Baseball Fever: Race and the Cleveland Indians

Note from CVK: This post was written during the American League Championships

by Racialicious guest contributor Beth Dean

The past two weeks my entire office has been abuzz with baseball talk. Indians pennants hang on cubes, everyone has their Indians shirts on. The prize in a contest last week was tickets to tonight’s game. It’s been really nice to see people excited about Cleveland. Let’s be honest, we get crapped on a lot.

We’re always at the top of national surveys on violence and poverty levels. People go out of their way to tell us what a crappy city and industrial wasteland we live in. I don’t even care that much about baseball, but it’s hard not to get caught up in all this, and frankly I think Cleveland could use a win, because Cleveland never wins anything else.

But there’s an elephant in the room, and his name is Chief Wahoo. I’m not surprised with all the recent Cleveland talk in the news, that people are beginning to bring up race, and rightly so. Our mascot is a giant racist caricature. Somewhere along the lines, we got a little more embarrassed of ourselves and introduced Slyder. I suppose after the atrocity of Chief Wahoo, we deserve a ridiculous muppet for a mascot. But the problem is we never got rid of the Chief. We took him off most of our hats (not the ones the players wear), but he’s still on everything else.

To make matters worse, we have our fans going to games in red face. Red face! A humble suggestion baseball fans: if you would like to show your support, perhaps paint your face red and blue, because they’re both team colors.

I understand it’s hard to change overnight. But our football team packed up and left in the night, why can’t we change our baseball team? People hate Cleveland enough as it is, do they need to think we’re all racist rednecks too? Part of the problem, and the reason the Chief hasn’t been completely eradicated, is because Cleveland isn’t racist. Nope. There’s a difference between genuine racism and ignorance. It’s not an excuse, and it’s still awful, but most people here don’t even realize how offensive he is. They don’t even realize how offensive the name Indians is.

I didn’t even know until I was in high school and took a Canadian friend to visit the city. It happened to be during a baseball game. She was aghast. (I should note, Canadians are much more attune to their indigenous peoples than we are.) She couldn’t believe we had a team not only so blatantly racist, but that the city was crawling with people perpetuating this big red grinning face. Wahoo merchandise was everywhere. She said in Canada, Wahoo is a hideous racial slur. Well it is here too, we just don’t know it.

To quote King Kaufman from Salon:

The Cleveland Indians are not about to throw 90 years of brand loyalty down the dumper when they’re on an upswing between the lines and at the box office.

But is it too much to ask that outrageously racist caricatures of peoples on whom this country has perpetrated genocide be retired? The answer is no, it’s not too much to ask.

It should have been done a long time ago.