Some Inconvenient Truths
Ah, so here I am, forced to break radio silence because tUMD’s student section has gone viral.
I planned to make a blog post last night but I ended up going to an astrophysics lecture yesterday evening and got home late. In the mean time, I’ve been called or accused of all manner of things, and so the ocean of the Internet is aboil with RWD-hate. This is just how I like it.
If you don’t know, when tUMD played North Dakota the weekend before last, some students (but apparently not all) participated in some chants that were considered offensive. And of course they were offensive. “We stole your land” and “smallpox blankets” have a real, historical basis that is ten thousand times more embarrassing and atrocious than the chants themselves.
But these chants didn’t happen in a vacuum. They didn’t spontaneously occur. They weren’t created to taunt a player on UND who is of Dakota descent. These chants occurred because the University of North Dakota uses the name and image of a native people. The University of North Dakota created an environment where this can happen. My simple message yesterday read: no nickname, no chants.
And then I was immediately compared to a rapist.
Many people accused me of using the same logic a rapist uses to blame their victim by pointing out she was dressing or acting in a way that stated she wanted or deserved to be raped. That’s not the situation at all. That involves two parties: the one being harmed, and the one doing the harming. This situation involves three parties: the one doing the harm (tUMD students who participated in the chants), the one harmed (lots of people, native or not), and… UND. So blaming the nickname as the impetus for the chant isn’t blaming the victim. And tUMD students are still responsible for their own actions. But why would they even do that?
A couple years ago, when tUMD played Tech, I made a sign that said “Every time a cowbell rings, God kills a Husky.” Then I took a paintbrush and splattered red paint on the sign. Do I really want dogs to die? No, I love dogs, they’re cute. The sign actually got taken away because this annoying Michigan Tech fan whined to the arena staff, not because he was offended but because he wanted to make trouble. But it was just a sign making light of their fans and their incessant noisemakers and the imagined death of their mascot. This is just one of the things student sections do. They use the mascot as a symbol for the opponents. People. Reduced to symbols.
That’s precisely the reason why these chants were done the other weekend. Not out of some deep-seated racism against the Dakota that has been passed down since their ancestors’ farm was burned in the Dakota War (which occurred 150 years ago this August, just to remind you, and if you haven’t read much about this sad chapter in Minnesota history, you really need to), but because they were trying to think of chants that were based on UND’s mascot (yes, UND fans, you have a mascot, pick up a dictionary once in awhile) and nickname. Their human mascot and nickname. Dehumanized.
Imagine I make that same sign I made for Michigan Tech, but I make it for UND. It just skyrocketed in its level of offensiveness. That’s the problem with the human mascot. When one says “Gophers suck,” one isn’t at risk for gophers overhearing. But I think it would be unpleasant for a Dakota fan of UND to hear “Sioux Suck” over and over again. Especially considering the myriad ways the US government, the cavalry, the settlers and their descendants have expressed that sentiment throughout history.
UND’s mascot and nickname are dehumanizing and desensitizing. tUMD students demonstrated that a week and a half ago. How can someone stand behind a nickname that leads to chants like the ones the students did? Or shirts like this? Or this one, done by UND students? Or the attitudes spelled out here? Or the people who “honor” the nickname by swearing, vomiting in their seats, fighting, making lewd gestures, etc while wearing the Sioux jersey? (Every fan base has people who do this. But not every fan base is appropriating the image and name of Native Americans and claiming to honor them while behaving in this fashion.)
The nickname and mascot are an embarrassment. The chants are an embarrassment. The history behind the chants is an embarrassment. It’s time for the nickname to go. Getting rid of the nickname won’t change the mind of any student, fan, athlete or administrator who might have been motivated to chant or support the nickname or make one of those t-shirts by actual, active racism, but it will at least stop the people who simply aren’t thinking, who aren’t looking beyond the nickname and mascot to the humans they are based on. (Because it shouldn’t be necessary, humans [Seminole, Dakota, Illini, Irish, Dutch, etc] should not be mascots!)
So there we go. That’s what I mean by “No Nickname, No Chants.” As if it really was that hard to figure out.