By: Daniel Hodgman and Gus Navarro
On Saturday, October 19th, in the midst of college football frenzy, ESPN and College Gameday took part in the public mockery of Native American culture. Was it all in good fun? Or was it just insensitive and racist? The featured video is below, and the Bonus Cut creators share their thoughts.
Let me ask you this: what’s the difference between blackface and redface?
The answer? Absolutely nothing.
See, I ask this because on Saturday some people over at ESPN decided to do a little diddy with their now-famous College Gameday prediction stunt featuring Lee Corso. Last week, during Corso’s time to predict a champion – which is something I really don’t care about, nor consider even remotely entertaining – the crew decided it would be fun have Corso dress up as a Seminole and prance around with a spear. After walking around a bit, much to the laughter of the rest of the staff, the infallible – and yes I use this word because he is simply a cinematic genius – Bill Murray came out dressed in a blue t-shirt, purple hat and blue jeans. In contrast to Corso donning Florida State’s Chief Osceola, Murray came out representing Clemson. In the act, he picked up Corso the Chief, threw him to the ground and threw the spear into the ground, which then led to some fake Billy Murray bodyslams. The crowd cheered, the analysts laughed, ESPN probably received killer ratings and I simply sat back and spit at my computer.
There are a couple of things wrong with this. First, since when is dressing up as a Native American and making a mockery of its overall identity socially acceptable? Oh wait, I forgot, this is the United States of America, where at every Halloween store there’s a “Cowboys and Indians” costume section with fake tribal head dresses, toy pistols and red facepaint. Let me say that again: red facepaint.
When we look at what’s socially acceptable and what’s flat-out wrong, we as a community have uneven footing with the topic itself, as if holding some invisible double-standard. At no time whatsoever would you see a Halloween store donning a “blackface” department with black facepaint and bright red lips, because that is not only unacceptable, it’s racist. With that being said, how is it that stores can garner redface and fake tribal spears and call that okay? Is it that the extermination of the indigenous people of America isn’t as bad as the enslavement of Africans? Of course not, racism is racism. So why is this double standard being held?
The reason for this is that the disconnect in America regarding race is skewed. What we as a country deem racially insensitive comes not from those being targeted by attacks and stereotyping, but rather those perpetrating them. It’s an odd thought, but it’s true. At some point in the history of mankind, it’s always been the white perpetrator determining what’s acceptable and unacceptable in the community. If we wanted to live in a world where acceptance is determined by the victims, we would undoubtedly dwell in a much more peaceful community. However, that can’t happen, because there are always people who need to be in power, with victims to hurt.
The second thing I found wrong with this College Gameday piece is more farfetched, but just as distinguishable. The act between Lee Corso and Bill Murray was supposed to be a simplistic prediction to an unimportant football game, where the analysts predict a winner and hear the crowd roar or boo (Florida State ended up trouncing Clemson by the way…). However, the whole mockery was blatant symbolism of the United States’ complete and utter dismantling of Native American tribes all over the country. With Corso, you had the indigenous people and the original caretakers of this land, and then you had Bill Murray – dressed in blue jeans, t-shirt and hat mind you – coming onto the scene, throwing Corso down to the ground, throwing the spear away and body slamming away. Although the people behind ESPN and College Gameday probably had no intention of showcasing the genocide of the Native American people, they did so symbolically, in what was supposed to be a “just for laughs” crowd pleaser.
Look, I realize that there are some people in the Seminole Tribe that love Florida State and love the tradition of Osceola on the football field. I even realize that Florida State donates a good amount of money to the Seminole Tribe and its causes. However, at the end of the day, there are still going to be a good amount of indigenous people that take offense to this. There will also be a good amount of people that aren’t even Native American, like me, that find offense in it too.
The fact that ESPN didn’t even acknowledge this or apologize is surprising, considering they’ve been covering the Washington Redskins story for a while now. At the end, they’ll say that it’s just what College Gameday does, and this is just Florida State tradition, but what does that tell the thousands of kids attending the University or the hundreds of other schools/teams that use a similar mascot? The message is simple: it’s okay to degrade the traditions of a culture if it’s just a joke or all in good fun. This in turn needs to be changed, and like I stated before, racism is racism, and no matter the ones being targeted, the effect is the same. That means getting rid of redface is just as important as getting rid of blackface, that one racial slur against one isn’t worse than another being slung at another, that times change and teams should disallow any offensive mascots (I’m looking at you Cleveland Indians, Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Redskins, Okemos Chiefs, etc.), and most importantly, racism shouldn’t be determined by those perpetrating it, but rather by the victims of racism itself.
Since the mid 1990’s, Saturdays on ESPN have been dedicated to college football. Each week from 9am-12pm, host Chris Fowler and college football analysts Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard visit a different campus and break down the upcoming matchups on College Gameday. One of the most popular segments of the show is at the end when the analysts and a celebrity guest pick who they think will win the day’s games. The grand finale is when Lee Corso makes his selection of the marquee matchup by dressing up as the team’s mascot. He has been the USC trojan, Notre Dame leprechaun and he’s put on the head of Wisconsin’s Bucky the Badger to name a few. For the most part, this is all in good fun and is always received with a passionate response from the live audience. Many point to this moment of the show as an example of the passion and tradition of college football. This past Saturday, it got out of hand with Corso’s pick of Florida State University (FSU) over Clemson.
Corso came out to the sounds of the famous “War Chant” dressed from head to toe as the FSU Seminole, Chief Osceola. Heavy boos from the Clemson audience turned into avid cheers as celebrity guest Billy Murray, who chose Clemson, grabbed Corso, threw him to the ground and pretended to beat him up.
Florida State has defended its use of the Seminole mascot on numerous occasions, claiming they are paying tribute to the Seminoles and that the indigenous population in Florida approves of this representation. Hopefully this is the case, but either way, what happened on the set of College Gameday carried inherently racist undertones and was another example of how indigenous communities all over the world are misrepresented, relegated to a past life and deprived of their humanity.
Some will say and have said that incidents such as these are in good fun and that Corso and Bill Murray didn’t mean anything insensitive by it. On top of that, the constant argument is that Native Americans just need to get over it and stop being so sensitive; what happened is in the past. These points come up particularly often with regard to the Washington Redskins name and Cleveland Indians logo. However, these arguments are simply off base and out of touch with reality. Using indigenous imagery for team names/logos is dehumanizing because it takes away from the distinct cultural practices of indigenous communities in the United States and around the world. Included in that, these images are false and are a part of a long history of genocide that began with the “discovery” of the Americas by Columbus.
In the United States specifically, Native Americans were forcibly removed from their homes, pushed further west, massacred and made to assimilate to white culture by the thousands. This happened for generations, and indigenous communities are still recovering from the aftermath of the atrocities committed at the places such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs Schools (BIA), that was started by Captain Pratt in the late 1800’s and continued into the 1960’s. At these schools, the philosophy was, “Kill the Indian, save the man.” Having heard multiple members of the indigenous community speak on these issues, this is not something that you just get over. Instead, these experiences live on, presenting issues of hardship that must be overcome if real societal progress can be made. The image of Native Americans presented by the Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins and all the countless college high school teams around the country prevent us from doing this because they are grounded in a highly racist and dehumanizing history of Euro-American colonization.
This past Saturday, was Lee Corso trying to be racist? Honestly, he probably wasn’t. However, that doesn’t take away from the racism embedded in the costume he wore. As a society, we have to demand more and get away from these false representations of cultures that allow for prejudice and stereotypes. It’s hard to imagine that we’ll ever see a team called the “Niggers,” “Chinks” or “Wetbacks.” We won’t see that because these names are racist and don’t belong anywhere near our sports teams or in popular culture. It is time that we realize that names such as the Redskins or Indians are the same as any other racial epithet; they’re dehumanizing, insensitive and inaccurate. Ultimately, “playing Indian” prevents any understanding of what indigenous communities are like in the 21st century and our growth as a society.
Native American comedy sketch group, The 1491’s, illustrate this point perfectly with these two videos. Before you freak out, watch both of these videos and the point will be made clear.
Here are a few examples of indigenous artists that participate in hip-hop culture and use this perspective in their music, art and film making:
A Tribe Called Red
Kevin Carillo, aka Krooked Mindz