This topic seems to get brought up every season at some point, but nothing ever comes of it. I was reminded of it again during last night’s NLDS game, when I kept trying to root for the Braves. Whenever I started to feel a little enthusiasm, the crowd would start up with the Tomahawk Chop, and it was quickly snuffed out.
Look: I know it’s a tradition; I know the vast majority of people who do that chant, or wear caricatured Cleveland Indians mascot gear, are not racist and have no actual problem with Native Americans. But it’s well past time for those fans, and those teams, to demonstrate that by knocking this stuff off. Even if no great harm is being done now, these are the vestigial remains of a very real racism which has done plenty of harm, and I don’t understand why anyone would want to associate themselves with it. Does the pleasure of tradition really outweigh the ickiness of taking part, however briefly, in that kind of creaky, ugly, outdated world view?
The usual response to this argument is “lighten up,” and sure, there are bigger problems in the world today. But words have power, and so does iconography, and the argument “I just like doing this chant” simply doesn’t outweigh the negatives of perpetuating trite racist stereotypes. I know a lot of great Braves fans, and none of them are enthusiastic Tomahawk Choppers; I know a few Indians fans, and none of them are comfortable with Chief Wahoo. This doesn’t seem to negatively impact their enjoyment of (or, more recently, hair-pulling frustration with) their team.
Imagine that a team had a Jewish caricature for a mascot. And that their traditional chant involved counting money. It’s actually not easy to picture because it would never, ever fly today, and I’m not sure why this is considered all that different. Last night I made the mistake of looking for a Jewish caricature to illustrate this point, and I came across a couple. One is part of a clever series at a website called Honor Indians, which along with imaginary team logos for “The Cincinnati Rednecks” and “The L.A. Wetbacks” is making an argument against the use of Indian mascots:
The other image I found is not making a satirical point. It’s from a cesspool of a white supremacist site which, for obvious reasons, I’m not going to link to:
Morbid curiosity got the better of me and I couldn’t help reading a few posts – about Jews ruining the Aryan Nation, “muds,” “wetbacks,” and a lot worse; how seeing white women with black men made the writer want to castrate the men and chop off the women’s heads; honoring the anniversary of Hitler’s coup; debating the feasibility of ethnic cleansing in America today.
To be clear, this is the site of a fringe sociopath and, OBVIOUSLY, in no way reflects the views of Braves or Indians fans. And it’s exactly because that kind of thinking – the kind that represents a race of people as an ugly little cartoon, or takes the centuries-old reduction of Native Americans into scalping warriors and turns it into a cheer – in no way reflects the views of fans that we should distance ourselves from it whenever we have the chance. No matter how innocent it might have become over the years, that’s just not a tradition worth carrying on.
Time to get creative, Braves fans – and well past time to ditch the Chop.