Washington can’t run out the clock: sack the racism

Team’s caricature of Native culture is way out of bounds

Over the past few months, new voices continue to join the ongoing pressure on the National Football League team based in Washington, D.C.  to change their controversial name and logo.

In the past year, politicians like U.S. President Barack Obama, celebrities like Mike Tyson, John Oliver, Sarah Silverman, and even former players on the team have spoken up about the need for a name change.

Websites like Etsy and Canada’s Apple store have changed their policies to ban the team’s name. Several major newspapers, including the New York Daily News, have also jumped on the ban-bandwagon in the recent months.

In June, the United States Patent and Trademark office cancelled six trademark registrations for the team’s name on the grounds that it is “disparaging to Native Americans.”

Now, owner Dan Snyder and his team are attempting to sue the group of Indigenous people who were responsible for the trademark cancellation—a lowball move in an attempt to curb that growing pressure to change the name.

Sorry to break it to him or anyone that supports the team’s name, but that pressure is just going to grow stronger.

The offending Washington NFL team refuses to change their name, despite growing calls of racism.” [Press photo from the Washington site]

For years, Indigenous people have been expressing how they are offended by the name and stereotyped imagery. Unfortunately, when it comes to Indigenous people, society has a hard time understanding how Native mascotry and other forms of cultural appropriation is a form of racism—something that would not be tolerated if it were any other race, ethnicity or culture.

While opinions toward examples of cultural appropriation among Indigenous people are diverse, nothing is more annoying than having non-Natives trying to disprove what is and isn’t offensive to Indigenous people that speak out against the name.

A team’s traditions and their fans’ attachment to the name seems to always trump our traditions and concerns.  We constantly have to defend our own identities from being mocked, used as a trend, a form of entertainment and giving people a false sense of honoring Indigenous people.

 There is no denying that we have “more important” or “real” issues in our communities, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, housing shortages, healthcare, unemployment, etc.

However, Indigenous people are also seen as less than human by some and that is certainly a real issue too.

The problem with sports mascots and logos using Native imagery is that it is the same issue as other forms of cultural appropriation: they undermine the diversity and true identities of Indigenous peoples by creating highly inaccurate and dehumanizing portrayals.

Our distinct cultures become a fictionalized and heavily stereotyped monolith rooted in colonial ideology. Those images in sports, on television, on the runway, or even Halloween costumes affect what people know and think about Indigenous people. They add layers of misinformation about who we really are. That really affects how society understands those real social, political and economic issues—and it’s kind of hard to do when society’s notion of Indigenous people is bound to something fictionalized and set in the past.

That is reflected in how we are treated by society and the government and poses dangerous implications on how we see ourselves.

According to a 2004 study by Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, when Native youth are exposed to these images, their self-esteem is harmfully impacted, their self-confidence erodes, and their sense of identity is severely damaged.

That impact on our identity is very much prevalent in our communities, such as judging another Indigenous person’s “authenticity” based upon their appearance, internalizing fictionalized stereotypes, focusing on “blood quantum”, or tanning to “look more Native.”

We don’t need our youth dealing those issues. Change the name.


Puff, puff, pass the ballot

Graphic by Phil Waheed.

The tides are changing in the United States. Along with the re-election of President Barack Obama, Washington and Colorado have also voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

This huge step for American culture is facing both praise and criticism from the outside, but I think the legalization of marijuana is ultimately a move that, if done effectively, can have a very positive effect.

Why, then, is marijuana still illegal in the rest of the United States? Maybe it’s because marijuana is a so-called gateway drug? It makes sense that the government doesn’t want citizens experimenting with harmful substances.

Too bad this notion is totally inaccurate. According to The National Academy of Sciences, “there is no conclusive evidence that the … effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”

Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reported that about 76 million adults have tried marijuana and did not become regular marijuana users or go on to try any other drugs. So, that can’t be it.

Maybe the American government is afraid that if they legalize marijuana it will become more mainstream. Perhaps lawmakers feel that the only way to curb the use of the drug is to put in place firm laws against it, but that’s another misconception.

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse’s national working group on addictions, most marijuana users believe their use will go undetected, so fear of legal punishment doesn’t act as an effective deterrent. No matter how strict the laws, people have and will continue to use the drug.

A study by the California State Office of Narcotics and Drug Abuse reinforces that “the reduction in penalties for possession of marijuana for personal use does not appear to [be] a factor in people’s decision to use or not use the drug.” So, that can’t be it either.

The bottom line here is that the ‘war on drugs’ cost the United States at the federal level $15 billion in 2010. On top of that, one person every 19 seconds is arrested for violating a drug law. In a country desperate to climb out of a deficit and with the highest incarceration rate in the world (730 per 100,000 people), legalization of marijuana helps take care of both problems.

On the subject of money, the U.S. could make a lot of money from regulating marijuana use, and the longer it remains unregulated, the more money is lost. Harvard University economics professor, Jeffrey Miron, told CNN that if marijuana was taxed at similar rates as tobacco and alcohol, the United States would save about $14 billion per year, based on the decrease in spending against it as well as the taxation of it.

As far as the arrest record goes, the FBI has reported that 52 per cent of drug arrests are marijuana related. That makes for a total of over 850,000 arrests in 2010 according to the FBI. Keeping these people out of jail will have a noticeable effect on the taxpayer’s money. It’s also worth mentioning that out of the 52 per cent, 88 per cent of those arrests are for possession.

And that’s not even mentioning the positive effects marijuana can have medically. The American Medical Association was very vocal against the initial ban of the drug, which had been used for medicinal purposes for more than 5,000 years. Currently, more than 60 American and international medical organizations support the use of medical marijuana.

And yet, despite all of this evidence in its favour, marijuana continues to be illegal in most of the United States.

Much like the reversal of prohibition, this opposition against marijuana is going to give in eventually. Now is the time for the American federal government to step up and make this happen. Their constituents and their wallets will thank them for it.

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