What’s the difference?

October 16, 2007






  1. 1.  I saw those ass-clown Indian fans on the broadcast last night and my freakin’ jaw dropped.

    Unbelievable what some people think is OK…

  2. 2.  Nice job, Josh. I’ve never understood why the Tribe keeps that logo. Not to be rude–I know the Yankees don’t exactly have a wonderful history so far as racism goes–but it is ironic that Sox fans can find another team even more overtly racist that their own.

  3. 3.  2 : Yes, the Red Sox probably have the worst history of racism in the game, with the Yankees likely second. (Once the last vestiges of the Yawkey family were gone from ownership the Red Sox policies improved and, lo and behold, so did the fortunes of the team.)

    By contrast, the Indians were the first to cut against the grain of the more backward American League, bringing in Larry Doby to be the first African American player in the league (and, years later, hiring Frank Robinson as the first black manager).

    Also, my timing in posting these pictures basically destroys any credibility I might have on the subject. Where was I with these pictures last week when I was laughing with glee at the midge swarm? But, like “chris in illinois” I just couldn’t let the queasy feeling I got looking at those fans in “redface” last night go by without comment. I guess it was the big white Chief Wahoo smile paint all over their faces that made me think of blackface and wonder, you know, what the hell?

  4. 4.  I don’t know. I’d say the Tigers and Phillies probably rank ahead of the Yanks, but it’s nitpicking. The bunch of them were lousy.

    I really liked the fist two images. They were so strong I didn’t find the bottom two necessary or as powerful. The first two basically say it all.

    Aside from that, I still feel that the Sox will come back and win this series. Josh, are you freakin’ out tonight about Wakefield? Would you rather see Beckett? (You should be overjoyed to see Byrd.) My sense is that the Sox will roll tonight and then it’ll be a series, and you’ll really start losing sleep.

  5. 5.  4 : I agree that the first two pictures are the more striking pair, but the second two are to me really the point of the whole post: if people showed up at a baseball game in blackface they’d be villified from coast to coast, yet people who go to games painted up like outrageous caricatures of a Native American are not only not villified but are repeatedly shown without comment on national television (the lack of comment and the context of the images communicating not only a lack of disgust but, on the contrary, an implicit endorsement, i.e., “Look at how spirited these great fans are!”).

    As for the game: Tim Wakefield is my favorite Red Sox player. And, yes, I am “freakin’ out tonight about Wakefield.” I do wish Beckett was pitching tonight though, but only because that would banish Matsuzaka from the rest of the series. He kinda blows.

    For many years now, there has come a time when the Red Sox’ season comes down to the fickle fortune of the knuckleball. Now that time is here again. My stomach hurts.

  6. 6.  I was downstate visiting some family over the weekend, and one of the stories that got swapped involved two of my mom’s cousins and their Halloween costumes one year. One boy went as Uncle Sam, the other went in blackface, and they had the picture to prove it. When I first saw it, I wasn’t sure how to react. Then I remembered that it was taken in 1948, not 2007. I know that neither of them would show up to a baseball game looking like that today, or dressed up like those asshats pictured above. They should be frakking ashamed of themselves.

  7. 7.  Side by side the pictures are pretty damning, but I have to say, as a Native American, I have never been offended by Chief Wahoo at all. As far as the face paintings go, they’re dressing up as their mascot, not making fun of “Indians”. I see a huge difference there.

  8. 8.  The Indians should just change their mascot to Gandhi and everything will be fine.

  9. 9.  Cleveland Spiders! How could they not make that happen?

  10. 10.  7 : “As far as the face paintings go, they’re dressing up as their mascot, not making fun of ‘Indians’.”

    I can’t argue with that. My guess is that intentionally being offensive to anyone is the farthest thing from the minds of those fans. And if it isn’t offensive to a Native American, then who am I to squawk about it? (There do seem to be current protests by Native Americans on this issue, however: http://tinyurl.com/3487xr).

    Thanks a lot for weighing in.

  11. 11.  8 : Ha!

    9 : Yeah, Spiders seems to be a popular renaming choice. My brother came up with a couple at the tail end of the comments on the interview with Akim Reinhardt that pay tribute to two great Americans with Cleveland ties: The Cleveland Crumbs (after R. Crumb) and the Cleveland Pekars. I’d vote for the latter, as I don’t think Crumb was born in Cleveland and doesn’t live there now, while Harvey Pekar has rarely stepped foot outside that great and grimy town.

  12. 12.  11 : Ah, twould we lived in a world in which a baseball team could be named as a second-grader might misspell a slang term for the male sex organ. (Of course ideally, you’d want the “k” turned around backward.)

    As to today’s subject, your timing indeed does undermine the credibility of your outrage. But so what. We’re down 1-2, and things inevitably get ugly in the crucible of a 7-game series. In sports, as in war, the Enemy quickly takes on all the trappings of a hideous devil. It’s just part of the pantomime.

  13. 13.  11 There is nothing wrong with being an Indian. How about simply having a logo and mascot that connote some of the grace and dignity of our early Americans?

    I wish we could be more careful with the use of the word (label) and concept of Racist. There is a big difference between hatred and insensitivity. We are what we are taught. True racism exists in every corner of the globe and is probably as old as mankind itself. Most of us grew up with racist/ethnic jokes, slurs and dictums all around us. Some have crept into our consciousness and even our vocabulary, but necessarily into our hearts.

    The Indian’s logo is insensitive and it is time to have a new one. But I don’t think it’s racist.

  14. 14.  12 : Yeah, let’s hope we can scrounge together a frickin’ rally or two tonight against those, those devils!

    13 : Thanks for that thoughtful response, OldYanksFan. I agree that people should be careful about the choice between labeling something racist rather than insensitive.

    Here’s what historian Akim Reinhardt said about the Cleveland team using the term “Indians” in an interview here last week:

    “The word ‘Indian’ of course is not racist in and of itself, and indeed it’s the word most Indians I know use, as opposed to Native American, though ‘Indigenous’ is gaining a lot of late…But using the word as a team name is still disrespectful. It would be like naming your team The Jews, the Blacks, or The Chinese. It just doesn’t make any sense, and is emblematic of how most Americans continue to view Indian people: as characters in movies and images in art instead of as actual people. It is also indicative of how little political muscle Indigenous people have in this society. We would never see in the 21st century a professional team named the Cleveland Jews, the Cleveland Blacks, or the Cleveland Chinese…”

  15. 15.  13 I agree with some of what you say in that the logo should incorporate the grace and dignity of Native Americans if you insist on using this a symbol of your team and region. I don’t think a mascot is necessary at all and if so, it doesn’t need to be an “Indian” (e.g., Mr. Met; neither a tux-wearing man-about-town or a representation of Queens natives unless you argue the big heads >;)

    As for racism in itself, I often see racism as aggressive and insensitivity as passive-aggressive, though racism can be passive-aggressive in institutional form (education, housing, police policy, etc.) … furthermore, A.) there is no excuse for subjugating or relegating people inferior based on their culture or appearance, and B.) being of Cherokee and Choctaw descent, I once used the argument that it doesn’t offend me to have our high school mascot be an “Indian.” That was before I knew about the history of this country’s treatment of that branch of my ancestry, as I was already very big on knowing the history and issues from the dominant African aspect of my ancestry.

    It’s just plain wrong, and if anyone has a problem with their ancestors being depicted and heralded as cartoons in this type of forum (nationally or ostensibly world-wide televised sports), they have MANY reasons to be upset; especially in that it shows that there is little respect towards their current existence. It all points to a much deeper issue with our consciousness as a society, our education and our so-called values, not to mention interpretation of our constitutional rights.

    “Lighten up” obviously doesn’t work for me, physically or emotionally. Hopefully further review and action on the deeper issues don’t stop with agreeing to disagree.

  16. 16.  I would argue that if the Cleveland Indians need a new mascot or team name, we should probably take Andrew Jackson off the $20 bill.

    But that’s another story entirely.

  17. 17.  16 How about we start over with what everyone already has?


  18. 18.  For the record, I doubt that the fans pictured above were in any way trying to make some sort of a racial point. `Obviously they were just clueless to the fact that by dressing up in such a fashion they turned themselves into ass-clowns. I bet they know enough not to show up at a Halloween party as Al Jolsen though…

    16 Despite President Andy’s famously cranky attitude toward the indigenous peoples of the Southeast, I have a hard time applying 21st century morality towards an early 19th century figure. The 2007 Cleveland Indians, however, should be subject to the moral climate of the day and they should be looking into finding a new mascot. The name ‘Indians’ itself doesn’t necessarily have to go as others have previously stated.

    I try to stay mindful of these sort of issue when I sit down at the table to enjoy a grilled NY Strip with a glass of California Zin—I know that humanity in the future will consider eating animal flesh unthinkable. I hope they judge me kindly and with historical perspective firmly in mind.

  19. 19.  18 You’re vision of “humanity in the future” doesn’t include Argentina, apparently. Barbaric? Yes. Delicious? Also yes.

  20. 20.  16 Because of his expansionist policies, or because he hated the idea of a national treasury so much that he once said “The Bank- I will kill it!” Which makes his appearance on the $20 bill so, so ironic.

  21. 21.  Mrs. Kavula is a sometime baseball fan. She enjoys the game itself greatly but cannot be bothered to follow the sport. She cannot name the teams or the cities where the game is played at the major league level.

    When she saw Chief Wahoo on television in this series, it was possibly the first time she had seen the mascot. She said, “What the hell is that?”

    As for me, the mascot needs to go. Old Yankee Fan put it best: though it might not be racist, it is insensitive and its time has passed.

    The team name that rises to the level of racist, in my opinion, is the Washingtoon football club. That’s actually a racial epithet. I can’t stand it.

  22. 22.  I am so glad, Joshua, that we have you on hand as a paradigm of enlightenment and morally instructive bellwether of political consciousness.

    Thank you for sharing.

  23. 23.  19 Oh, I agree…Rumor has it that ‘Fogo de Chao’ is Portuguese for ‘Meat Storm’. Just because I know that I’m on the wrong side of history regarding my carnivorous tendencies doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy them…or plan to stop.

    I know my own weaknesses.

  24. 24.  What is so startling about Chief Wahoo and general complacency by the majority of the nation has nothing to do with whether anyone finds it offensive or not, but the continued political and cultural representation at work within “red face” and caricature. As the first two images above so aptly point out, this country has a long long history of using caricatures to disempower those deemed undesirable by the white, Anglo-Saxon, Christian colonizing majority. Such caricatures play upon and propagate the worst stereotypes about a group of people, dehumanizing them and leaving them as objects of ridicule. Thus, for Native Americans, you have the “redskin,” the “savage,” not to mention the slightly sinister, lascivious grin and raised eyebrows, indicating something less than savory about him. Caricatures such as Chief Wahoo (don’t forget the name problem) were disseminated en masse during the late 1800s and beyond as part of the colonizing process, justifying manifest destiny and the like by portraying the Native Americans and their culture, dress, language, and customs as ridiculous, dangerous, and less than human.

    In such a situation, the colonized, in this case, the Native Americans, are left with the choice between a) distancing themselves from such images and thereby “civilizing” themselves, attempting to mimic the colonizers, which, of course, they are only allowed to do to an extent or b) embracing their culture and fighting the stereotypes, at which point they are killed, further marginalized, and the stereotypes only heightened. It’s Bhabha’s colonial ambivalence and mimicry at work.

    You have to think of it in terms of power and knowledge. Chief Wahoo is the relic of a larger process of power relations hell bent on ensuring that Native Americans “know their place” by ensuring that the dominant construct what is and what isn’t “the truth.” If the country believes that Native Americans are a certain way, it is very hard to break such a belief.

    By allowing the Indians to continue to have him as their mascot and have people don red face, even ignorantly, we are allowing such a process to continue, however minimally. As long as the caricatures are still circulating throughout our culture and people are still defending them, and worse, imitating them, it will be very very difficult to move beyond racism.

  25. 25.  oops, that came out a lot longer than I had expected…

  26. 26.  25 … but worth reading, thanks!

  27. 27.  Now imagine a team with the Washington football club’s nickname and the Cleveland baseball club’s mascot.

    Tell me that’s not offensive.

    I was also astonished to see signs and apparel in the crowd at Jacobs field bearing the older, amazingly even more offensive (to me at least) version of the Cleveland mascot seen here:

    The Cleveland club needs to fix this. Amazingly, they’ve tried to switch to caps bearing a Cleveland “C” in the past (or their current alternates which sport only an “I”), but keep coming back to that mascot.

    As for the Spiders, the 1899 Cleveland Spiders were the worst team in baseball history at 20-134 (.130). I don’t blame the Cleveland club for not wanting to conjure up those old ghosts. Both the Spiders and the current Indians were once called the Blues, however, so that’s a posibillity. Or what about the Moondogs after Alan Freed’s historic radio alias, which would tie in nicely with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, be entirely original (though the Cleveland Cavs’ mascot is already named Moondog in tribute to Freed), and lend itself to some improved iconography.

  28. 28.  Zack, I agree with most of what you said there, but please don’t assign negative values to caricature art as a whole. Thomas Nast used it to denigrate Tammany (a bunch of white guys), Herblock used it to denigrate Nixon (a white guy), and Vuckovich and Oliphant use it to denigrate Bush (a white guy). Caricature is an equal-opportunity medium.

  29. 29.  28 that is more than fair. I didn’t mean caricature as a whole, mostly when used in this particular form. Besides, I have nothing against those Disneyland/amusement park ones either 🙂

  30. 30.  27 Wow, that one is worse, which I didn’t think was possible

  31. 31.  28 : And don’t forget the grand-pere of caricature as art form/political satire, Honore Daumier (for more see Daumier Drawings–http://www.amazon.fr/Daumier-Drawings-Colta-Feller-Ives/dp/toc/0300085893–featuring a chronology by Daumier scholar Jenny Squires “Mom” Wilker.)

  32. 32.  18 ,20 – I was referring to Worcester v. Georgia, where Jackson defied the Supreme Court and forced the Cherokee out.

  33. 33.  1

    FWIW, a picture of 2 of the “fans” is currently on the main page of ESPN.com

    Wonder if ESPN.com will get any criticism?

  34. 34.  Josh, was your post driven by the passing of this man?


  35. 35.  33 : Thanks for pointing that out.

    34 : I can’t say that it was, but thanks for the link to that obit. The post was really driven more by good old fashioned losing-team bitterness more than anything else, so I especially appreciate the many thoughtful comments people came up with to raise the discussion above the “sour grapes” realm of discourse.

  36. 36.  Somehow I missed seeing that this topic was here yesterday.

    Josh, you are in good company, for this is also the current topic on Joe Posnanski’s blog:

    FWIW, the Atlanta Braves eliminated “Chief Noc-A-Homa” over twenty years ago. That character had only a quarter-century or so history compared to sixty years (and counting) of Chief Wahoo, but shouldn’t it be a relatively simple matter to change the team logo? Plus, don’t teams these days change logos and color schemes regularly in order to stimulate mechandise sales?

  37. 37.  Check out this cartoon concerning the Indians logo:

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