American Indian Mascot Issue Psychological Implications

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American Indian Sports Teams Mascots,
Tokens, Nicknames, Logos and Associated Symbols
 Psychological Considerations

       1. While anthropologists often agree that some sports may have their origins in religious rituals, perhaps imitating battle, the fierce competitiveness inherent in many sports has frequently resulted in analogies being draw between such activities and warfare.  Thus we find that characteristics like aggression, brute strength, deception, and relentlessness, which are highly valued in combat, are also desirable traits for athletes competing in the socialized, ritual warfare of the sports arena.
          By coupling American Indian people to such traits via the use of symbolically related logos, etc., negative stereotypes and historical inaccuracies are subtly encouraged and perpetuated. One example of this can be seen in the prolific use of the "warrior" nickname which is very frequently related to First Nations by the use of stereotypic logos and mascots. This insidious association is particularly troublesome with regards to schools which, by virtue of their perceived authority, have the ability to strongly influence students in their development of lifelong attitudes and constructs.
         2.   The misconceived, self-serving concept of American Indian people being universally inclined toward particularly war-like and violent behavior historically allowed for the justification of heinous acts committed against Native Peoples in the name of "civilizing" the so-called "primitives."   By continuing to portray First Nations in this manner via association to the intrinsic aggression and violence found in many sporting activities, this same rationalization is erroneously continued to this day and carries with it serious negative consequences for contemporary Native Peoples.
             While it cannot be authoritatively said that the uses in question are a major factor in the phenomenon, according to the United States Department of Justice, American Indian people are more than twice as likely to be victims of violent crime than any other group of Americans.
       3.  Attitudes toward the use of "Indian" related mascots are inculcated at an early age when the individual is highly susceptible to influence and social pressure.  This phenomenon was successfully exploited by World War II Nazi propaganda which paid particular attention to conditioning youth to adopt anti-Jewish beliefs.
           Similarly, it is also interesting to note that several elements that were typically present at Nazi spectacle events including cheering crowds, martial music, marching, and lights (such as are used in night games) are also regular parts of  high school football.
       4. Stereotypic, cartoon-like imagery tends to dehumanize the subject. This mechanism is well-known and is often used during times of war to dehumanize an enemy. The result allows the portrayer to trivialize the concerns of the one being portrayed and simultaneously helps protect self-esteem by relieving guilt feelings arising from hostile acts directed against the subject.
            Dehumanization, as the word implies, is a psychological process that reduces a person or group to a sub-human level.  One way in which this process is deployed is by suggesting the subject of the dehumanization is like an animal.   Because animals of various types and "Indian" related mascots are those most frequently used, it can be observed that this practice places Native Peoples on a par with wild beasts.

       5. Through stereotyping and dehumanization objectification is facilitated.  Instead of being thought of as unique individuals each of whom is capable of the full range of human behaviors and potentialities, Native Peoples are transformed into depersonalized "things" having very limited scope. At work here are the same principles found in pornography which also turns real, living people into objects of a different sort.
       6.  Social psychologists tell us that an attitude is composed of three parts: cognitive; affective (emotional); and behavioral.  Because of the strong and deeply rooted emotional component involved in the uses in question, concepts held about such uses are highly resistant to change through the application of rational arguments or pure reason.

      7.  The use of such mascots and nicknames are a form of tokenism which consequently engenders rationalization of more serious acts or negative attitudes directed toward Native Peoples.

       8.  The concept of mascots and nicknames "honoring Indians" may in reality be an ego defense mechanism that helps preserve the self-esteem of the individual doing the alleged "honoring" by protecting him or her from facing the reality of the genocidal horrors inflicted on First Nations peoples.

        9.  The generic quality of the spurious misnomer, "Indians," denies Indigenous Peoples the sense of pride and place derived from an understanding and recognition of one's unique cultural heritage. By failing to illustrate the great diversity found among Native American cultures, generic mascots facilitate stereotypical categorization and perpetuate false concepts that arose with the first contact between European explorers and their Indigenous counterparts.

      10.   "Indian" mascots "freeze" Indigenous Peoples in a romanticized historical period that ended over a century ago - and which in truth probably never existed.  By continuing to portray American Indians in such a manner the reality of how First Nations peoples are today - living, struggling and adapting like everyone else in the modern world - is set askew.

        11.   Because of the pervasiveness and longevity involved in the use of American Indian related mascots by public schools, such uses have become institutionalized.  Having been  institutionalized, it becomes very difficult to recognize the discriminatory and racist practices for what they are.

reprinted from American Indian Sports Team Mascots

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