Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My Children's World

I haven’t been blogging recently because of deadlines, but I read an article today that I thought was worth chewing over. It is entitled, The Curse of Chief Wahoo.

To begin: 

BACKGROUND POINT #1:  Anyone who has bothered reading my blog will already have figured out that I am a U.S. citizen of European decent. In other words, I’m so white, I’m practically transparent. My own diversity comes from the sheer quantity of different countries to which I can trace my lineage (I will spare you the enumeration). My children, on the other hand, have a lot more on their genetic plate, so to speak. In addition to the European Caucasia-palooza that I have passed on to them, they also have Mexican, Nicaraguan, and Native American bloodlines.

BACKGROUND POINT #2:  I currently live in Cleveland, Ohio, where baseball is a favorite sport and where the local team is the Cleveland Indians. The team’s logo is Chief Wahoo.

So that’s the background.

I am the first to admit that I didn’t always understand why Native Americans bothered to protest Chief Wahoo every year on Opening Day. I honestly didn't think it was a big deal. But then, when I was younger, I did not differentiate between races or creeds. I had never been taught that there were any differences between people based on the color of their skin or their cultural heritage. 

I was wrong. There ARE differences. The most glaring difference is that as an educated, middle-class white girl, I had no appreciation for what it felt like to be on the receiving end of another person's prejudice.

I never had to worry about being discriminated against when I was growing up. It was the 1970s and, while women were certainly still fighting for equal treatment, my own mother was a successful professional. Whatever the reality was for the rest of the nation, in my house, my gender was not a limiting factor. 

I was raised in the religion that was most dominant in my neighborhood. Even in my extended family, everyone was one version of Christian or another, so the concept of religious persecution was completely foreign to me.

Further, my family was financially comfy without being wealthy, so while I played with friends from both poorer and richer backgrounds, there was nothing to prompt me to notice one way or another.

In other words, my ignorance on the subject of discrimination stemmed directly from my ignorance of prejudice itself.

Of course, as I grew older, my innocence got banged up a bit and I eventually realized that there were some whack-jobs out there who really did think that skin color or gender or sexuality or religion were perfectly legitimate reasons to judge, hate, and even kill another person. I was completely flummoxed by this, and honestly still am.

Here’s what happened:

First, I befriended a girl in grammar school who was picked on mercilessly. She came from a particularly poor background, and our spoiled suburban classmates constantly tormented her for her lack of designer clothing and general polish.

Then, a boy in my class told me I was stupid because I was a girl. I must say that my reaction was not particularly mature, but he did eventually get off the floor and stop crying. Two words: saddle shoes.

Next, my teenage years brought me my first close friendships with people from non-Christian backgrounds. This marked the first time that my assumptions about religion were really challenged, but it was generally a very kind and gentle process, if occasionally a bit awkward.

I went on to college and eventually brought home a cute Hispanic boy to meet my parents. He was sweet and played guitar and sang me love songs in Spanish and was everything I hadn’t known I had been looking for, so I married him. 

Not long after we brought home our first baby from the hospital, I had one of those defining moments when everything shifts. After observing a group of Hispanic men walk past, an acquaintance of mine turned to me and said, “I hate Mexicans.”

Blink. Blink. What?

Excuse me - that’s MY CHILD you just spewed blind hatred at!

So back to Chief Wahoo.

It’s just a baseball team logo. Does it matter enough to make a fuss over? 

In the article, Marjorie Villafane, a Sioux, is quoted as saying: "I'm here so my grandchildren can be proud of their heritage. People act like we're trying to take their baseball away from them, but we're not. It's just, why do they have to turn us into Chief Wahoo?"

Here’s what I have to say about this: 

It absolutely matters.

Chief Wahoo is a logo. It is a marketing gimmick. It is used for entertainment purposes. It could be replaced.

My children are unique and wonderful. They are human beings who have the innate right to feel proud of their heritage. They are individuals who deserve to have their bloodlines treated with the same respect as any others. They ABSOLUTELY deserve not to be judged negatively for the color of their skin or their cultural heritage. And what my children deserve is what all children deserve – the chance to grow up and learn about your family background and feel proud of where you come from.

As pretty much the entire planet has realized by now, there are MANY, MANY, MANY things wrong with prevailing attitudes in the United States. One of those things is the sad truth that a cartoon created to promote a group of overpaid men in tights who hit balls with wooden sticks is seen as more important than an entire population of indigenous people who only want to see their children walk tall. And that makes so little sense that I can’t even begin to reason it out.

I'm sad that I have to raise my children in a world in which they will be valued less than a baseball mascot. All I can do to fight that, however, is to raise my boys to change the world and hope that my children's world will someday be a better place.

Momma says I'm more important than baseball.


Donna McBroom-Theriot said...

Very powerful post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am a new GFC follower and look forward to following your blog. Donna

Elizabeth Lawrence said...

Thanks, Donna! Welcome aboard - it's nice to know I'm not just talking to myself! I hope you continue to enjoy my posts.