Assembly Bill 858, also called the California Racial Mascots Act, was recently reintroduced to lawmakers in an attempt to ban the use of mascots that depict a racial stereotype. Though the bill is a good idea in nature, it focuses mainly on American Indians, ignoring other racial stereotypes.
Despite the bill being titled the Racial Mascots Act, it is apparent that within the context of the bill, the focus would only be on eliminating mascot names, and more importantly, images, which proponents of the bill have said racially stereotype American Indians through, among other things, the use of certain caricatures. Since the bill so tightly magnifies the harm these images can have on a society that does not often learn about or celebrate American Indian cultures, it ignores other existing stereotypes from a variety of other cultures that should be included in this bill.
Within the body of the bill, only certain terminology would be completely banned, including the terms “Redskins,” “Apaches,” “Chiefs,” “Indians,” “Braves,” “Papooses” and “Comanches.” The use of “Warriors” and “Sentinels” would be banned in certain cases. However, nothing is discussed in regards to eliminating CSUN’s prized “Matador” mascot, or eliminating the “Gaucho,” the “Fighting Irish,” or even the “Trojan.”
Terms such as “redskin” and “Indians” have been found to be highly offensive by many American Indian organizations that support this piece of legislation. The term Indian famously refers to when Christopher Columbus landed in the United States thinking he had reached India, and therefore called the people he discovered Indians even though they were actually indigenous tribes.
It may be difficult for many to understand the nature of why this terminology is offensive. It is not necessarily the terminology that may offend this culture, but the depictions of the stereotypical caricature of an American Indian living in a teepee wearing a headdress made of feathers, which perpetuates the ongoing isolation of this culture within our society.
The argument could be made that eliminating all American Indian mascots could potentially isolate that culture even more by their not being depicted at all. However, it would be more beneficial to America’s youth if they were given more actual history about American Indians, rather than simply having inaccurate images of mascots thrown in their faces to take the place of that history lesson.
The question is essentially this: What purpose would it serve to the community and the tribal communities themselves to keep these American Indian mascots? Would it help to preserve the cultures?
What U.S. citizens really need is an education in the cultural history, about why these cultures are in such decline today, to try to correctly preserve the culture, something a picture of an American Indian with three feathers coming out of its head cannot and should not try to do.
If American Indian mascots are eliminated, then all culturally-based mascots must be eliminated in order to be fair, because a caricature of a matador does not represent the Hispanic culture, nor does the representation of a gaucho, which is a cowboy in southern South America, do justice for South American cultures.
What it really all comes down to is that the necessity for these images is due to the inability of our educational system to fully teach students about cultures outside of the American mainstream.
Perhaps if we did a better job in teaching a more wordly curriculum, it would not have taken hundreds of years to realize that the term and depiction of a “redskin” is not acceptable, and does not represent the American Indian cultures that were a part of this country long before any of us arrived.