Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What's In A Name? The Washington Redskins Controversy

Last week the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board declared that the Washington Redskins was disparaging to Native Americans. Predictably, much of “white America” didn't understand the issue. What’s in a name? I’ve thought about this a little because not much really gets me riled. I mean, honestly, what’s the big deal? In fact, I propose some new team mascots just to level the playing field so as not to single out Native Americans. I think we should change the Fightin’ Irish of Notre Dame to the Drunken Irish. Other team names that come to mind would include things like The Stupid Rednecks, The Garlic Eaters, The MassHoles, The Yellowskins, The Dumb Blondes, The Greedy CEOs,  The Lazy Fatties, The Granola Eaters, The Gun Totin’ Maniacs…the list could go on and on and on and on.  What these names do is evoke hurtful stereotypes. Because our mind needs categories in order to understand the world, stereotypes are the simplest way to do this. One of the problems with stereotypes is they are untrue. If the world was as simple as stereotypes indicate it would be a boring place in which to live. Human beings are complex. Phrases like “all gays are…” or “all conservatives are…” are red flags indicating that the person making the statement is too lazy to make individual moral judgments. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, it is simply easier to judge someone by the color of their skin than by the content of their character. In order to judge one’s character you must take the time to get to know that individual, and that is just too much trouble.

Yesterday I read a blog posted on a Native American site regarding the Washington Redskins controversy and this blog pointed out a more sinister reason why stereotypes can be troubling, one I hadn’t thought of.  Stereotypes are dehumanizing. When a group is stereotyped whether it is African Americans, Native Americans, Jews, Catholics, Liberals, Conservatives, Gays, Northerners, Southerners, Mexicans, Canadians, they cease to become persons and instead become “things”. Things are disposable. Things are here for my pleasure. I can own things and use things, they have no existence in themselves, they are here to serve me.  When people become things bad stuff happens.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant once stated, “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end." As a people, we do not seem to be any closer to this goal.

I highly recommend you read the thought provoking essay at:  http://www.ya-native.com/nativeamerica/getridofracisminsports.html

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Necessity of Adversity


My husband and I are spending the month of June following old Route 66. This past week we traveled through the state of Oklahoma and much of what I saw and read there was enlightening, not only about Okies, but about all of us. Oklahoma is a state that seems to be haunted by the Dust Bowl even now.  We all like to live our lives relatively sedately, with little to trouble us, but it seems to me that adversity is the leaven that causes great men to rise. Oklahoma is justly proud of two of their native sons, Will Rogers and Woody Guthrie, both formed by the events of the Great Depression.  What made them stand out? Rather than give up they rose above severe economic and social problems.  Will Rogers famously predicted in the 1920’s that our economy could not survive the “get rich quick” mentality infecting Wall Street.  He said, “Our whole Depression was brought on by gambling, not in the stock market alone but in expanding and borrowing and going in debt, all just to make some money quick.”  Will Rogers understood the nature of greed.  He once quipped, “You can’t get money without taking it from somebody.” When you travel through Oklahoma you see these towns that were literally strangled to death, not only because the interstate passed them by, but because of the sheer exodus of inhabitants looking for a way to put food on the table.
Woody Guthrie was another Okie formed by the Dust Bowl.  He took his anger and turned it into song.  He said, “I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that
you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing.  Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim or too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard travelling. I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.” And that work didn’t matter, whether you were a shoe shiner or a banker, because during the Depression any work was good work.

I contrast the mentality of these two men and scores of other Dust Bowl Okies who didn’t give up to people like Elliot Rodger, spoiled and wealthy, brought up to believe he was entitled to whatever he wanted. When you have no adversity, when everything is handed to you, you never get the chance to become a better man. You never get to become a hero. Instead you become a victim of “affluenza” where the world owes you every luxury you can imagine and when things don’t go to plan, you pick up a gun and kill because those people were not human beings…they were bodies to be used. The Dust Bowl Okies didn’t believe life owed them anything. When they couldn’t put food on the table they moved to where they hoped they could find work. Steinbeck famously coined the phrase “The Mother Road” for Route 66. It was a road of hope.