Monday, October 10, 2011

Seeing Red

Is the phrase Indian Summer as racially insensitive as Indian Giver? I hope not, as I have no other way to describe the unseasonably warm weather we’ve had over the past few days – coincidentally over Columbus Day weekend. And since we all know how he treated the Indians, I want to ensure that I am being sensitive and politically correct in my wording. If our children are now being told to sit criss cross apple sauce, instead of Indian style, then maybe I should mind my manners as well.

It’s a good thing I’m not an Atlanta Braves fan, who routinely mine, or mock, the Native American culture with their “Tomahawk Chop” and Chief Noc-A-Homa mascot. Or a Cleveland Indians fan, with their racially insensitive Chief Wahoo logo. As for the Washington Redskins, while their logo seems respectful enough, their name leaves a lot to be desired. Redskins? Really? They claim it honors the Native American cultures, but I’m not convinced.  They also point out that very few Native Americans have complained, which I’m sure is true, seeing as how the majority of them have been wiped out! And the rest are too busy running their casinos to worry about it.

Oops, did I just make a joke? Was it insensitive to portray the surviving members of our once proud Indian tribes as casino operators?  Probably. Was it funny? Not really. Is it true? Sort of.

And therein lies the problem with political correctness. In order to avoid upsetting anyone with “insensitive” comments, one has to sidestep the truth and skip over the obvious, and to me, that’s more demeaning than just being honest.  Is it really better to ignore all the bad things that have happened in the past and pretend like all is forgotten?  And if so, then what happens to the good things?

From what I’ve seen in museums, many Indians did sit on the ground with their legs crossed.  So why can’t our kids sit Indian style? And apparently scalping was a common practice, so if I want to complain about a bad haircut, is it really hurting an Indian’s feelings? Or the hairdressers?

As for the color thing, I can sort of understand and respect the argument that for, say, the black community, phrases like “black list” and “black ball” and “black sheep” seem to imply that black equals bad. And most of the “red” phrases aren’t much better. Getting caught red handed is bad. Being in the red is bad. Red tape? Bad. Red flag? Bad. The problem is, this same argument could be used with any color: a white elephant is something that has no value, white bread is considered plain and boring, and a white flag is used to quit or surrender. While on the flip side, getting invited to a black tie affair and receiving the red carpet treatment are good things.

At the end of the day, we just need to respect each other as individuals. Color and culture shouldn’t define who we are or decide whom we associate with. If we can feel comfortable with each other, we can laugh at, and with, each other. Admit it, Chief Noc-a-homa is a funny name. And if we all started looking for the humor in things, we might be less likely to find hate.


  1. I am not going to be a wiseguy in this comment for a change. This is very well-said. I think we are better served by learning about other cultures than by suppressing so-called offensive portrayals. I am pureblood Irish, and yet have no plans to protest the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

  2. Good post, Mike. Very interesting. A color is just a color. I wish we could all be colorblind where people are concerned. It would make life a lot easier.