Hello! For our third cultural appropriation blog project, Lola and I decided to write about the controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins’ team name and logo. Lola will put up her portion of the post soon; in the meantime, here is my contribution:
Bryan: I’m really interested in a lot of the anti-Redskins material that’s been generated over the past two years, and I want to use this post to talk briefly about an advertisement produced by the National Congress of American Indians in 2014:
This video performs very different work than advertisements usually do. I’ve been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer in my class with Professor Frank, and we’ve talked a lot about the way advertisements usually function as brief moments of symmetry within a television text. TV series go on for years, so TV episodes end not with a moment of closure, but with something that suggests there will be more to see sometime in the future. Advertisements, then, are small units of completeness within the long, unwieldy, episodic plotting of a show: within 30 seconds, we’re introduced to a central anxiety or complication that the advertised product can resolve. Advertisements, unlike TV plots, are short and simple.
However, the problem with the Washington Redskins isn’t that the Redskins brand is too complicated for a consuming public to support. Instead the Redskins name is problematic because it isn’t complicated enough, because it thinly veils a rich, enormously vibrant set of intersecting tribal, personal, and national histories. Of course, complication takes work, but The Congress of American Indians advertisement ingeniously makes this work into a vitally rewarding human process. When we stop using the word ‘Redskins’ we find ourselves engaged in the mysterious, excessive, painful, joyous, and animating project of meaning-making. This is the project that David Treuer writes about at the end of his phenomenal book Rez Life:
“At times like this I think that maybe we won’t make it. There are too many of us who are dead for us to make it. Too many of us are getting around to dying too soon. It’s a wonder that there is enough Indian land to hold us all, to hold our bodies. And it’s hard sometimes not to agree that we’re all dead, and rez life isn’t so much a life as an excavation….
Maybe the miracle is not that the ground can hold so many Indian bodies. Maybe the miracle is that it is able to hold so much personality, because among the graves of my family and our village are the graves of friends and neighbors… There’s more, I thought, much more. How can it all fit in here, how much more crowded with story and personality and life can the ground get?”
Lola: The above video serves as a vehicle to dispel stereotypes about Native Americans. The same should be done with other marginalized groups. I hope that the Amherst Uprising Mascot Committee produces a video similar to the one that Bryan posted above; I’ve contacted them. It would be cool to have the last frame of our video be the Lord Jeff emblem that exist on the many surfaces in the gym. In fact, an entire campaign for different advantaged groups would be incredibly beneficial. I’m reminded of the emphasis that Thurston places on widening blackness in How to be Black and the positive consequences of it.
In terms of the Lord Jeff mascot, I am glad to know that it is being phased out. I think most empathetic people are glad to know that it is being phased out. During Amherst Uprising, a Native American professor spoke about how appreciative she was that this movement was happening. She cried and that is when it really hit me that our mascot must go quickly. When people become aware of both the physical and emotional damage that having an inherently racist mascot has created, people become more adamant about removing the mascot. Awareness is key.
I wonder how possible it will be to completely remove the Lord Jeff’s association with Amherst College. Because Amherst’s reputation is represented in name recognition, what would happen to Amherst’s reputation if we were to change the name of the college? I’m sure it can be argued that Amherst’s reputation would increase exponentially in a positive way because changing the name of a college is perhaps unprecedented in this era. Additionally, the removal would be morally founded.