Why Aren't More People Talking About the Cleveland Indians' Racist Logo? A Native American Activist's View

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Cleveland Indians' logo (left), Washington Redskins' logo

Activist group Change the Mascot has been at the forefront of the conversation over the Indians' logo.

The Cleveland Indians' “Chief Wahoo” logo and the Washington Redskins’ Indian head logo have long bothered Native Americans, who consider both racist. Activist group Change the Mascot has been at the forefront of the campaign against the NFL team's logo.

With Cleveland in sight of its first World Series title since 1948, Ray Halbritter, a leader of the Oneida nation and the chairman of Change the Mascot, chatted with The Hollywood Reporter about the Chief Wahoo logo, Hillary Duff and boyfriend Jason Walsh’s controversial sexy pilgrim and Indian chief Halloween costumes and the state of the campaign to get Washington to drop the Redskins name.

THR: Are you disappointed by the number of Cleveland fans who have dressed up as Chief Wahoo, the Indians' cartoon logo?

Halbritter: I can’t say that I’m surprised by it. It’s just that, you know, it’s just not respectful. In the year 2016, mutual respect should not be controversial.

Even though the team has said it is trying to de-emphasize the logo, the players have chosen to wear the caps with just the logo on it for much of the preseason.

Sadly, in today’s society, native people are too often treated as relics and mascots. Ethnic stereotyping is not a victimless crime. Tests have shown that the presence of Native American mascots and stereotypes hurt the self-esteem of children and native people, and native people suffer from the highest teen suicide rate in the world, so self-esteem is so important. Respecting people should be something that we all want for our children and our future generations.

Are networks culpable in this because they like to show the crowd, in particular colorful fans, and that is often fans who are dressed up?

Well, it’s unfortunate, but yes, they know and are aware of this issue. I think the entire country is aware of this issue and, you know, the team thing that they would de-emphasize the use of Chief Wahoo, I think it’s just sort of ridiculous. If you would think that it’s bad enough to be de-emphasized, then why not just get rid of it? I mean, that’s just common sense. How do you be just a little bit racist?

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred recently said he would sit down with Cleveland Indians management after the season was over to talk about the mascot. Does that give you hope?

I think it is a startling difference between, you know, the approach [of the Washington Redskins]. At least [baseball] is talking to people. The Washington team emphasizes that they are not going to change regardless of how much it hurts anybody’s children. I think it’s very encouraging that a discussion is possible and I think that’s very important and it’s heartening to see that they are willing to at least have a discussion with Native advocates and talk about this issue. There’s a broad discussion that can take place, I think, about native stereotyping generally.

What about Halloween costumes? Actress Hillary Duff and her boyfriend Jason Walsh went to a party as a sexy Pilgrim and an Indian — complete with a headdress and war paint. What do you think about that stuff?

We’re focusing in on the Washington issue, which is a dictionary-defined racial slur. I mean, people dressing up in costume is a little different than appropriating and disrespecting our people to make money. These people are not making money. They are simply here doing something that is part of a culture. And, you know, when you speak about terms, about the TV networks being culpable, I mean, most of what people know about American Indians comes from Hollywood. It comes from the way we’ve been depicted inaccurately and inappropriately at times from the TV and from the movie industry, so there is some responsibility at the doorstep of media. We’re just like any other people. We just want some respect.

The couple apologized a few days later, but are you surprised people don’t realize right away such costumes are wrong?

I think that in many cases for people, it just doesn’t cross their mind. But I do think that we’re making progress in that a lot of people are beginning to understand how it does affect people, how it’s not respectful and that social science tells us that it does affect the self-esteem of children. So, you know, sometimes people think, 'What’s the big deal?' Well, you know, if it’s not such a big deal, then why do it? Why not not do it? It’s really simple.

Are you optimistic that in, say, five or 10 years, the Washington NFL team will relent and change its name?

I couldn’t put a time frame on it, but I think every day that more people — more Americans — hold to the ideal of being mutually respectful. The Washington team has a history of racism. They were the last team to integrate black people into the NFL as a team. Ernie Davis actually refused to play for George Preston Marshall, who was the owner of the team and one of the most renowned racists of our era. He did not name the team to honor Indians. The name itself is defined in the dictionary as a racial slur. So, you know, the "redskin" name comes from scouts that were counting a bounty. They were paying for the death of American Indians in this country and the way that you got paid was to prove. The way you proved you killed an Indian was to have his scalp, which was red with blood, and those were the red skins. And you got paid more for a man than a woman, and a child was paid … you were paid less for a child than a woman. And it just was a horrible legacy and historical legacy of this country that we’d like to put behind us, and I think most people who understand that realize that this is something that is not respectful and needs to be changed.

There has been some progress over the last few years. The University of North Dakota changed from the Fighting Sioux to the Fighting Hawks. Is change happening faster or slower than you thought?

It's been much, much faster than I realized and hoped for, and, you know, it has been changing. I has become a national discussion and it’s really encouraging to know that in time we will reach the goal. It's a society and country of inclusion and even though that hasn’t always been the case, that is the goal and that is the hope for the future. That’s what ultimately fuels our efforts — the hope and the belief that this country ultimately finds its way to the right side.

Are you hopeful the next generation will more easily shed these types of logos and team nicknames?

I think there’s no question that millennials and the younger generation want to be a more inclusive society. You see it with gay rights; you see it with, you know, the generation that elected the first black president. There’s much more of an inclusive society, and that kind of ideal is something we should all embrace, and that doesn’t include racial slur types and corporations profiting off misappropriating cultural slurs from other groups, and, regardless of the harm it causes. 

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