This place matters

This place matters

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The time has come, the walrus said

The Cleveland Indians have finally decided to remove the team mascot, Chief Wahoo, from the team jersey. And if social media is to be believed, this is literally the end of life on earth. The seventh seal has opened, and there's a pale horse and the man who sat on it was Political Correctness, with the downfall of civilization following close behind him.
Look, I've been a Clevelander long enough to know how these debates go and I'm just gonna drop some facts here for you to pick up if you want 'em, and then I'm going to bar my door and pray the mob with the pitch forks doesn't find me.

So there are some fairy tales Clevelanders grow up believing, and as it turns out they're not true. I grew up believing that the Cleveland Indians were named for the great Cleveland player Louis Sockalexis, a Native American from the Penobscot tribe, who was the first Native American major leaguer. And there was indeed a Native American player named Louis Sockalexis who played just 96 games over three seasons for the team then known as the Cleveland Spiders. Sockalexis was an incredible athlete, but an ankle injury part way through his first season severely impacted his game, and that, combined with worsening alcoholism, caused his star to fall fast, and he was sent down to the minors in 1899. He died in obscurity in 1913 while working as a logger in Maine.
So when, during all that, was the team renamed in his honor? 
The Cleveland baseball team went through a lot of names between the Spiders and the Indians - they were the Lake Shores for a minute, then the Bluebirds, the Broncos, then the Naps (after star player NapolĂ©on "Nap" Lajoie). When Lajoie left the team back in 1915, the team needed a new name, and sportswriters at the time decided on the Indians. 
But in honor of Sockalexis? Not so much. Sockalexis was scorned in the press for his inherent "Indian weakness." He faced mockery and war whoops (you know, those noises Indians fans make in his "honor" at games?) from fans. 
The Cleveland Leader said of the team being renamed "In place of the Naps, we'll have the Indians, on the warpath all the time, and eager for scalps to dangle at their belts," never mentioning Sockalexis - none of the other papers mentioned Sockalexis as the reason for the name change either. None of the team's promotional materials mention Sockalexis either... not until 1968, after Native Americans began protesting the team name and mascot.
And speaking of the mascot. Like a lot of Clevelanders, I always believed that Chief Wahoo was a loving caricature of Sockalexis made by a Cleveland cartoonist to honor him. Turns out the first incarnation of Wahoo, then called "The Little Indian" appeared in 1932, decades after Sockalexis' death. The cartoonist never said that "The Little Indian" was the long-dead Sockalexis. Walter Goldbach, the logo designer who created the current incarnation of the mascot back in 1947, never mentioned honoring Sockalexis either. Goldbach said only that he had difficulty "figuring out how to make an Indian look like a cartoon." 

So, the facts do not support the idea that the team was named for Sockalexis. The facts directly refute the assertion that Wahoo was created in honor of Sockalexis. But what about the claim that the mascot is meant to honor Native Americans?
Native Americans have pretty unequivocally let the Indians club know where they can shove their "honor." The Penobscot tribe to which Sockalexis belonged has petitioned the Cleveland team to do away with the mascot. Sockalexis' surviving family members call the mascot an insult, comparing it to blackface
So if the mascot was never intended to honor a Native American player, and Sockalexis' family say they aren't honored, and Native Americans all over the country including those in Sockalexis' tribe say they aren't honored, how can we say that Wahoo honors anybody? 

I'll reiterate that I know I'm not changing anybody's mind about whether Wahoo's got to go. And I'm just as averse as anyone to the world ending in a blinding lake of fire, as it is sure to do, as a result of a ball team removing some logos from some shirts. But what I am saying is this: that team is not named in honor of a Native American, that caricature was not created in honor of a Native American, and Native Americans do not consider that caricature an honor. Clevelanders have been lead to believe one thing, but the facts are the facts, and the fact is that this mascot does not and was never intended to honor any Native American.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The blacklist

If you haven't heard already, you'll be seeing a lot of black on the red carpet at the Golden Globes tonight. Tons of Hollywood elites have committed to wearing black in solidarity with the #MeToo movement started by activist Tarana Burke. What's more, a bunch of celebrity women will be bringing activists, including Tarana Burke, as their plus ones. And that's important because those women dedicated their lives to fighting the fight long before the whole movement was a blip on Hollywood's radar. 
Not pictured: woman who started the damn movement.

A few people have called the act of wearing black an empty gesture, a symbolic act that looks good but doesn't do good. And I'd be inclined to agree, if not for the money.
See, wearing black isn't just a symbolic gesture. It's a gesture that's probably going to cost people some money, and that, my friends, is hitting 'em where it hurts.
The red carpet won't be a rainbow of showy gowns tonight. Though celebrities will naturally be wearing the most expensive of designer black gowns, the drab color palate will probably mean fewer people tuning in for the preshow, costing probably costing some advertisers some money. Magazines, I'd wager, won't sell quite as many best dressed lists, fashion pundits on TV will actually have to acknowledge the movement, at the very least. Fashion houses will lose an opportunity to display their brightly-colored show-stoppers.
All this sends a clear message: keep harboring abusers and we will cost you money. 
The monochrome might push the journalists covering the event to ask women questions more substantive than "who are you wearing?" Women, seeing all the people whose clothing choices declare them allies, might feel more empowered not to humor interviewers asking condescending questions about jewels and shoes and underwear. Those dresses might inspire winners to dedicate at least some of their acceptance speeches to the movement. Surely every winner will feel compelled to acknowledge the movement. There will be a whole lot of shout-outs to the Time's Up nonprofit, started by celebrities and activists dedicated to ending workplace harassment.

And that's a whole lot more than an empty gesture. 

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