Saturday, August 06, 2005

P.C. as a Jazz Bassist? Good.
P.C. as a Lifestyle? Ridiculous.

I opened my news browser this morning to find this headline screaming at me:
NCAA Bans Indian Names, Mascots from Postseason Events
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The NCAA's decision to ban "hostile" and "abusive" American Indian nicknames from its postseason events has stirred a new debate, and a threat of legal action from at least one school.

Florida State and Illinois are among the 18 schools with an American Indian nickname or logo that will be prohibited by the NCAA from displaying them in postseason events, starting in February. The names will not be allowed on team uniforms and mascots - such as the Fighting Illini's Chief Illiniwek - will not be allowed to perform at games. Even band members and cheerleaders will be barred from using American Indians on their uniforms beginning in 2008.
You've got to be kidding. Everybody off the street; the P.C. police are out in full force.

I'm sorry, but I have little patience for people passing legislation with the sole intention of keeping people from getting their feelings hurt. Why would one automatically assume that teams employing Indian mascots are doing so to make fun of them? I'm reasonably sure that the opposite is true: the schools are either paying tribute to a local tribe with a rich history in their area, or they're saluting the admirable qualities ("noble warrior" etc.) of Native Americans in general. With the exception of the Cleveland Indians mascot (found here) and the Florida State/Atlanta Braves Tomahawk Chop, one would be hard-pressed to say that these teams are making fun of their namesakes. (Besides, the Tomahawk Chop is simply annoying on general principle, all political correctness aside.)

Granted, the action isn't as extreme as it could have been:
While NCAA officials admit they cannot force schools to change nicknames or logos, they want to make a statement they believe is long overdue: It's time for the Indian names to go.

The 18 schools will not be permitted to host future NCAA tournament games, and if events have already been awarded to those schools, they must cover any logos or nicknames that appear.
One school isn't taking this action lying down:
Florida State president T.K. Wetherell was already threatening legal action to keep his school's nickname - Seminoles - intact.

"I intend to pursue all legal avenues to ensure that this unacceptable decision is overturned, and that this university will forever be associated with the 'unconquered' spirit of the Seminole Tribe of Florida," he said in a written statement.
And he makes a good point later in the article:
"The rules as we understand them would have us cover the Seminole name and symbol as if we were embarrassed, and any committee that would think that is a proper and respectful treatment of Native Americans should be ashamed," Wetherell said.
I'm sure that some could call me insensitive for saying things like this. But let me point you to a team whose mascot could also be considered offensive, save for the fact that it almost never happens: the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

As you may be able to tell from my name, I'm at least a quarter Irish. My ancestors probably struggled when they first arrived in the States, and they probably came here in the first place as a result of bad conditions back home (just think of two words: potato famine). Notre Dame's mascot--a little leprechaun guy--could certainly be considered offensive by those of us with Irish ancestry, but you never hear about efforts to force them to change it. We could also be offended by the stereotype of the Irish as people who drink all the time...but generally speaking, we're not. Why is that?

I offer a couple of theories:
  • Maybe the vast majority of people of Irish ancestry have been here long enough that we've become fully assimilated into American culture; seeing as how any wounds that were sustained by prejudice have long since healed, the use of one of our own as a team mascot doesn't really bug anyone. It might even be seen as cool...

  • Or maybe it's just that it's not specific to those with an Irish background--that there are just a whole lot of people out there, regardless of ethnicity, who think that life's too short to be so easily offended all the time.
I remember when I was a little kid, and I would (as kids always do) get teased by other kids who called me bad names. I'd run home and complain to Mom about it, and she'd usually offer that timeless motherly pearl of wisdom: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. But since the whole political-correctness movement took hold in the early '90s, that old "momily" has been turned on its side...so that now, it's more like If you hurt me with words, I'll break your bones with sticks and stones. Bleh. And people wonder how we've cultivated such a culture of victims and whiners who sue each other at the drop of a hat. (It's very interesting to note that Florida State's use of the Seminoles mascot has the support of the Seminole Nation in the school's own state; it's Seminoles in completely different states [as far away as Oklahoma] who are objecting.)

To those people, I say: lighten up, will ya? Yes, there are lines that can't be crossed--derogatory racial epithets, certain racial jokes, and so on--but naming a team after Native Americans, tribally or generally, doesn't even approach that line over here. It's dangerous to assume that anyone who uses those names does so with malice aforethought. It would take a really ignorant person to think that all Native Americans live in teepees and wear war paint and headdresses, just like it would be equally ignorant to think that all Irish people drink all the time. People like that can be dealt with on an individual basis, but that's no reason to mess things up for the rest of us by making mountains out of proverbial molehills. Because, after a while, the "boy who cried wolf" theory kicks in: if someone spends too much time squawking about the little things, people will have grown tired of listening when something really big comes up.

Am I all wet here? Feel free to comment. (Incidentally, if you're confused about the title of this post, "P.C." was the nickname of the great jazz bassist Paul Chambers; John Coltrane wrote a great tune ["Mr. P.C."] in his honor, and I ended up naming a pet rabbit after the tune title.)

Gig report: I have posted a summary of last night's gig up on the TD/D blog. Eric made it out to hear us, and it was definitely cool to meet him in person for the first time (a process that J-Guar and I have dubbed "de-fictionalization," when someone morphs from a blogger-buddy into a real human being). Eric's in a band too, so I'll definitely return the favor at one of his future gigs down the road.

Sports Illustrated would call this a "sign of the apocalypse": Just what the world needs--cell phones for tots. I'm still dealing with the fact that some of my sixth-graders have them.

3 comments:

Eric Grubbs said...

re: nicknames banned
I'm thinking this is a way of saying, "Sorry we ran you out of your lands, put you on reservations and then put casinos on them later." Now that may sound a little harsh and cynical, but names are names and they're not easy to change, especially with legistlation. I think trying to pass stuff like this is more offensive.

re: gig
I enjoyed the gig and I really dug downtown Plano. I didn't even know that area existed before . . .

j-guar said...

my good friend Drew goes to Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. Up until the mid-nineties, the school mascot/nickname was the Marquette Golden Warriors. That was deemed too un-P.C., so it was changed to the Marquette Golden Eagles. Lame. Over the past year, it was announced that there would be a new nickname. There was speculation that the nickname would be changed back to the Warriors. To the suprise and chagrin of many, the nickname board chose the lamest of the lame nicknames: The Marquette Gold. The backlash was tremendous.

"Warrior" has to be the least specific Indian-related nickname in the world.

Steven said...

I don't really get it. It's not like the school has a picture of a drunken chief falling over or something. You'd think they'd wait for a mascot called "Andrew Jackson whoops redman ass" before they'd get all in a huff. The people associated with the school are PROUD of their mascots...so who is getting stepped on?