November 27, 2005

Indian Head Op-Ed

With all the bustle around Thanksgiving, I forgot to post my op-ed in response to Jon Wisniewski's op-ed defending the Indian Head mascot as I had promised.

His argument is so bad, even the Review distanced themselves from it, so I feel like it would probably be a bit of overkill to continue to attack it at this point, but the Dartmouth stopped publishing before I could get my response in.

I've posted the op-ed over at Vox in Sox so I don't clutter up this page (though my column is actually quite short).

1 comment:

  1. [Cross-posting this comment at Vox in Sox if ViS allows anonymous comments]

    I like your response. I don't agree with all of it, but Wisniewski deserves the smackdown.

    It would be a different case if someone noticed that Libya's flag is just a solid green rectangle. Green has some sort of significance in Muslim culture (I'm highly ignorant of this, but I do remember Libya's flag from perusing the flag index in the almanac when I used to play "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego" on the computer). If someone wrote an op-ed in the D saying that everyone who wore solid green shirts was supporting terrorism, it would be a reasonable objection to say "No, we just like green. We find it aesthetically pleasing and wear it independent of history and other such connotations."

    It would be a different, but slightly closer case if Brazil attacked the United States by sending fighter jets into Los Angeles, yet the diehard fans of Brazilian soccer continued to wear their yellow Ronaldinho jerseys on the Green with "Brazil" emblazoned across the front. People would squawk, but the fans could say "I hate what they did, I know some of you are offended, but I wear this because I just really like their soccer team. They play the game the way it should be played, even if their politicians are being irresponsible right now. Soccer over politics." An interesting conversation might ensue, and it would be crystal clear that the jerseys have 1 meaning to their wearers, and another meaning to the objectors, and the question would be whether the wearers should yield to the objectors.

    Then there's the Indian mascot. It's less clear what it means, but it's disingenuous for Wisniewski to suggest that people just like the way an Indian head looks for purely aesthetic reasons. Some people actually feel this way, but that's not why they wear the shirt. The debate should be over (1) what the symbol means, and (2) if, like the Brazilian soccer jersey hypo above, it means one thing to the wearers and another to the objectors, the wearers should yield to the objectors. I think that the people who wear Dartmouth Indian jerseys generally say that they represent tradition undiluted by political correctness. If they go even further, they say that the image itself invokes ideas of strength, survival in the wilderness, and other noble/outdoorsy things that match up with Dartmouth's institutional image. They might also say that it represents the original mission of the College, which was educating Native Americans. This, they say, is the meaning of the symbol, and to object to it is to claim entitlement to a "sensitivity veto."

    The objectors would point out that Native American-themed mascots are usually more mocking than respectful of Native Americans. Futher, they'd say that caricuraturing an entire race is always disrespectful, even if the caricurature has positive attributes. Finally, they'd say (as you do to some extent) that Dartmouth's history with Native Americans is at least checkered. If you look at Eleazar Wheelock's grave in the cemetery behind Mass Row, its inscription says something like "by the gospel, he subdued the savage." Educating Native Americans is a noble goal, but the drinking songs about it and some of the history suggest at least an undertone of assimilationism, exploitation, and general disrespect. They'd say that the historical import of the shirts is more like parading the head of a conquered people around on pole than holding up a group for respect.

    If all this stuff was put squarely on the table, then people could have a productive (maybe it wouldn't be productive and would just lead to the current irreconcilable impasse we have now) conversation about what to do about the competing concerns. Ignorant garbage like Wisniewski's op-ed doesn't help at all.