In the latest edition of the newsletter of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, the young adult member of the board offers one of those absolute, self-righteous statements that could only be made by a college student or liberal Protestant church-and-society-type. Emily Farnell, a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, writes about having her consciousness raised regarding Native American issues, and having now had her consciousness raised, she can pronounce condemnation on anyone who doesn’t agree:
Our silence about abuses of Native American brothers and sisters is deafening. Our unwillingness to defend the honor and heritage of Native Americans is inherently sinful.
There’s no question that American Indians (my wife, who is descended from Cherokee and Pawnee, prefers this term) have been neglected by the church and mistreated by Anglo society. Even today, society’s attitudes, expressed most prominently through the federal government, remain paternalistic and debilitating to Indian life and culture. By almost any measure–life expectancy, substance abuse and addiction rates, unemployment, welfare dependency, social isolation, high school dropout rates, and more–American Indians lag behind all other groups to a degree that is a disgrace. So with all these pressing problems in the Indian communities, what does Miss Farnell focus on as “inherently sinful”? One guess:
Anybody who has taken a high school U.S. history course knows that Native Americans are among the most mistreated populaces by the federal government and American culture. Even today, we defend athletic teams that have caricatures of Native Americans as their mascots. We insensitively use symbols, such as the teepee, tomahawk, drums and headdresses, that are sacramental, holy images for Native Americans.
That’s right: with all of the problems that American Indians face, the thing that has her hurling an Amos-like thunderbolt is the Atlanta and Cleveland baseball, Washington and Kansas City football, Golden State basketball, Chicago hockey, and Florida State and Illinois athletic teams. Well, that and cartoons:
We allow our children to watch movies like Disney’s “Pocahontas,” which features a song “Savages, Savages,” that perpetuate racist ideas. In doing so, we are telling our children it is okay to use such language even though Native Americans find it offensive.
Captain Picard, do you have anything to say to that?
Calling that song “racist” is like saying that “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from South Pacific is advocating teaching children to be racists. I don’t even like Pocahontas, and I’ve got to agree with the Captain.
These examples beg the question: Are racism and oppression ever okay?
Some will argue that this is political correctness at its worst. Others will contend that incorporating Native American images into our everyday world actually “honors” our brothers’ and sisters’ heritage.
I do not understand such logic. Native people themselves tell us they find it offensive and wrong.
Actually, what she means is “the Native Americans I hang around with are offended by this.” There are plenty of American Indians, including my wife, who a) understand what Disney was trying to do; and b) don’t have a problem with the use of Indian names and symbols by sports teams. That’s in part because they recognize that there is no intention on the part of the Braves, Indians, Redskins, or FSU to demean or denigrate AmerIndians. It’s also because they know that there are so many more important problems facing their communities that for people like Ms. Farnell and her LibProt friends (the UCC does this, too) to fixate on stuff like this is nothing more than an extension of the paternalism that is killing native peoples. Last time I checked, the GBCS wasn’t up in arms about
•Notre Dame’s mascot being the “Fighting Irish” (how’s that for a stereotype?);
•Southern Cal’s being the “Trojans” (they probably think that one refers to condoms);
•Oklahoma’s being the “Sooners” (glorifying cheaters);
Wake Forest’s being the “Demon Deacons” (thereby associating an entire class of Christians with satanism);
•Nebraska’s being the “Cornhuskers” (clearly meant as denigrating farmers);
•Northern Arizona’s being the “Lumberjacks” (I suppose their fight song is, “I’m a Lumberjack and I’m OK”)
•Mississippi’s being the “Rebels” (as in Confederates, as in slaveholders);
•New York’s baseball team being called the “Yankees” (a derogatory term in much of the country, usually preceded by “damn”);
•Milwaukee’s being the “Brewers” (perpetuating the stereotype of Wisconsinites as drunkards);
•San Diego’s being the “Padres” (complete with goofy mascot who denigrates Catholic priests and monks);
•Dallas’s football team being the “Cowboys” (what’s with the half-dressed cheerleaders?);
•Minnesota’s being the “Vikings” (conjuring up images of those goofy guys in the Capital One commercials);
•New Orleans’s being the “Saints” (what’s godliness have to do with football?);
•New England’s being the “Patriots” (what patriotism got to do with football?);
•Boston’s basketball team being called the “Celtics” (more anti-Irish stuff);
•Vancouver’s hockey team called the “Canucks” (are Canadians really OK with that?).
You get the point. Too bad the paternalists at the General Board of Church and Society don’t.