As Williams discovered, people internalize imagery that reinforces their worldview, and it can be difficult to distinguish between caricatures trading blows from a distance and a confrontation to be had when they meet that image themselves. For Native American children, this is an unfortunate reality that plays out in schools across the United States. According to the American Psychological Association, Native American mascots “establish an unwelcome and often times hostile learning environment for American Indian students that affirms negative images/stereotypes that are promoted in mainstream society.” As one California high school student describes, “One of our school’s biggest rivals is the Calaveras Redskins. . . . The most offensive stuff doesn’t even come from the Redskins. It comes from their rival schools, mine included. I have heard my own friends yelling around me, ‘Kill the Redskins!’ or ‘Send them on the Trail of Tears!’ ”
Reliance on these images not only hinders the public’s understanding of Native Americans but also limits the ways that Native Americans see themselves. The mascots are constant reminders of all that Native Americans have been or ever will be in the eyes of others: ancient, angry, primal. Dreams of college or a white-collar job or financial independence suffocate in the racist smoke. In the context of generational poverty, rampant alcohol and substance addiction, a broken Indian Health Service and scarce educational opportunities, it is perhaps not surprising that Native American youths hold the nation’s highest suicide rate. Perhaps it is not surprising that so many would like the team name changed.
Join the conversation as a VIP Member