Are mascots like the Redskins racist?

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Around the U.S., there are sports teams with mascots that have something to do with Native Americans. We’ve all heard of the Seminoles, the Braves and we probably know of a high school somewhere with something similar. One of the most infamous is the Redskins, whose name alone is controversial.

These teams have come under fire for years for their names. Mascots or even the way they promote the team through what some call cultural appropriation.

While the Seminole Tribe of Florida does officially support the team of the same name, teams like the Redskins come under fire from indigenous peoples from all around the country.

Not only is the term “redskin” historically a slur used against indigenous people— but the mascot for the team and the way fans tend to support the team by wearing headdresses, war paint and acting out stereotypes, are problematic to many indigenous people.

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has long had a stance against racist mascots and teams that perpetuate the stereotypes that indigenous people are held to.

On their website, they have a page dedicated to discussing their stance. They describe the issue by saying, “the intolerance and harm promoted by these ‘Indian’ sports mascots, logos or symbols, have very real consequences for Native people.”

They continue by adding that, “specifically, rather than honoring Native peoples, these caricatures and stereotypes are harmful, perpetuate negative stereotypes of America’s first peoples and contribute to a disregard for the personhood of Native peoples.”

Their view is supported by the American Psychological Association (APA), which in 2005 called for the immediate retirement of mascots and names like the Redskins, Braves, Chiefs and so on, after several years of research into the effects that mascots have on the people they have stereotyped.
In their study, they note the continued use of these mascots “undermines the ability of American Indian Nations to portray accurate and respectful images of their culture, spirituality and traditions.”

The APA also noted that studies have shown that these mascots can contribute to a hostile learning environment for indigenous students at schools (both K-12 and higher education) that use these mascots. Young children who are exposed to these stereotypical portrayals of their culture can experience lowered self-esteem.

They said in no uncertain terms that the use of these mascots is “offensive and intolerable.” People who push back against these ideas tend to use the “no malicious intent” argument.

They claim that the mascots aren’t meant to be racist and that indigenous people are at fault for finding issues with the mascots. Typically, the people we hear saying this are sports fans, who have grown up with teams like the Redskins and the Braves.

It’s understandable there is pushback. Being told something they have grown up with is harmful to others isn’t something anyone likes to hear, but the intent of these teams isn’t the point. Good intentions don’t negate the harmful effects.

A search of “#NotYourMascot” on Twitter yields hundreds of tweets about racism in sports.

Many of the tweets are from younger members of indigenous nations who have experienced the harmful effects of these mascots as they grew up with the stereotypes that mascots like Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians perpetuated for them.

No matter the intent that underlies the continued use of racist mascots or the name “Redskins” for a team, there is harm being done to indigenous communities through their use, and it’s time to start listening and making a change.

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