involves hundreds of thousands of people who for whatever reason identify with this team. 
The idea of an Indian chief, a person who has been chosen by the people to represent the community in acts of sovereignty between nations is bastardized by this logo. Instead of representing a true Indian community, he represents a community composed primarily of non-Indian people whose only common feature is that they like baseball in general and this team specifically. So, not only does the team take on a name that is indicative of a racial group of the Cleveland area, they combine it with a logo that makes Indian leaders look like buffoons.
I wonder how many of the Cleveland Indians fans know anything about the great Indian leaders of that area, like the Shawnee leader Tecumseh who was able to solidify a great confederacy against the United States in the War of 1812 when the US invaded his homelands and committed many atrocities against Indian people. If they truly understood the history of that area, how could they uphold this image of a buffoon to represent Indian people and culture.
[Joe] In less than a fraction of a second, I realized that I met a Native American face to face for the first time in 43 years, and in that same fraction of a second I realized that decades of my work were erased. My credibility had been reduced to another white guy with Chief Wahoo on his shirt. I was right back in the bar making the naïve comment I made decades ago, wishing to recapture my words. The blood ran out of my fingers.
[Marty] So, here I am in the middle of a meeting where we are discussing the development of a website for this group that is focused on multicultural education, and in walks this man with a Chief Wahoo logo on his shirt. He is introduced as someone who is going to help us with the website development and he begins his presentation. I can't keep my eyes off his shirt and ten-million things begin racing through my mind about why we are here, and what we do, and why he is here, and who he is, etc.
At this point, I am totally lost to the ideas we are discussing about the website, and I look around the room to see if anyone else seems to have noticed. When he steps out of the room I say something about the logo to the chair of the group, and she indicates that she also noticed it. When he returns, I simply can no longer pretend that it is not happening and although I really don't want to disrupt the meeting, I blurt out my misgivings about his shirt. This brings the meeting to a halt and I feel like I am alone although a few moments earlier I felt like I was surrounded by comrades.
I try to form my words to have a great impact because I feel like the moments are going to escape and I may not have another opportunity to address this issue given the work that the group is there to address. As I explain very pointedly to this man why I am having some trouble with his shirt, I feel like I am being too aggressive, but my emotions have taken over and I can't stop until I feel like he has heard me. I was oblivious to the others in the room as I spoke directly to him. From his obvious discomfort, I knew he was hearing me and that he was genuinely considering the import of my words. After I was through, he explained how he had come to be wearing the shirt and a bit about his background.
[Joe] I apologized and said I was embarrassed by it. I apologized and said I never wear it public. I said it wasn't really my shirt. I apologized and said I would go home and burn it.

He said he would like to use it for educational purposes. Once I got home, I asked my wife to wash it so I could send it to him.

Four days later, I had an accidental fire in my house which was quite traumatic for my family. In the weeks that followed we were digging through our belongings and I told my wife I had to save the shirt from the fire damage. She recognized that it must be important because she knows all my shirts cost less than a dollar, and I'm usually not concerned about material possessions.
[Marty] After Joe explained the situation, I calmed down a bit, and began to realize that I had let my emotions take over and that I may have come across as overly aggressive. I told Joe that if he decided to get rid of the shirt, that I would like to have for presentation purposes. He said that he would save it for me. I spoke with a few folks on the way out from the meeting and tried to assure them that I would contact Joe and follow up on this in a good way.
I attended an Aggressors, Victims, and Bystanders training the following week along with my coworkers. It was during this training that I truly realized how aggressive my behaviors were that day at the meeting. I let my frustration with the issue influence how I interacted with Joe, who was desensitized to the issue and just happened to be wearing the shirt when he came into my world.
It was the week after that I also received a call from the chair of our organization who wanted to talk about the incident. She did an excellent job of being diplomatic yet to the point in her words. She was very concerned about my aggressive behavior toward Joe from an organizational perspective. She explained that she didn't want people using the organization as a forum to attack people, that we needed to follow certain protocols in how we interact with people during organizational activities or when representing the organization. While listening to her it was very hard for me not to get defensive, yet I remained calm and tried to see what she was saying objectively.
I spoke with a few others about the incident, some who had been at the meeting at some who had not. All tended to agree that the mascot on Joe's shirt was one issue, my aggressive behavior was another. Shortly before the next meeting I was informed that we would be addressing guidelines for interacting at meetings. Again I felt a bit defensive and anticipated an attack aimed at me.

[Joe] Since that time, I've done some research on the internet regarding sports team's mascots depicting Native Americans. Some of the websites link to comments made in the newspaper protecting the right to keep the team mascots. In doing the research, many of these links no longer work because the newspaper was able to pull the articles off the internet. I guess they are capable to take back what they said. I guess they too realize it is unjustifiable. The time to stop the practice of using Native Americans as mascots is yesterday. This is 2007 people.

I also think that Marty's actions were justified, in a world that is rigged in favor of white guys wearing Cleveland Indians shirts. I felt that the organization should not be protecting me in wearing the shirt, but protecting Marty, which is the core purpose of the group. 
[Marty] My fears of an attack were unfounded. Our meeting included an opportunity to think about how we are supposed to interact with each other on a general level, and then a specific focus on how to handle difficult situations. When Joe arrived at the meeting, he sat next to me. I felt the need to surface the issue and said that I recognized that my behaviors were very aggressive and further how the AVB training had caused me to reflect on my behaviors during the last meeting. After I finished Joe explained how he had saved the shirt from a fire he had at his house and how he had to make sure it was washed and not thrown out with other smoke damaged clothes. That is when I suggested to Joe that it might be a good idea to write an article explaining how we dealt with this issue.
Lessons Learned
[Marty] The "Joe's shirt experience" has helped me further realize how others might feel when confronted with symbols of racism. I never anticipated being confronted with such a symbol during a meeting of equity professionals. As I reflect back now, I suspect that the shock of seeing it there and feeling like I was alone in noticing it hit me very hard. My reaction was based on that overwhelming feeling that the people around me just didn't get it. I felt somehow threatened, and responded by disrupting the meeting and refocusing everyone’s attention on Joe's shirt. Once I started, I couldn't stop, the flood gate opened up and I gave Joe a piece of my mind on the issue, very pointed and razor sharp. I didn't wait for an opportunity to approach him later, although it crossed my mind that I should just before my mouth took over. I decided that waiting meant losing the opportunity to address the issue in front of the group — the group that seemed to not notice the symbol on his shirt. I wanted in some ways to educate the group about the issue at that moment. Perhaps if I had taken a deep breath and controlled my emotions, I would have been able to deal with the issue more effectively sometime after the meeting. There were a number of alternatives that I could have used that may not have caused such a disruption and potential alienation of an ally.
I am glad that Joe agreed to coauthor this article with me, as I feel it is how we found a way to make lemonade out of lemons. It is my hope that this article will be helpful to others who have faced, or will face, similar situations from whatever standpoint they come from. Whether they are the ones who out of ignorance find themselves the focus of someone's anger about a larger issue, or whether they are the ones who find themselves unable to pay attention to the meeting or lesson because they are feeling threatened by symbols of racism, each could gain from knowing our shared experience.
Finally, professional organizations can also gain from this experience. They can be proactive by including discussions about group dynamics surrounding symbols of racism and individual sensitivities. They can also articulate and reinforce continually the need for protocols to be followed so that the members of the organization and its allies are not alienated from the group and its emergent properties.
[Joe] It has been six years, since that article was written, and I'm now the Mayor of a town that has many Native American residents.

It is a small mountain town, and several people have worked very hard to preserve the history of the area by establishing a historical society and recreating a home reflecting how the pioneers/settlers lived in those days. Many of the town's documents refer to it as a mining boom town. In reality, the big boom was a bunch of miners that lived in tents for the summer. They raped the earth of its minerals, polluted the creek, and left a bunch of trash behind that we now keep in our mining museum. For the most part of our 130 years of recorded history, the population was one-tenth as much.

I assume that there have always been Native Americans living in this area. With the rugged terrain and harsh weather, I don't think that the white man was capable of driving the Native Americans out of this area completely. I guess they had to learn to coexist not only with each other, but with nature as well.

Sometimes I joke about being the Mayor of a small mountain town, but maybe I need to think a little more like a Chief. As Marty said, "The idea of an Indian Chief – a person who has been chosen by the people to represent the community in acts of sovereignty between nations." I wonder what the cartoon logo would look like, if it were the Kansas City Mayors.

I found out that last year, back in Cleveland, Native Americans were still protesting the Chief Wahoo logo as explained in this Cleveland Plain Dealer article. This year, you can sign a petition on with an easy click of a mouse.

Today, is opening day for the Indians vs. the Yankees. I hope the Indians will win this battle someday.

One of my favorite Canadians, Neil Young, performing Pocahontas: (1992) [What is a Video Valediction?]

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