Obies Protest Team Mascot
“If this is racism, I like racism.” This phrase, among others, was shouted at protesters last Friday as they demonstrated in Cleveland against the allegedly racist name and mascot of Ohio’s major league baseball team — the Cleveland Indians and Chief Wahoo, respectively. Over twenty Oberlin students carpooled to participate in this event, intentionally held on opening day at Jacobs Field stadium.
“There was a really clear divide between the people who hold predominant power and ‘the others,’” said College senior Aaron Englander of the day’s events. “I really saw that [a large percentage of the fans] really couldn’t grasp that ‘Indians’ is offensive or that racism even exists”.
The stadium is juxtaposed with an intersection, located about a block away from its entrance. The protesters stood in a grassy section adjacent to the sidewalk, stationing themselves so that passersby could not avoid the demonstration on their way into the game.
Obies held signs displaying messages such as “What if: Cleveland Honkies?” and “In whose honor?” The latter sign responded to the belief of some fans that the mascot serves to honor Native Americans and is, in fact, an homage to Louis Sockalexis, a Native American who played on the team when it was still the Spiders.
He played 1897-99 and, according to the Cleveland chapter of the American Indian Movement’s website, was subject to racial slurs during games and had subsequent game failures attributed to his race.
Students also handed out flyers explaining why they thought an immediate change of the mascot’s name and its image is necessary.
The Cleveland AIM website says: “[The mascot] oppress[es] because they continue in the use of extreme negative stereotypical antics, words and images.”
Examples of the above include: “tomahawk-chopping, mock ‘Indian war chants,’ non-Indians painting their faces and dressing up like ‘Indians,’ mock ‘Indian dances, spear-throwing...’”
Cleveland AIM argues that, “Indian children cannot possibly look at a stadium full of 1000s of peoples mocking their spirituality and making fun of their traditions and feel good about being Indian.”
Protesters arguing AIM’s side experienced increasing interaction with the passersby as the demonstration went on. Groups of spectators thickened as game time approached. This doesn’t faze AIM.
The leader of Cleveland AIM, Robert Roche — who organized the protest
and currently teaches the Experimental College course “The History of the
American Indian Movement” — explained later that when the ExCo was
first launched, there were up to three protests a month. He is planning to
resume their constancy by organizing more protests in hopes of raising awareness
and attracting media coverage, ultimately making the message more visible.