Baseball's Tribute to Civil Rights

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CHIEF WAHOO & SPIKE LEE:
BASEBALL’S TRIBUTE TO CIVIL RIGHTS
by Jack Random


Major League Baseball is paying tribute to the civil rights movement on March 31st with its inaugural Civil Rights Game in Memphis, Tennessee – home of the National Civil Rights Museum and the city where Martin Luther King was assassinated April 4, 1968.

The inaugural event, featuring the St. Louis Cardinals versus the Cleveland Indians, will invoke the memory of Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the major league color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the spring of 1947. Appropriately, the league will honor filmmaker Spike Lee (Get on The Bus, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing), Vera Clemente (widow of the immortal Roberto Clemente) and the late Buck O’Neil (who championed recognition of the Negro League but was inexplicably snubbed by Hall of Fame voters) for their varied contributions to the cause of civil rights.

What could possibly be wrong with such an admirable event?


THE JAZZMAN CHRONICLES: DISSEMINATE FREELY
 
 
Take a closer look at the teams invited to commemorate this solemn and momentous occasion. There is certainly nothing wrong with selecting the world champion Cardinals as National League representatives – although the Dodgers might have been a more fitting choice. As for the Indians, it is acknowledged that Larry Doby broke the American League color barrier with Cleveland only months after Robinson’s debut – an admirable event worthy of commemoration.

The problem arises with the official logo and mascot of the Indians: Chief Wahoo.

Regardless of color, race, ethnic identity or political philosophy, any objective view of Wahoo must concede: It is a demeaning stereotype – the smiling, drunken fool so eager to please his racially insensitive white fans.

Do not mistake the nature of my objection. I am a fan of baseball and I like the Cleveland franchise. Leaving the Washington Redskins aside, I do not personally object to names like the Warriors, the Braves or the Indians. (If the American Indian Movement does not object, neither should we.) Chief Wahoo, however, is beyond the pale. It is so deliberately and flagrantly racist that it cannot hide behind the typical excuse that some Native Americans are not offended.

There may be some African Americans who were not offended by Aunt Jemima, Stepin Fetchit or Little Black Sambo but I assume Spike Lee is not among them.

I am certain that the family and friends of Buck O’Neil would object if some corporation wanted to use his image to bring back Uncle Tom to sell white rice.

As Arlen Melendez of the National Congress of American Indians said: “It is absolutely irresponsible to include a team such as the Cleveland Indians, whose buck-toothed Indian mascot promotes blatant racism, mockery and negative stereotypes of Native Americans.”

We do not expect Major League Baseball or its feckless corporate lackey of a commissioner, Bud Selig, to do the right thing (unless of course he is shamed into it) but we do expect as much from Spike Lee.

Break it down for him, Spike. Put it to him in terms everyone can understand: Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Geronimo and Cochise are noble warriors; Chief Wahoo is a bad joke.

I suggest a whiteface act, replete with red nose, red cheeks, bulging belly, a bottle of whiskey and a fat cigar.

Come on, Spike: Do the right thing.

Jazz.

 
 
JACK RANDOM IS THE AUTHOR OF THE JAZZMAN CHRONICLES (CROW DOG PRESS) AND GHOST DANCE INSURRECTION (DRY BONES PRESS). THE CHRONICLES HAVE APPEARED ON THE ALBION MONITOR, PEACE-EARTH-JUSTICE, THE NATIONAL FREE PRESS, PACIFIC FREE PRESS, LEFTWARD, DISSIDENT VOICE AND COUNTERPUNCH. SEE RANDOM JACK: WWW.JAZZMANCHRONICLES.BLOGSPOT.COM 

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