I Bought My Son a Cleveland Indians Cap: Am I Failing to Teach Him About Racism?

4 years ago

When I was in high school, our sports teams were called the Indians, and our mascot was a noble looking head of a Native American.  Because we were the Indians, we felt a special connection to native people, even using an Iroquois word on our yearbook . At some point in time between when I graduated from high school and my twenty year reunion, my school changed the name to the Eagles.  I was pissed. I thought it was stupid pandering to overly sensitive liberals who probably weren't even Native Americans to begin with. I just didn't get it.

I took a film class in college, and only then did I gain an understanding of just how negatively Native Americans were portrayed in movies. I started to be aware of how our culture still justifies and excuses racism if it is directed at Native Americans.  Yet I still bought my son a hat with the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo on it.  I wasn't a bad person, I just didn't think. I just didn't care that much.

Image Credit: Erik Drost, via Flickr

I became friendly acquaintances  with a mother at my sons' school who was very active in advocating against racist team logos. She had this poster, which suddenly put everything in perceptive:

I got it. All of a sudden, I realized that I was revolted by the Chief Wahoo logo and could find no redeeming value in it.  Still not with me? Try comparing these two images and see how they are more similar than dissimilar:

Image: ferris.edu                             

 image: wikipedia.com

But, I am not the person I want to be.  My children already own t-shirts with the logo on them.  I plan to let them outgrow them, and not buy anything again, but I have not brought myself to throw the shirts away.  I have discussed the logo with my kids, and why I don't like it, but I have not asked them to take a stand against it themselves.

I should. I want to raise socially conscience children. This is how values are taught; your principles aren't your principles if they don't cost you anything.  I want my kids to like their home team, and I don't want to ruin their childhood with my politics. But am I choosing conflict avoidance at the risk of raising children who aren't the kind of people I want them to become?

I am failing them. And when I see pictures like the one below, courtesy of the GoodMenProject I am ashamed, so I forward them on facebookand hope no one looks in my sons' dresser drawers.   My brain offers justification: It's hard to find things without the logo. I didn't know better when I bought them, and I bought them used, so I didn't directly support their creation with my dollars. But I still know it is wrong and I still know I need to do better.  They say that the first step is admitting you have a problem, and maybe this online confession will give me the push I need to have a tough conversation with my sons and get the shirts out of our house.

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