When we talk about Native American mascots, we are talking about the entanglements of race and gender. It is easy to forget this, to prize race and racism over gender, sexuality, and (hetero)sexism. In fact, most media coverage and nearly every public conversation about the subject let gender slip, typically narrowing the focus to issues like intention, honor, offensiveness, and sentiments. I say this, I know this, and I even slipped at a recent symposium devoted to the use of Indianness and sport held at the National Museum of the American Indian, failing to make plain, let alone raise, the centrality of these entanglements. This, then, is a reminder and a rejoinder, a small insistence on the importance of intersectionality.
My assertion should not surprise, for mascots (whether anchored in Indianness or not), like sport more generally, have long prized masculinity, celebrating physical prowess, aggression, and dominance. In the USA, moreover, sport has always pivoted around discourses of white supremacy and thus has had a place in broader struggles over race and power. The play of sport and its replay in fan banter, media coverage, corporate marketing, and so on have taken the white man as its defining and ideal subject, rendering racial others as lesser, expendable, and transgressive and women as abject, supplemental, and misplaced. Recent happenings at the NFL offer glimpses of this pattern: the rather overt interrogation of male sexuality, rumors and reportage of suspect character, and the mocking of the first female to participate. White men remain the default subject in sport worlds—actor, interpreter, and audience. And mascots reflect this.
Two Asian students reported that they were walking in the dining hall at the college’s ’53 Commons student union Wednesday when a white student “walked by them, made eye contact and verbally harassed them by speaking in gibberish seemingly meant to mock Chinese,” college spokesman Justin Anderson said in an email.
The incident is under investigation, Anderson said.
A forum for members of the Dartmouth community to discuss the incident is scheduled today from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. It is closed to the public.
The allegations come just days after racist graffiti was discovered in a campus dorm over the weekend; somebody had scrawled the “n word” on a student’s whiteboard, Dean Charlotte Johnson reported earlier this week. The college held a forum in response to the graffiti on Monday.
The Dartmouth reported that Safety and Security director Harry Kinne said during the forum part of the message “appeared to be directed towards that individual, and it was a racist statement.” (The Valley News was asked to leave that event because it was closed to college outsiders.)
I’m only telling you this to make it clear that there’s no such thing as a “view from nowhere” — that weird mainstream media orthodoxy that holds that the perfect journalist, the ideal journalist, can only discover truth by adopting a posture of invisibility, that the perfect journalist should be little more than a human recorder himself — always himself, because this perfect reporter is invariably imagined as male, usually as a middle-class white dude from an English-speaking country. Those are the only people whose race and class and gender and nationality ever get to be “invisible,” whose views get to be from “nowhere,” because they are everywhere.
That’s just one of the reasons that in-the-field investigative journalism jobs are still given mostly to white men — even if they’ve never visited the country in question and don’t speak the language, editors still trust those people to tell the story over and above local reporters. The net result of all this is that anyone who isn’t a white, heteronormative Western man has to fight doubly hard not to get stuck in an office rewriting press releases — on this, trust me.
The whole notion of the “view from nowhere,” the idea of completely objective reporting that’s supposed to be the gold standard of journalistic practice in America in particular, is of course utter hogwash. Every view comes from somewhere, and who you are as a writer, reporter, filmmaker or blogger changes how people behave in your presence. It changes what they say to you; it changes whether they speak to you at all. That’s as true for your average white dude reporter as it is for anyone else, and it matters even if you don’t care a bit about equal representation in the media industry. It matters because the fallacy of bland and faceless reporting hurts journalism, by allowing bias and prejudice to masquerade as hands-off objectivity, by giving reporters license not to be honest about how their outlook affects their output.
A recent Time article titled “The Pay Gap Is Not as Bad as You (and Sheryl Sandberg) Think” suggests that women are either somehow at fault or to blame for earning less than a male for the same job with the same skills, citing that women make poor career choices– choosing jobs that pay less than ones selected by men. Women on average earn less than men for comparable jobs – 77 cents in 2012 for every dollar a man earns. Past studies account for job choices and compare similar jobs in citing the pay differences between men and women. The reason that women are paid less than a man for equal work and experience is discriminatory and for no other reason. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women’s salaries are outpaced by men almost everywhere from the highest paying occupations to the lowest paying occupations. Everywhere from doctors and lawyers to cashiers and lesser positions, women earn less than their male counterparts.
Even more disturbing in the pay equity debate is the fact that women of color earn even less than their white counterparts. Time ‘s article fails to discuss that women of color are at an even greater disadvantage in terms of pay equity. African-American women earn 64 cents to the dollar of what men earn. And Hispanic women make only 55 cents to every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man earns. The focus should be on those at the bottom of the ladder and not the ones with a college education. The loss in income for all women due to the pay gap means less money to support a family, with housing, food, education and health care. But for women of color, closing the pay gap is of even greater importance.
I cringed when I saw that you “dressed up as a Native American.” While some have called your decision “risqué,” I’d call it deeply offensive. Still, I was going to ignore your foolish costume until I saw a recent interview in which you shared your inspiration for Oz the Great and Powerful. In it, you compared Natives to Munchkins, and I knew then that this letter was necessary. What you’ve said and done is not only disrespectful—it’s dangerous. I hope you’ll read through this letter and think twice before once again choosing to participate in actions that preserve deeply racist convictions in popular culture.
By wearing a braided wig and donning feathers, and calling that “Native American” in a photo shoot, you’re perpetuating the lazy idea that Natives are all one and the same. Because you were born and spent your childhood in Montana, I expected more from you. Montana is home to seven reservations, where Natives from more than a dozen state or federally recognized tribes and nations reside—each with its own history, culture and language.
The United States federally recognizes and has established government-to-government ties with nearly 600 Native nations. And while these nations share in common that they constitute the people who descend from the continent’s original inhabitants, they are otherwise unique (and not one of those nations wears braided wigs and feathers as if to represent their people). By dressing up as an imaginary Native, you’re working to conceal both the history and the presence of real ones.
Even decades after San Francisco’s late disco icon Sylvester made the entire world feel mighty real, he’s still capable of pulling in observers with his sheer magnetism. In fact, he was the initial draw for curator Byron Mason when he volunteered to put together the exhibition “Legendary: African American GLBT Past Meets Present” for the GLBT Historical Society‘s museum.
“I didn’t know much about the historical society, but I knew they had some of Sylvester’s estate,” says activist Mason, 40, who also works at the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at UCSF as the research partnerships director. “I thought to myself, ‘If I could see some of his stuff, that would make the exhibit well worth it.’ ”
Sylvester, who died in 1988 at 41 of AIDS-related illness, does take center stage in the small, artifact-laden display, in the form of one of his sequined, custom-made performance ensembles – the cloak bedazzled with burgundy pinwheel fireworks, the beret bedecked with jaunty feathers.