The film “In Whose Honor? American Indian Mascots in Sports” produced by Jay Rosentein introduces a topic that is new to many viewers. In the film, he explores through interviews and school controversies the misuse of Native American culture through school sports mascots. Most of the people who embrace school mascots, such as those used by teams named the Chiefs, Indians, Braves, and Warriors unknowingly promote a stereotype of Native American culture that serves to embarrass and further alienate the people from their heritage.
The fight to stop these unfair stereotypes are undertaken by many activists and their heroic stories are chronicled throughout this documentary. Issues with the mass media and it’s effect on shaping perceptions of people as a powerful force are also explored and from a sociological perspective all of these harmful images and portrayals are investigated. The most significant sociological revelation in the film is the clash between majority and minority culture. On a smaller scale, the majority culture and the norms that come with this are not parallel to minority culture except in forms of entertainment.
Most of the intersect that connects majority and minority culture of any type is such things as dining at “ethnic” restaurants, listening to “ethnic” music, and watching movies and television that depict minority life through the eyes of the majority culture. Sports has traditionally been seen as racially neutral as a form of entertainment, but this film however, shows that even this arena is ridden with racial stereotypes is one used the trained sociological “eye” so to speak on them. Simply, stereotypes of any kind are harmful and detract from the long and proud tradition that the stereotyped people hold.
I understand how the idea of racism and stereotyping talked about in scope in class correlates with the topic and the issues in the film. Racism is a systematic, institutionalized way of oppressing people and Native Americans have been oppressed since English settlers came to The United States. Now Native Americans are largely out of sight, on reservations where there is little contact with the majority culture. Just because there is little contact, however, does not mean that the people do not want to be depicted and portrayed by the majority culture in an accurate way.
In one hand it seems like the proud traditions in history of the Native Americans have largely been forgotten, but on the other hand stereotypical images of them do emerge in the media. Stereotyping is less universal and widespread than racism, but each are harmful in their own ways. While racism serves to oppress a group of people to submission, shame, and even genocide; stereotyping serves to take only a few traits and traditions of people and make this seem like these traits are all that there is to the group. The Native American people have their own music, values, language, and many other specific norms to their group.
Additionally not all Native American tribes are similar in their language, rituals, and other ways of living. So to lump all these tribes and Native Americans together as a whole with stereotypes about them is not only unfair, but it undermines the entire history and present culture of this group. One of the most harmful aspects of the Native American stereotype is that the people are all inherently violent. Though some tribes were known for their tenacity in wars, not all tribes were active in violent warring with other tribes.
The sports stereotype, then damages the culture by making all Native Americans of past and present seem like violent people and this is simply not the case. Most all sport teams do have mascots that are renowned for their strength and warring skill; such as the Vikings, the Raiders, the Buccaneers, and so on. The fact that many schools use Native American names for the stereotype that the names hold is interesting as is the fact that many schools, due to Native American activism have chosen not to use Mascots or names that are offensive or stereotypical.
The school depicted in the documentary, however, did not see how harmful their actions were and this type of ignorance is fairly representative of majority culture. I must say, as a member of the majority culture, that I was unaware of the harm of such stereotypes and I am an avid fan of all sports, as well. Most of the mascots I saw growing up were “silly” and their purpose was simply to get fans motivated to cheer for the team. However, I do recall a coach who led the Braves in Little League Baseball and wore the Native American headdress and carried a tomahawk to games.
I remember being embarrassed for him and his behavior, but now realize that it was the way that he depicted Native Americans that ultimately bothered me. This film was definitely an eye-opener and there was a message of hope in the social activism that was carried out in the name of justice for all Native Americans. As we have talked about all the social changes in class that have been initiated by activism, it is good to see that these types of actions are still carried out today as they are very necessary.
In conclusion, “In Whose Honor? American Indian Mascots in Sports” is a very sociologically sound documentary that weaves in many in-class and textbook topics. The historical effects of racism against the American people and the currently carried out stereotypes of Native Americans in sports is an example of how cultures can be oppressed and misunderstood. This also shows how important activism is in bringing about needed social change in the media, sports, and all arenas of majority culture.