I posted on Monday about some of my amazing Native friends that I got to catch up with while on campus for my college reunion. I had an incredible weekend, so much fun, but there was a bit of a dark underbelly to it all when I went to our homecoming football game.
I’ve written several times about how Stanford was the “Stanford Indians” until 1971, and how student activism was the root cause of the mascot change. Just a few months ago, when I was at the leadership team training for reunion, I posted about how heartened I was to see this passage in the training handbook, declaring that “these images perpetuate stereotypes, are hurtful and offensive to American Indians and others, and are particularly inappropriate and insensitive in light of the history of forced assimilation that American Indian people have endured in this country.”
So, imagine my surprise, when in the span of just a few hours I was able to capture all of the following images, without even really trying. I’ll include the stories with each of them–though admittedly, I was often too shocked or angered to engage in long dialogues with any of the offenders.
The image above was the second encounter (I’ll post the first in a second), a young white-looking undergrad, who seemed all-too-pleased that I wanted to take a picture of his shirt. While I wish I could have pulled off the 1491′s response, I just took the picture, and then told him “Thanks for your help, I’m documenting all of the racist mascots at the game.” I didn’t stick around to see his response.
So this one I couldn’t believe. I spotted this pin within 10 seconds of being on campus, on the hat of an older gentleman walking with a cane. I couldn’t get close enough to see what was on it, but then, my friend Elena and I ended up in line next to “Barbara” who had it lovingly pinned to her name tag:
Yeah, that’s a wild-eyed tomahawk wielding Indian holding the SKIN of the Arizona Wildcat. Right, this is honoring, this is showing pride in Native peoples and traditions. I felt sick to my stomach as I took the picture. She was babbling on and on about the mascot back in the day, and honestly, my ears were roaring with shame and rage, and I missed the majority of what she said. I caught the end though; “We always said, when they got rid of the Indian, ‘well, that’s just another Indian out of a job!’” I looked at her with a blank face and turned my back.
As we were leaving the game, we walked past an alumni tailgate with a bunch of kids running around and playing football. They had traffic cones demarcating their space, and on each of them, Stanford Indian stickers:
As I was crouching down to take pictures, a woman from the tailgate walked over smiling. I looked up and said “Way to go teaching all these kids how to grow up racist. That’s really the Stanford way.” She looked confused, I pointed to the sticker, and then walked away.
Not two minutes later, spotted this couple walking across the street:
The front said “Stanford Indians.” At this point my friends got embarrassed and walked the other way, thinking I was going to confront a “cute old couple.” I didn’t.
Finally, walking back from a post-game coffee break, we ran into this couple:
They too, were delighted that I wanted to take their picture. I had to google what the Cardinal Council was, and apparently they are the “student-athlete representative body, which acts as the leison between Stanford athletes, the Athletic department, Stanford University, and the NCAA.” In other words, an officially sanctioned university committee. Believe me, they, along with the class of ’62, will be hearing from me. (UPDATE 10/25: I’ve been informed by the university that these particular shirts are not officially affiliated with the SAAC or Stanford. So if anyone knows what “Cardinal Council” this is referring to, please let me know.)
The scary and most upsetting thing to me is that all of these images are new. These aren’t some kids that dug them out of their parent’s basement, or some old alums who dusted off their vintage sweater. I felt, as I was leaving campus, that we were witnessing a scary resurgence in Stanford Indian mascot apparel.
Sure enough, the day I got home, a friend on campus forwarded me this email:
From: NIck H
Sent: Friday, October 05, 2012 11:05 AM
Sent: Friday, October 05, 2012 11:05 AMTo:
Subject: STANFORD INDIAN SWEATER
To meet the overwhelming desire of, well…everyone, I am starting the process to make a new batch of those magnificent Stanford Indian Sweaters that people won’t shut up about. I don’t mean to toot their horn or anything, but they’re kind of a big deal…if you wear one you could potentially own many leather bound books, and your apartment MIGHT smell of rich mahogany. DON’T MISS OUT ON WHAT COULD POTENTIALLY BE THE OPPORTUNITY OF A LIFETIME! Here’s the link to the google doc to fill out your name, quantity, and size:
Here’s the link to look at the design, if you haven’t already seen one already (pfft like thats a possibility):http://www.customink.com/
The more people that get them the cheaper they are. But last time they ended up being around 25 dollars. If you’re a hipster, don’t get one, its definitely already cool to wear these.
-Nick “but I was wearing mine before it was cool” H
The image? Here you go:
We would like to be honored by seeing our culture taken down from the shelves of costume shops. We would like to be honored by being consistently included as a whole racial demographic in social and scientific research. We would like to be honored by not being accused of taking some other student’s place at Stanford simply because we’re Native (even though we’re often accused of not looking Native enough). I, and so many others, would be honored if we could – someday soon – stop explaining why we are so deeply offended.
Exactly. I would add that we would like to be honored by the recognition of our treaty rights and tribal sovereignty as well.
So this trend is extremely troubling. I’ll be writing to the head of Reunion Homecoming, and I feel that a letter to the administration is necessary as well. This needs to be stopped, these images and actions are completely unacceptable.
This case at Stanford by no means exists in isolation. DeeJay NDN of A Tribe Called Red has been battling a local football team called the “Redskins” in Ottawa for the last few months, and the overt racism and scathing commentary he’s received shows how close to the surface racism against Native peoples truly is. The 1491s also hit up University of Utah (their mascot is the Utes) recently, and had some interesting conversations with tailgaters. Their video is here, and definitely worth a watch.
So to the people I chatted with, Nick H., the students who ordered a Stanford Indian sweatshirt, the Cardinal Council, the Class of 1962, and anyone else who donned a Indian image without thinking twice. Just stop for a moment, and really listen. Push aside the defensive and dismissive feelings, and realize that it’s not totally your fault. You’ve been socialized in a system that has normalized racism against Native people. You’ve been raised in a society that sugar-coats its colonial and genocidal past, and ignores the modern presence of Native peoples. So maybe you weren’t personally responsible for any of that. But now, I’ve taken away your ignorance defense. You now know how hurtful and harmful these images are, you know how it feels for me, a Native person, to see them at my alma mater. It’s what you do with that information that will show your true character. Dismiss it, defend you actions, and you’re now complacent in the system. Fight it, right the wrong, and you’ve shown that you won’t stand by and let oppression continue. Bravo.
Resources and previous posts galore:
A reminder of why this blog exists, one reader’s experience (Stanford alum who changed his mind about the mascot)
The Fighting Sioux are back, my passionate plea against Indian Mascots
The Fighting Sioux Part 2, the science (citing a study done by Stanford alumna Stephanie Fryberg)
Thanks for the severed head, you’ve proved my point
Stanford Indian, then and now (showing the “official policy I quoted from above)
The Native American Cultural Center at Stanford’s mascot history
Why Indian mascots and costumes are never ok (blog post by a Stanford undergrad–and in support, I agree with the “never ok”! The comments got a little crazy, as per usual)
More resources? Feel free to leave them in the comments.