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Friday, June 26, 2020

"Mascots don't offend me" (But they should!)


By Claudia A. Fox Tree

Sketch by Claudia A. Fox Tree

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. ~Frederick Douglass

Not all opinions are created equal, nor should they be. There were "opinions" that women shouldn't have the right to vote, own property, inherit land, work, marry while being a teacher, get custody of children in a divorce, get a divorce, etc. These "opinions" were institutionalized as laws and cultural codes/ rules. I think we can agree that opinions like "women should NOT have rights" and "women SHOULD have rights" are not equal in weight. Why can't "Mascots don't offend me" be seen as not relevant to the conversation of historical oppression when folks are seeking equity and justice?

The opinion that "slavery should not end" does not have the same weight as "slavery should end." These are issues of human rights. Why can't "Mascots don't offend me" be seen as not relevant to the conversation of seeing humanity in others, and as not seeing people as a stereotype or object?

Opinions that the Earth is flat versus round don't carry equal weight because one has science to back it up. There is sociological and psychological research showing the damage of stereotyping for EVERYONE, not just the group being stereotyped. Why can't "Mascots don't offend me" be seen as the stereotype also affecting your own humanity and community?

This isn't an "in my opinion, broccoli is better than carrots argument" which really is YOUR personal opinion. This is about systemic, historical, and institutionalized unfairness couched as "opinion." Why can't "Mascots don't offend me" be seen as not relevant to you, personally, but relevant to the public display denigrating a group of people, most frequently without adequate counter narratives?

Most people don't think "white• folks" are all like the Simpsons or Family Guy because they can see that those shows are the exception and there are many, many examples of white families for comparison. In institutions, like schools, legal settings/ laws, publishing houses/ books, and movies, reflect back successful people, so there is never a question of having comparison role models and images for white people. That is not the case for Indigenous people and other people of color, and their families, culture, and history. Why can't "Mascots don't offend me" be seen as an irrelevant  comment, since it is essential that stereotypes be removed, especially in the absence of positive images and history?

Opinions that "I've never seen racism" are not evidence for racism not existing. If someone says, "I've never had a house fire, therefore they don't exist" we would all see that statement as ridiculous. Why can't "Mascots don't offend me" be seen as not relevant to the conversation because it is just as ridiculous to enter a debate with someone who believes it doesn't exist because it doesn't impact them, even though it clearly has affected others.

It is just as important for non-targeted people (those not represented in mascots, statues, images, etc) to eliminate stereotypes. Aren't they allies? Besides co-creating a healthy community, these images create implicit bias by associating "Native Americans" with "warlike characteristics, etc." In the absence of accurate information, those biases become the only association and then emerge and affect decisions like who to hire, fire, give raises, find guilty in court, include in school curriculum, etc. Why can't "Mascots don't offend me" be seen as a way to maintain a status quo, reminding everyone of who is in power, and putting Indigenous people in their place? "Mascots" are part of preserving a racist history and not part of creating an equitable community.

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. ~Frederick Douglass

* I use the word "white" in conversations about race for several reasons, including that signs and laws said "Whites Only." This is a conversation about racism, so that's the word to use. Racism, as defined by David Wellman, is "a system of advantage based on race." System means not individual acts of meanness and prejudice, but institutions and cultural rules.