The Bigger Picture in Throwing Out “Indian” Gear

“I had other shirts. I had no need to keep ones whose imagery caused harm to other people.”

Students+unveil+CCD%27s+new+mascot%3A+the+Nighthawks

Students unveil CCD’s new mascot: the Nighthawks

Celie Hudson, Contributor, '21

Earlier last year I was cleaning out my closet and decided to tackle the big middle shelf: spirit wear. Since I’m a lifer, this pile of merchandise had been long accumulating and included a good deal of items with the “Indian” logo or lettering. Most of these shirts lay ignored, creased below the few non-mascot ones that made up my regular rotation. So wasn’t it time to get them out of my closet?

 

I’d like to say I’ve always been at the forefront of understanding and educating myself on the issue of our mascot, that I always understood its harm and fought against its use. I wish I could tell everyone that I didn’t pause when throwing away my shirts—but that’s not the case.

 

I think my understanding of the mascot has followed a similar trajectory to those of many others.  When I was younger, it didn’t cross my mind. Then in middle school when I first heard rumblings of disapproval, I didn’t get it. “Why?” I remember asking, “Isn’t it honoring them? I don’t think we need to change it.” It was only in high school that I started to understand the problem. I listened to students share their concerns and pursued personal research to educate myself, reading psychological studies about Native American mascots’ harmful effects and listening to first-hand calls for change. I quickly realized how much of a problem this was and agreed it was time to change.

 

However, as I started on the floor and pieced through my collection, I had a hard time throwing certain things away. A few shirts felt sentimental. Others were just solid pieces of clothing, ones I’d spent money on. Should I get rid of all these?

 

Yes. As I sat there, I couldn’t believe those thoughts had just gone through my head. I realized how absolutely privileged I was to consider, even briefly, prioritizing a minor convenience to myself over other’s safety and feelings of self-worth. In a 2016 interview with Politico, prominent researcher Dr. Stephanie Fryberg relayed her findings that, “being exposed to a Native mascot decreased [Native high schoolers’] self-esteem, sense of community worth and their belief that their community can improve itself, and decreased achievement-related future goals.” She also noted, “one of the really interesting findings in that first study was that being shown the mascot actually lowered Native high schoolers’ self-esteem more than giving them negative statistics about [Native American communities], like high suicide rates, depression, dropout rates. That really gives you a sense of how powerful the imagery is. Other studies have shown that it increases suicidal ideation, increases depression.”

 

Keeping or wearing this harmful symbol would make me complacent in the continuation of its damage. Truth is, I would throw that shirt in my bag and never think of it again. I had other shirts. I would get more shirts. I had no need to keep ones whose imagery caused harm to other people.

 

Going through my closet and getting rid of this merchandise was such a simple task. And while I acknowledge that a purge like this is not feasible for all people, as access to clothing, regardless of its cultural implications, may have to be prioritized for others in certain situations, most members in this school community can spare a few t-shirts. If I can engage in something so easy, so quick, and so very minor to me, that makes other people feel more comfortable and included in their environment, I’m going to do it. I hope you do too.

 

 

Interested in the research? Check out:

https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-psychology-of-native-american-sports-mascots#Is-It-an-Honor-to-Be-a-Mascot?

https://www.changethemascot.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/DrFriedmanReport.pdf

 

 

 

 

https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/study-finds-only-harmful-effects-from-native-themed-mascots-Gr8ez-HtvkeB-Q5SPNhmhw

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=173&v=xRribtqdXGw&feature=emb_logo