A Reminder of Why This Blog Exists: One Reader’s Experience

In indian mascots, stanford indian by Adrienne K.9 Comments

AK note: I wanted to share this email I received last week from a fellow Stanford alum, who let me know how this blog changed his thinking about Indian mascots and Indian issues. As might have been clear in my post about activist fatigue, it’s sometimes hard to keep fighting this battle day in and day out, but hearing from Ted (his email is printed with permission) gave me such a renewed sense of purpose and an excitement that there is space for change. Sometimes we all need a reminder.

Dear Adrienne,
I hope it is okay to write you directly at this email address, I don’t really have a question or a tip or anything, I just wanted to write and tell you what I’ve been thinking about for the past month or so and how you directly affected it.
It all started last month when I took my 12 year old daughter to a Stanford football game. A quick background, I was a Stanford faculty brat growing up on campus in the late 60’s and early ‘70’s. I went to the games as early as I can remember and continued going even after I graduated from Paly and moved to San Francisco to go to USF. So my memories, as a kid, were always of the Stanford Indians. I remember when the mascot was retired, I think I was 14 or so and while I always liked the mascot and “Chief Lightfoot”, I really didn’t care much either way on the issue. My dad told me that some students objected to the mascot and we had to respect their feelings. I always remembered the mascot fondly as a part of my childhood and never really gave much thought about why the mascot was retired.
So at the football game against Sacramento State last month I felt a wave of childhood nostalgia when I saw a tailgate party decked out top to bottom in the old mascot. My daughter wanted to know why the team wasn’t the “Indians” anymore, and not really knowing the history, I told her I wasn’t sure, but that I thought a small group of students in the politically active 70’s had it removed for not depicting the image of Native Americans appropriately. She asked about professional teams that still had mascots and I explained that businesses could make decisions about things that institutions, even private ones like Stanford, couldn’t. She didn’t think that was fair, and we tried to think of any other college examples, and came up with quite a few. We both kinda scratched our heads and shrugged our shoulders and went in to the stadium and enjoyed the game. I suppose I just chalked the whole issue up to some overly PC students raining on everyone’s parade.
After coming back home (we live in LA – ugh), I wanted to see if I could still buy a t-shirt with the old mascot on it so I Googled it and found a whole bunch of places where they were available. I also saw a link to your blog and thought I should see, from the other side’s (I wasn’t really aware there were “sides” until that moment) point of view, what the objection to the issue really was. (wasn’t really aware it was a big “issue” either!).
Before I go on, I should point out that I am the kind of person who doesn’t mind offending people as a general rule. I don’t really care what other people think about my personal views on things like religion or politics. I enjoy rubbing people the wrong way sometimes, especially if it can make them think for a second instead of just going along with the pack. I own t shirts like “Your Favorite Band Sucks”, “Are Your Cats Old Enough to Learn About Jesus?” even some with four letter words (but that’s about as far as I go, I mean I don’t ever really want to be offensive just for the sake of being offensive, offending-sure, offensive – no). Anyway, I was fully expecting to reject your argument with a shrug of my shoulders and a “screw ‘em if they can’t take a joke”.
But I couldn’t.
Partly because of your persuasive writing (I’m sure thanks in part to that awesome Stanford education!), partly because of the dialogue I read in the comments of many of your posts and perhaps just a little bit of a mutual distain for the current version of the hipster, I have really come to a very different point of view. Don’t get me wrong, I will never fall into the politically correct camp, but what I did come away from all of this is: haven’t we done enough to Native people, not only here, but everywhere, yet? I’m pretty sure we have. So childhood memory be damned, innocent as it may have been, I did buy a t shirt today… the t shirt from a link in your blog that says “Retire Indian Mascots”. And I’m gonna wear it when we go to the USC game next week (thank goodness it’s red and not gold!), and I’m looking forward to pissing off some alumni.
I’m certainly not looking for a pat on the back, I just wanted you to know that your writing has really changed the way at least one person thinks about this. This experience has caused our whole family to have a discussion of not only Native issues, but genocide and slavery in general and I think it is something we are better as a family for doing.
So I wanted to thank you Adrienne, for your insight, your bravery and your honesty.

Earlier: Robin Lopez Wore a Stanford Indian Shirt, and 15,000 People Saw

(Thanks Ted!)
  • Thanks Ted and Adrienne for sharing.

  • I got a little teary, reading this. Thank you both, very much.

  • where can I get that retire indian mascots shirt? it’s awesome.

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  • B

    Feel free to delete this comment if it is just too much rain on a parade.

    It is awesome learning that one’s blogging makes a difference! And it is awesome to write to someone and tell them that they have made a difference in your life!

    (And by the way Adrienne, I am someone else to whom your blogging has made a difference- I suddenly feel silly for never having said it before.)

    But for me it’s a little sad to read that letter, still so full of pride in:

    -being offensive
    -not caring about the offense you do to others, and even enjoying it
    -not being politically correct
    -one’s ability to “take a joke” (so many slurs are defended as “jokes!”)

    In other words, all the tactics usually used to mock activists working for justice and equality because they, you know, actually care about other people.

    PS- Ted, if you’re reading: that sort of delight in offending others, and that disdain for people who actually care and who are hoping and working for socially just change? Those, too, are hallmarks of “going along with the pack” and of “the current version of the hipster.” I’m just saying. But since you sound like someone open to being challenged, and reading other points of view, I’d suggest you stick around here a while, and check out some of the blogs Adrienne has linked in her “Blogs Who’s Ideas I Borrow” section.

  • sweeeeeeet. I designed that shirt (the retire indian mascots one) and have been known to partake in a mascot debate or two in my day. Thanks for writing and posting this.

    Ryan Red Corn

  • @ B — i didn’t get that at all from the letter. In fact, Ted went out of his way to say that he “offends” people when he goes against the grain to *make people think* about their preconceived notions, assumptions, stereotypes, etc, NOT for the sake of being offensive.

    In a world full of injustice and unequal power distribution, calling out things that are unfair and asking people to rethink their entitlements will result in cognitive dissonance (e.g., “being offended”)

    There is a world of difference between offending a woman w/sexism, for example, and offending a man by telling him what he said/did was sexist and inappropriate. both people get offended, but one act reinforces oppression, while the other undoes it.

    i say kudos to people with oppositional tendencies who have the courage to direct them at accountability toward other’s unjust and oppressive entitlements! more so with people of privilege who are using the access and legitimacy it bestows to amplify the voices of the oppressed.

    as Howard Zinn said, “can’t stay neutral on a moving train.” It seems to me that Ted understands this, and i see that especially well in his conversation with his kid. I mean, saying “I don’t know” vs passing along his assumptions to his kid, and then looking for diverging view points to reconsider his own assumptions? that’s great!

    As for his tactics…they are just tactics, as you say. Anyone can use them for any purpose. Activists use those same tactics as well all the time, and to great effect. We use them if/when/because they are effective.

    Like violence…on that note, I’ll end w/a quote from Derrick Jensen: “Does the tiger who slays her zookeeper risk becoming a zookeeper?”

  • The mascot issue is simple in my eyes. Don’t make fun of Indians, or any other races for that matter.
    However, the logo’s are not as simple for me. I like the Fighting Sioux logo out of North Dakota. Yes, we have the whole Indian image; warrior, noble savage,etc. I still like it as it looks cool. There are other logos, like the Cleveland Indians that are just so out there in negative images that I don’t understand why it still exists.??? What would happen if a cartoon image of the 50’s, 60’s from a ‘blackface’. You still remember those cartoons? Yes you do.
    The world view of the cartoon image and the whole making fun of others is still very much alive. But it’s all in good fun, eh?