Racism, ignorance fuel resistance to drop Indian chief logo

It is time for Winters High School to remove the last two Native American images for its “Warrior” logo.

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I can’t believe we’re still talking about this. Our Winters High School Warrior mascot — an Indian chief in full headdress — is at the center of controversy again. This topic isn’t new. I wrote a front-page story on it two years ago.

Read your newspaper, people!

Some folks are in a rage over a recent school board discussion about removing the logo, and that logo is so damned important to them that they don’t even realize that the high school has been quietly and proactively scrubbing Indian symbolism from the campus for years, and that the only things still bearing the logo are the gym floor and marquee.

The issue was under the spotlight again because the Yocha Dehe tribe, recognizing our school district’s financial difficulties, offered to fund the replacement of the floor and marquee, and this triggered a collective tirade. Facebook lit up with racism and ignorance. Some of the comments left my jaw hanging.

One common defense is “The Chief logo is part of our history!” Well, Southerners said the same about their Confederate flags, and slavery had a far longer history than Winters High School. The fact that an injustice occurred for a long time doesn’t make it acceptable.

Another retort is, “I know Native Americans who are just fine with the logo!” and even some who claim Native American heritage themselves and say they aren’t offended. Very curious. They claim Native American heritage, but ignore the tribe and publicly contradict it. Clearly they aren’t actually familiar with the culture they claim.

The common denominator is, “If it doesn’t bother me, than it’s perfectly fine.” That’s the core of white privilege: it’s not about what you do experience in life — it’s about what you don’t.

We white folks have zero experience with the daily insults and challenges people of color face. We have no clue. And, it would be OK if we had no clue, if we at least had empathy. We may not have the same experiences, but feelings are universal. If someone says, “That makes me sad,” we should all be able to understand “sad,” and change our behavior so we’re not hurting others.

But we can’t, and we don’t, and so the logo battle rages on.

I tried to think of an equivalency for non-Native Americans to help them understand what it feels like to see their culture objectified and minimalized, but we don’t really have one. The closest I could come was the Pope: Imagine that Winters High School is home of the Fightin’ Inquisitors, and the school logo is a cartoon Pope. The sports boosters sell red and white miter hats and rosary beads, and the pep squad mascot runs around in a Naughty Nun/French maid outfit. Over at the gym, basketball players trot across the Pope’s face every day at practice.

Do you think there are some Catholics out there who might object? Might view the treatment of the Holy Father as sacrilege? Might think sexy nun outfits mock the good and solemn work that nuns do? I do.

Another objection I’ve heard from Native American representatives about the use of the chief in full headdress is that this image is not about being a “warrior.” The chief is a respected leader, and not simply a fighter. They feel that using the chief image in this context unfairly represents their culture as violent, which is not what their culture is about.

Using Native American imagery as sports logos objectifies an entire race of people. If you’ve grown up female in this country, you know what objectification feels like. To be treated like a walking boobs and butt display for the amusement of men is belittling, insulting and soul-crushing. It makes you feel “less than.” This is America. Nobody is supposed to be “less than.”

America has had its problems, and bigotry and racism are key amongst them, but historically, we’ve plodded slowly forward and away from those things. We aren’t “there” yet, but we certainly aren’t where we were. On our “to do” list is getting rid of racist imagery.

Tell me: What actual harm comes from removing the logo? Or from changing the mascot itself, for that matter? Why not become the Winters Wildcats? Wildcats are much more representative of Winters than Warriors. They’re small and cute, but deadly and vicious if provoked or threatened, brave and tenacious, and masters of survival. And, wildcats are even native to our area. As Wildcats, the high school could even keep its stylized “W” symbols. It wouldn’t even cost anything.

I guarantee that if we became the Winters Wildcats, by the end of one school year, nobody would be talking about logos anymore, and the kids would all be happily running around with fun and feisty wildcats on their sweatshirts, and no harm done to anyone.

As for those who just can’t imagine changing school mascots, well, hate to point out the obvious, but Winters Elementary School already did it. When Waggoner Elementary School and Shirley Rominger Intermediate School combined to become Winters Elementary School, they took the Waggoner Dolphin and the Rominger Nighthawk, and created this weird and mildly disturbing bird-fish, and while the rest of us don’t know what the hell it is, the kids are fine with it. Their worlds: not rocked.

Now, nobody said a peep when we got rid of the dolphin, which also had a long history in Winters. But removing the Indian Chief creates an explosion of outrage. What’s the difference? I’m calling it: Some white folks don’t like to be told by non-white folks what to do. Period. They don’t like their assumed racial superiority challenged.

I’ll bet a beer at the Buckhorn that many of the same folks freaking out about the logo are also — if truth be told — annoyed with the Black Lives Matter movement. They think “those people” should just quit whining and take responsibility for their lives, and please just disappear.

If the phrase “those people” has ever floated through your mind and, worse yet, drifted out your mouth — dude. That’s racism. Racism isn’t always blatant. Sometimes it’s very subtle, but very pernicious nonetheless.

Black Lives Matter. Yes. But Red Lives Matter too. Lots of folks like to counter smugly that “All Lives Matter,” because of course, they do, but they miss the point. It’s that “OTHER Lives Matter.” We must transition from an “it’s all about me” culture to an “it’s all about we” culture. Removing racist imagery from our public schools is a great start.

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12 comments
  1. Dear Debra,

    “White folks”? You are paid to write an opinion and so you do. Your opinion is your opinion. Here’s mine. Racism exits in some people in all races. Human beings are just that way, it sucks.

    I don’t care one way or the other about a logo. I personally always looked at a Chief as a sign of respect, strength, power and benevolence. So please don’t speak for me. My opinion is you are the closet racist, just my opinion, nothing else.

    Peace and love,
    Allen

    1. 5 bucks says that Allen is a racist and completely missed the point of the article… And he spends his time attacking people who point out racism in our society, instead attacking the actual racist at hand, when he sees or hears a racist comment being made.

  2. Dear Debra,

    “White folks”? You are paid to write an opinion and so you do. Your opinion is your opinion. Here’s mine. Racism exits in some people in all races. Human beings are just that way, it sucks.

    I don’t care one way or the other about a logo. I personally always looked at a Chief as a sign of respect, strength, power and benevolence. So please don’t speak for me. My opinion is you are the closet racist, just my opinion, nothing else.

    Peace and love,
    Allen

    1. 5 bucks says that Allen is a racist and completely missed the point of the article… And he spends his time attacking people who point out racism in our society, instead attacking the actual racist at hand, when he sees or hears a racist comment being made.

  3. Change the imagery, not the mascot. There are warriors across all cultures and that should be a fact that is recognized and celebrated. Getting rid of the warrior mascot shoves this controversy under the rug instead of opening it up for discussion at the high school in history/social sciences classes, which could present an opportunity for active dialogue about why ethnic caricatures are racist and hopefully encourage empathy in the next generation.

    Also, the Golden State Warriors (y’all might have heard of them, they won the 2 NBA championships in the last 3 years…) manage to have the warrior as their mascot and not offend anyone, juuuust sayin’.

  4. Change the imagery, not the mascot. There are warriors across all cultures and that should be a fact that is recognized and celebrated. Getting rid of the warrior mascot shoves this controversy under the rug instead of opening it up for discussion at the high school in history/social sciences classes, which could present an opportunity for active dialogue about why ethnic caricatures are racist and hopefully encourage empathy in the next generation.

    Also, the Golden State Warriors (y’all might have heard of them, they won the 2 NBA championships in the last 3 years…) manage to have the warrior as their mascot and not offend anyone, juuuust sayin’.

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