[Marxism] Mascot colloquy

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jun 15 08:20:40 MDT 2004

The Chronicle of Higher Education is discussing the U. of Illinois 
controversy right now that is unfortunately limited to subscribers. 
Here's a couple of noteworthy contributions. The pro-mascot side is 
mainly saying things like this: "Are the great African-American or west 
Pennsylvania Croatians and Poles who play for Notre Dame really fighting 
Irishmen? Uh . . . no. Does this keep us awake at night, worrying over 
improper designators or slurs on former occupants of Saturday night 
'paddy wagons'?"

Giving Offense
Author: Alan Punches/NMCC
Date:   06-14-04 09:08

This issue arose as a topic of conversation in an interdisciplinary 
humanities course I team taught several years ago. What struck me at the 
time, and I've heard it expressed ever since, is the spectacularly jaded 
position assumed by so many of our students that "native Americans 
shouldn't be offended by such matters" . . . that they are somehow being 
thin-skinned about it.

It is so difficult to make people understand that it does not fall 
within the moral purview of any individual to determine for another 
human being what should or shouldn't offend him/her. I'm rarely more 
frustrated than when somebody summarily dismisses something to which I 
take and voice great umbrage.

The fact of the matter is that native Americans ARE offended by it. 
They've always been offended by it and they've made it known loud and 
long that they are offended by it. Simple human decency would mandate 
that such offense cease.

And yet, the native American population has been singled out for 
exclusion from this most common of courtesies. There is little question 
that if Deep South University adopted the team name of "Spearchuckers," 
the hue and cry would effect immediate change. Still the insipid FSU 
Seminole tomahawk chop and chant still drone on.

The defense of using such symbols has always been twofold: (a) 
tradition, and (b) the use of such imagery honors native Americans. 
Well, they don't feel honored by it, and simply want it to stop. I'm 
sure they would prefer to have their wishes honored rather than some 
rich, white, old men's twisted versions of their culture. And while it 
may alienate the schools donors, any tradition based on racial 
insensitivity and stereotyping is hardly worth passing down.

Now about the Vikings . . . and the Fighting Irish . . .


Perspective of Native Americans at UIUC
Author: Debbie Reese, Post Doc, UIUC
Date:   06-14-04 12:34

Something the article failed to note was the presence/absence of Native 
American students at UIUC. In the early 1990s, there were 15 or so 
tribally enrolled or tribally connected students. Now there are about 
five. Since the late 1980s, there has been a Native American student 
organization. Without fail, the organizations have issued statements 
that they wish to see the chief retired, and that the university, as the 
flagship of the University of Illinois, must take steps to provide UIUC 
students and Illinois citizens with the opportunity to learn substantive 
information about Native Americans. At a minimum, that meant developing 
a Native American Studies Program, and recruiting Native professors, 
staff, and students.

I should note that I am from a small Pueblo in New Mexico and moved to 
Champaign Urbana to work on a doctorate in education in 1993. I've lived 
here now for over ten years. Under Chancellor Cantor, we have made great 
progress. We now have the Native American House. We now have the 
beginnings of an American Indian Studies Program. We are actively 
recruiting Native professors, staff, and students. With this 
infrastructure, we should be in a position to grow. However, the chief 
issue is well known in Native American communities across the country, 
and recruits at any level invariably view the chief as a significant 
negative in terms of their consideration of moving to work or study here.

The article noted that some people think the chief, logo, and nickname 
all should be retired. Those people happen to be the Native American 
students, staff, and faculty at UIUC, and Native Americans from the 
Chicago area, including those at NAES College and the American Indian 

I believe that the university will only prolong its struggle over this 
issue if they keep the name. At present, those interested in such a 
compromise contend that they will remove any references to Native 
Americans from the way that the nickname is presented and used by the 
However, the university cannot control how rival teams and others will 
use "Illini." Many administrators are infuriated with UIUC plays 
Michigan and students wear "Muck Fichigan" t-shirts. Students are clever 
and love of team prompts them to do all manner of things with a rival 
team's name. Thus, it seems the struggle doesn't end if the name is kept.

Many people who support the chief say that it honors Native Americans 
because it isn't a savage representation of Native American culture. It 
is the case that Native Americans predominantly appear in pop culture as 
savage Indians or romantic heroes whose courage is meant to inspire us. 
Some argue that the romantic image is good and should not be treated the 
same as the negative one. However, the reality at UIUC and elsewhere, is 
that romantic stereotypes make people think that Native Americans lives 
are much like those stereotypes. They are surprised to learn that we are 
living our lives with the modern conveniences mainstream Americans 
enjoy. Moreover, the power of the stereotype prompts people to say 
things like "you're not REALLY an Indian" if you drive a car (instead of 
a horse), use power boats (instead of a canoe)....

America loves to love its Indians. Not the real ones, just those of the 
imagination, those who fought valiantly, and those who lived in perfect 
harmony with the earth. To love America, Americans have to cast us as 
bad and thereby undeserving of this vast land, or good but vanished, so 
they don't have to think about the issues involved in the history of 
conflict of this land.

UIUC is no different from any other place. It loves its Indians in the 
abstract, in the distant past. But UIUC should be different. It isn't a 
Hollywood stage. It is an educational institution. A public one. As 
such, it should divest itself of this issue.

Debbie Reese
Post Doc
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign


Re: Illinois's chief problem
Author: S. Peterfreund, English, NU
Date:   06-15-04 08:21

There is no way that a colonizing nation can respectfully represent 
those that it has deracinated in the act of colonization. To represent 
the Illini accurately as an essentially peaceful plains tribe is to beg 
the question of why we felt the need--or felt we had the authority--to 
drive them from their ancestral lands. And to represent them as a 
bizarre caricature of Native Americans is to disrespect the sorrowful 
history that we compiled.

The continuing use of Chief Illiniwek as a symbol of Illinois-UC sports 
should only be allowed if it is possible to find a living descendant of 
the tribe willing to play the part, which would no longer be dancing or 
cheerleading, but merely bearing witness to the lands and way of life 
destroyed to validate America's manifest destiny. Alternatively, the 
figure could be a living person or a representation, so long as the 
latter was rendered by Native American artists. With all respect, 
retaining the name without the symbol has the effect of emptying the 
name of its historicity, sort of like having a cricket team named the 
Slugging Sepoy in the days of the British Raj.


The Marxism list: www.marxmail.org

More information about the Marxism mailing list