Yes, it's back. Or rather, they are back: the screaming Indian head -- this time on the Braves' new batting-practice caps (maybe; so far everything's unofficial) -- and in lockstep, another debate about the offensive-or-not nature of such things.
Tuesday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Dave O'Brien weighed in, at some length ...
The Braves, who share the same war chant and "tomahawk chop" with FSU fans, decided not to bring back the Indian head logo for the sharp, cream-colored home-alternate uniforms they unveiled in 2011, which are otherwise near-replicas of uniforms the team wore when it moved to Atlanta in 1965. The Indian was replaced by a crossed-tomahawks logo on the sleeve of the new jersey in what was widely understood to be a concession to political correctness.
That’s why I was surprised to see the design on the new batting-practice hats, featuring the Indian-head logo – the "screaming savage" is how it’s been described, though it looks to me like the guy is laughing, not screaming, and he doesn’t look in any way like a "savage." It’s prominent, right out front, with no other writing or design on the cap.
Honestly, I’ll go on record as saying I like the logo. Sorry if that’s politically incorrect to some. I like it.
I'm surprised, too. But the logo is super-traditional -- a version of this Indian first appeared in the 1957, when the Braves were still in Milwaukee, and remained on the jersey sleeves through 1971 -- and the truth is that very few people will ever see the Braves' (or any other club's) batting-practice caps. It's just a tiny line item for MLB's vast merchandising network ... but not so tiny that it's not worth designing and marketing the batting-practice caps. This was a marketing decision, pure and simple. I won't suggest that it was a sort of Bizarro-p.r. move: leak the offensive (to some) design, then withdraw the design in a grand display of sensitive conciliation.
Anyway, here's O'Brien again:
Is it racist? Really? That just feels a bit over-the-top reactionary to me, and usually it seems that charge is coming from people who are on the outside of this looking in, like me and most of you. Rather than from actual Native Americans.
If many of them – it doesn’t even have to be a majority, in my view; but it does need to be more than a handful of non-Native American columnists – are offended, then I think it shouldn’t be used. It’s not for us to decide if it’s offensive; it’s for those whom it depicts, and their ancestors, to decide. Right? And if it is offensive to them, then don’t use it. Simple.
Well, it's not that simple. Because you have to define "more than handful". And then you have to define "them". Yes, you can decide that if more than 25 percent of the Native Americans living in Georgia don't like the new caps, they shouldn't be worn or sold. Oh, except there haven't been many Native Americans in Georgia since the 19th Century, when nearly all of the pre-European-invasion natives were dispatched to Oklahoma. Today, there's not even one federally recognized Indian tribe in Georgia. Which makes it difficult to conduct a meaningful survey.
Does the Indian-head logo feature a spear or bloody knife somewhere that I’m missing? Or what, is it a Mohawk haircut that’s offensive to some? What specifically about the logo is offensive? Look at it now and please tell me.
If you don’t think the Braves should use the name "Braves," that’s one thing. But unless you are someone calling for them to drop the name altogether, what about this specific logo do you find offensive (and by "you," I’m speaking more to the writers who’ve ridiculed it since the cap was unveiled on the website, rather than fans who read this blog, most of whom I’m going to assume don’t mind the logo or even like it as I do).
Okay, I looked at the logo real good. One can see what one wants to see. Is this Indian a savage?
If, 100 years ago, you had asked (say) a New Yorker with some artistic talent to draw an Indian "savage", this is approximately what he would have drawn. Of course we don't use words like "savage" any more because we're all sensitive and stuff and we're so devoted to redressing the wrongs of our ancestors. But this image? This is exactly what savage meant to generations of European-Americans (and Europeans, too).
Is this Indian screaming? Or just laughing? This strikes me as a distinction without a difference.
But here's where O'Brien goes most badly astray:
... let me ask you this: When the Notre Dame "Fighting Irish" logo is plastered everywhere, with the bearded character who has fists up ready to fight, have you ever heard a single complaint from a fan (or a writer, especially one of us of Irish lineage) about it depicting the Irish as a bunch of hostile brawlers?
I mean, it’s not as if the logo has an Irish guy with a bottle of whiskey in his hand. Just a silly green hat and hands balled up in fists. Most of us probably like the image.
This is a red herring, for two reasons.
One, the treatment of the Irish in this country has been far different than the treatment of Indians. I feel foolish even writing this paragraph, because the point is so bloody obvious. But Indians were driven from their lands by armed force, and occasionally massacred en masse. Irish were, for a time, discriminated against in this country. They were not, to my knowledge, rounded up and thrown into concentration camps to starve to death. Yes, there is a difference between depicting a cartoon Irishman with his fists raised and a Native American on the warpath. The depictions might be roughly the same, but the history is utterly, tragically different.
And two, O'Brien's already acknowledged that the two situations are different. He acknowledges that if enough Indians are offended, the Braves shouldn't wear these caps. In a sense, he's saying the images themselves are irrelevant. So let's talk about the Fighting Irish when someone actually wants to talk about that.
The problem is that nobody can ever know what's exactly the right thing to do. The Cleveland Indians continue to deploy a caricature that I personally find disgusting; others see it differently. My local newspaper refuses to publish any team names associated with Native Americans; my home state has outlawed the use of Indian-related names for high-school sports teams. My personal opinion is that both policies are excessively heavy-handed.
But it's just an opinion. I think there's a balance to be struck; I think "Redskins" is too much; I think "Braves" is suitably respectful. I think the Chief Wahoo caricature goes too far; I think an image of an Indian chief in repose is fine.
It's just a personal thing. Which was really brought home to me by this tweet today from O'Brien, in response to someone else:
Why, yes: We are looking at the same logo. When I look at this screaming (or laughing) Brave, I do see someone who's probably violent and focused, for the moment at least, on war. Or at least was intended to represent those thoughts, when the image was first conceived. Considering how much work must still be done to help lift our Native American citizens, I think there are better images for an organization that does, I suspect, have the best intentions.