Here's What's Missing Around the Cleveland Baseball Team Mascot/Logo Debate
Over the past couple of weeks, I've done a number of interviews in regards to the Cleveland Indians baseball logo and mascot. It seems like this makes the news cycle every couple of weeks, in different geographical areas in North America as the call to "not be a fucking asshole" grows louder and louder in regards to giving up racist imagery in sport.
It's part of a larger debate that has been going on for quite sometime under the moniker #NotYourMascot. I want to acknowledge all those in this fight for the past number of years, I value your work, you're passion and the doors you have kicked open without apology.
Admittedly, I'm late to the debate. My work tends to focus on other issues, mostly land, Nationhood and Indigenous resurgence. Not surprisingly, of course, Nationhood, resurgence and land can all be tied to this mascot debate - representations matter, their effect on our lives cannot be denied. In order for us to live to our full potential as Anishinaabe in this world, we will need to be unencumbered by the ongoing effects of crippling colonialism. AND. Yes, we can tie this mascot debate to ongoing colonialism - it's pretty simple.
Representations matter - they're related to the way we live, the way we feel, the way we experience our daily lives on Turtle Island.
Representations matter - how can we be respected in a University, a board room or on the street if we're freaky looking bobble head characters that tens of millions of sports fans swear at every week?
Representations matter - red face, fake headdresses, hand over mouth war-whoops dehumanizes us. Why do you want to dehumanize us? Why is this so important to you all? You have the land, can we have our dignity?
The Blue Jays & Reconciliation
The mascot issue became more and more personal as it came to pass that my favorite baseball club, The Toronto Blue Jays, was going to play Cleveland in the ALCS. Yeah, that Cleveland logo has always bothered me - but now I had to put up with it in the seven game series as I stood behind my favorite club.
As a lifelong Blue Jays fan, there is something really important missing in this debate and it is the Blue Jays themselves. I didn't expect the Blue Jays to come out and make a public statement in support of #NotYourMascot and I didn't expect them to ask Major League Baseball to take legal action against Cleveland, but I naively thought they'd say...something?!
There is an elephant in the room for me - what is the Blue Jays' role in this in terms of being a good corporate citizen in Canada under our current work under the calls for reconciliation?! I'm interested in how the Blue Jays can (or, other professional Canadian sports teams) operate in accordance to the spirit and intent of reconciliation?!
Is it possible for the Toronto Blue Jays to be good corporate citizens that acknowledge that the Rogers Centre itself sits in a spiritually significant place - across from Toronto Island, a sacred site for the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, Huron/Wendat peoples that inhabited this territory since time immemorial?
Certainly the Blue Jays can't speak out again Major League Baseballs decision to stay mum on the call to #ChangeTheName, but, they CAN make an effort to be be good corporate partners that value the opportunity to do business on Anishinaabe Aki. The Blue Jays could start their games with a territorial acknowledgement (standard nowadays) and perhaps even take a page out of the Edmonton Oilers playbook.
What Are We Telling The Youth Of North America?
Are we give carte blanche to a whole new generation of racists and bigots that believe they have final say over Indigenous bodies and our representations?
Does this logo/mascot debate open the door for a whole new generation of young Indigenous Peoples to grow up having to be taunted and teased in playgrounds, hockey rinks, baseballs diamonds and grocery stores (ya, it's not just a sports problem) across North America?
There are tens of thousands of Indigenous Peoples that cheer for the Blue Jays, buy their gear and fly their flag.
There are thousands of young Indigenous people that want to play for the Blue Jays one day. Their are Youth athletes that will compete at the North American Indigenous Games in Toronto in 2017 that DREAM of being a pro-athlete one day. Should one or two or ten of them reach their goals, should they be made to play against the Indians?
Could the Blue Jays have done something? Said something? Anything? Probably. Right?
We Need White People To Do This Work
If your butthole puckered up at the title of this section of the blog post and you want to take issue with me using the words, "White People" then this work isn't for you. I use "White People" in the context of "Whiteness" which holds unchecked power in North America.
Yes, this is an issue YOU need to tackle. You CAN tackle this issue. YOU can make a difference. If broadcaster Jerry Howarth is doing his part, so can you!
It is important to hear from Indigenous people but at the end of the day I need you, beautiful White People, to go home and talk to your partner. I need you to go home to your parents, to your neighbours, to your friends. I need you to sit at a dinner table and hear a racist joke and go, “You know what, dude? That was fucked up. You can’t talk like that and here's why.”
We need non-Indigenous people to do the work. We've been doing the work since contact. We're tired, and, as many people on the other side of this debate have so clearly drunkenly yelled and screamed at us, "We have other things to work on."