In Ravenna, where I now live, there are a couple of spots where two-lane roads have intersections with traffic lights but no left turn lane. What I noticed happening somewhat consistently is people turning left would gun it as soon as the light changed to green. This pissed me off! This personally insulted me. My right of way was snatched away by some A-hole who put his or her time at a higher value than mine. The third time it happened I realized an entire lane of traffic would be backed up if that vehicle waited for another entire lane of traffic to first pass. Now, I still wouldn’t do that. It’s not legal, and if the other person also decided to gun it as soon as the light changed, there would be either a standoff or an accident, but once I recognized the possibility that the maneuver was intended as a courtesy to the drivers behind, I stopped getting PO’d over it. Once I stopped getting PO’d, the actual, tangible disruption in my life revealed itself to be, at most, a lost second of my time.
Where am I going with all this?
For over twenty years Native Americans have been protesting Cleveland’s baseball team as a request that they change the team name and mascot. They’re offended by both. My Native American friend is passionate about this issue and I support him, but I told him I couldn’t share his post on the subject on facebook because it included “#clevelandracists” which, for me, takes it too far. An entire city and its fans aren’t racist. We’re selfish. We would lose something if we changed the team name. That something we would lose has nothing to do with Native Americans or their history, because we’re not racists. We love our team. We cherish our memories of being fans of our team. My favorite player, ever, was Tony Bernazard. One night my dad woke me up and got me out of bed when Bernazard came up with the bases loaded. He popped out to the catcher, but I treasure that memory of my dad. I have the illusion that memory would be dimmed if the name and mascot of my favorite baseball team growing up changed. Why? Because there is a distorted value in what we possess. Our first impulse is always to protect what we have, how things have always been. When someone or some group comes along and threatens that we rally and come up with a list to protect it. None of these reasons stand up to scrutiny.
We meant it as an honor, but these Native Americans are making it clear they feel the opposite of honored.
Aren’t there more important things to make a big deal out of? Yes, and that point is firmly in their favor. Keeping the team name and mascot despite over twenty years of protest is also a stance.
If we change the team name because of a protest, what are we going to have to change next when the next protest comes along? Nothing. It’s one change and a good one for the city. We’re not contractually obligating ourselves to any other changes. That slippery slope argument gets trotted out every time the status quo is questioned. Does anyone believe it’s even possible that groups of Native Americans have been peacefully protesting these games for over twenty years because they wanted to make something out of nothing? Or look at this way, in today’s more sensitive culture, would we even consider naming a sports team after an indigenous people European colonists and our early government performed a genocide on and then create a caricature of them to use as a mascot? If we wouldn’t start a team like that, today, we should have the conviction to come together and decide to stop having one, today.
All it would take is to switch our perspective. Consider a Native American child who has recently learned the history of her people and then is emotionally damaged by sports teams called the Indians, the Braves, the Redskins. Not all Native Americans are bothered by this but those people don’t cancel out the people who are offended.
This has nothing to do with “white guilt,” which is an ugly term. Turning this discussion into the issue of whether or not people today should feel guilty and change our team names to absolve our guilt is the trick of rearranging a debate to form it into one easier to argue. The more appropriate question is should we keep a team name and mascot we know Native Americans find offensive because we like it and because we’re used to it? We’d discover our sacrifice in making this change would be equivalent to my lost second of time to return to the opening analogy, and we’d be more than compensated by respecting the wishes of these protesting Native Americans.