One thing you can always count on with Donald Trump is that he will serve as an exemplar of the worst kind of cultural insensitivity and congratulate himself for his self-appointed authenticity.
Taking time out from his busy days trying to reverse his clear electoral loss and ignoring the pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 Americans, Trump decided to chime in on the Cleveland Indians decision to at last scrap its racist moniker that has outraged Indigenous peoples and our allies among thinking people for decades.
“Oh no! What is going on? This is not good news, even for ‘Indians’. Cancel culture at work!,” Trump wrote in a Twitter posting after the New York Times reported the name change.
Oh no! What is going on? This is not good news, even for “Indians”. Cancel culture at work! https://t.co/d1l0C9g6Pd
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 14, 2020
Where to begin.
The fact is that appropriating Indigenous names and symbols for use as team logos, let alone for public buildings, municipalities, and statues, are part of the original cancel culture steeped in the offensive, racist, and historical untruths that tried to exterminate the original inhabitants of the so-called New World, what Indigenous peoples call Abya Yala or Turtle Island.
The idea that Chief Wahoo is somehow honoring Indigenous peoples and his removal is cancel culture is not only absurd but is the reinforcement of the mindset derived from the Doctrine of Discovery, the series of 15th-century papal bulls authorizing European explorers who “discover” lands not occupied by Christians to seize them and convert or kill those they find living there. The Doctrine remains the legal underpinning for all land law under which the European settlers and their descendants continue their domination of Indigenous Nations.
The essence of the outcry over removing Chief Wahoo and the Cleveland baseball team nickname, as well as protests over statues of Christopher Columbus who initiated and justified the centuries of enslavement and genocide that ensued from his voyages, suggests that we as Indigenous peoples should embrace the lies of history, the racism and further celebrate the white privilege benefiting so many.
Recently, I overheard a conversation regarding the “absurdity” of white privilege where someone said they had worked their whole lives for everything they had. They saw first-hand how people created their own situation and did nothing to help themselves out of it. I had to leave because it was not the time nor the place to confront it. I believe that was the point of them bringing it up knowing I couldn’t and wouldn’t respond. It is an example of the everyday passive/blatant aggressiveness shown to anyone of color, all normalized and celebrated by a man that held the highest office of the United States.
Sowing the seeds of hate so people can feel safe is a means to keep people of color down so the dominant culture can maintain control over the narrative. For far too long we have lived under the weight of this domination. If you have benefited from it and said nothing to keep your spot, even if it was small and insignificant, then you are part of the problem. That is the lingering effect of the Doctrine of Discovery.
It is used to keep you ignorant and in a position of superiority. This is not about guilt, it is about inequity and if that brings you feelings of guilt perhaps people should look at it.
Playing to the cheap seats is an attempt to keep the targets of those symbols of oppression in our place.
It has reached the absurd level that Georgia Senators David Perdue and Kay Loeffler, trying to avoid the rejection from voters that Georgians just delivered to Donald Trump, declared the Cleveland Indians and its name an “American Institution.” Maybe they are trying some kind of pre-emptive strike to protect the name of the Atlanta Braves, with its grotesque “tomahawk chop” tradition, from being next on the, well, chopping block.
This absurd notion that Caucasians can determine how Indigenous Peoples will be honored then call it cancel culture when we object is over. Refusing to acquiesce to acts of erasure, we are still working every day to educate people on our mutual factual history.
These logos, statues, and other symbols of hate not only hurt those meant to be oppressed but the oppressors themselves. Put the weapons of hate down. What are you afraid of? Or are you afraid of what you stand to lose?
Betty Lyons is the Executive Director of the American Indian Law Alliance.