So as you all may have heard (unless you live under a rock), White police officer Darren Wilson was not indicted in the murder of 18-year-old Black teenager Michael Brown. Mike Brown was killed by Wilson on August 9th, and a decision was not reached until November 24th.This in itself is mind-boggling. Now, in my first post for my blog Sports As A Weapon, I will attempt to make connections between two movements:The #ChangeTheName and #NotYourMascot movement and Ferguson.
So, many of you are probably wondering how these two movements are similar. What does changing the name and mascot of an NFL team have to do with Mike Brown and Ferguson? Well as I will try to argue, they intersect in many ways. The first and very elementary connection is that of racism. Both #ChangeTheName and the Ferguson uprisings and murder of Mike Brown deal with racism.
As a cultural anthropologist I fully understand that race is not real. Race is not a biological reality. As a social justice activist, and as a Chicano living in a white-dominated society, I also understand that race is a sociocultural reality. It is a social construct just like money, gender roles, and so on. It’s a social reality that I have to live every day as a Chicano. It’s a reality that Black people and Native people have to live with every day for centuries.
Both the movement to fight against offensive native mascotry and the murder of yet another unarmed young black man are connected through “othering” and the dehumanization of people of color. “Othering” can be defined as the concept of creating and maintaining a difference of division between one group of people and another (Said, 1979). This of course is white society and the other, the non-white society.
This creation and maintaining of difference manifest itself in Native Americans portrayed as mascots on football helmets, and young black men seen as “demons” by White police officers. The “other” is not viewed by white society as a human being. The “other” is viewed as non-living, a caricature, a mythical devil or demon.
This dehumanization is a product of White Supremacy and Colonialism. White Supremacy is the political ideology that believes white people (Europeans) are superior over people of color. White supremacy is upheld and reinforced through political, economic, social, cultural, educational, legal, and military systems of power. Colonialism can be defined as the subjugation or domination of a group of people and/or culture over the other through the establishments of settlements in a distant territory.
In the white imagination, Native Americans don’t exist anymore but only as artifacts of the past, in the form of mascots. Not only did European settlers commit the biggest genocide in human history when Columbus landed in 1492, Native Americans never existed in the white psyche to begin with. This Thanksgiving let’s not forget that fairy tale of manifest destiny. European colonial settlers as the great discovery states, discovered a land unoccupied by no one. God had made them the chosen people, who had the right to this uninhibited land. So how would white society even treat Native Americans as humans, when they didn’t exist in the first place?
In this same white imagination, Blacks display super-human strength. Not only did Darren Wilson state that Mike Brown displayed super-human strength, this happens to be one of the go-to narratives when police kill black men. The same was said of Bart Williams, a graduate student while I attended my last year of undergrad at California State University San Bernardino. Bart was killed by CSUSB PD in December 2012. He was shot five times in his dorm room by two police officers. Bart Williams was registered with services with students with disabilities. Bart Williams was bi-polar, and the university knew this. He wasn’t viewed as human just like Mike Brown wasn’t by Darren Wilson.
Like the Hottentot Venus human zoos (Blanchard, et. al., 2009) and Buffalo Bills Wild West shows (Maddra, 2006) of the past, Black and Indigenous people are only here for white society’s entertainment. What’s the difference of displaying Black people in cages and Native Americans portrayed as uncivilized savages who had to be tamed by the Cowboy hero Buffalo Bill? There is no difference. They were both seen as not humans. They were “othered.”
What’s the difference in 2014 when Native Americans are portrayed as mascots on football helmets while those Black men who wear those helmets kill themselves for White American entertainment? Nothing, except it’s not 1884, it’s 2014. I attended the protest at Levi Stadium on November 23rd, and what I saw there, I saw on TV the night of the decision. I saw the face of white supremacy in action.
What’s the difference between White football fans smirking and laughing at Native Americans protesting outside Levi stadium to change a racial slur, and that of the smirk of Bob McCullough as he announced the decision? Nothing. What’s the difference of a white football fan telling Native American protesters to grow up and White America telling Black people to be non-violent and protest civilly? Nothing. Nothing has changed. White Supremacy is still reigning and justice is still a dream.
Sports As A Weapon