Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indigenous Peoples Demeaning Mascot

Chicago Cubs Vs. Cleveland’s Indigenous Peoples Demeaning Mascot

Okay, so that we are clear, I am a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan.  There was a time when as a preadolescent I had a brief fling with the Cincinnati Reds and, I confess, I admired the St. Louis Cardinals for a brief period, but it was always, first and foremost, the CUBS!  So you can imagine how marvelous it was to sit with my daughter at game five of this year’s world series with Cleveland and see my beloved team win a world series game there for the first time in seventy-eight years! 

img_2017

It was magical — nerve-wracking but magical.  After the Cubs had a great year (the best in baseball with 103 wins) they are struggling against that Cleveland team.  The Cubs are up against some extraordinary pitching, especially from a guy named Miller who is the best closer I have seen in, well, forever.

I will not mention the name of the Cleveland team because… well… because of… this:

th
Cleveland’s Chief Wahoo

Come on Cleveland, time to clean up this image of your mascot.  I have often defended you as a fine city.  You are not “a mistake by the lake.”  In recent visits I have marveled at the vibrancy that has come to your downtown and the renewal taking place in many neighborhoods.  You have had some good political leaders and some not so good (Stokes, Kucinich, Voinovich, Campbell, Jackson).  I won’t mention which I think were the good ones.  You have many fine educational and cultural institutions.  Of course, there is also the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!

I admit to being a Chicago partisan in this World Series but just a few months ago I was pulling for the Cavs to surprise everyone and come back from a 3 to 1 deficit to become the world champions in the NBA.  THEY DID!  So, now, a few hours before game six, I will be pulling for a similar comeback, this time for my dear Cubbies.  I am pulling for the Cubs to beat the team I shall call the Cleveland Indigenous Peoples Impersonators.

Is the Chief Wahoo image racist?  Of course it is!  Don’t pretend differently.  Ask the people who have the most right to be offended.  The National Congress of American Indians published a poster recently that covers the situation all too well.  Just imagine:

mascot_hats-jpg-crop-promovar-mediumlarge

Anything more need to be said? 

So, win or lose, Cleveland friends, please clean up this racist name and image.  It’s an important step.  Go to the website of the National Congress of American Indians to learn more (National Congress of American Indians).

Oh yes, and those of you NFL fans of a certain football team in Washington D.C. known as the R*dskins — you too can join in the fun of eliminating such demeaning symbols.

These may appear to some to be small matters; not significant.  Some may say I am being “politically correct.”  Others may say I should focus on matters of more substance like the Sioux Nation’s efforts to protect land and tribal rights at Standing Rock in North Dakota.  I get that and I also think this is all a part of the same package — names of mascots, environmental threats, and small bigotries are all a reflection of our nation’s sinful acts against the First Peoples and our continuing discriminations.  It is our enduring embarrassment and, yes, it will require more than just changing a mascot’s name.

As I write, game six of the Series is only a couple of hours away.  So, Go Cubs, Beat the Cleveland Indigenous Peoples Impersonators!

th-2.jpg

Filet

 

Turning Bad News to Good

First, Confess The Sin of Racism

xrayview
Racism in Plain Sight*

It is a clarifying moment… The x-rays are back from this laboratory.  These hypothetical x-rays come from Super Tuesday of the 2016 presidential primaries.  And what can be seen in these images?  There it is — the often hidden, not-so-attractive, practices and support of racism.  Surprisingly this racism comes from those who call themselves Evangelical Christians.  It is painfully clear.  Support for racial bigotry and discrimination is all too apparent in the way they vote and self-identify. 

The voters have spoken: Donald Trump won seven of the twelve primary elections in states.  He claimed the largest percentage of the so-called white Evangelical voters.  Just hours before these elections Trump dodged questions about support he was receiving from the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke, a well known white supremacist.  In what has become a typical media ploy, after he winked his appreciation for the racist support, Trump then changed his tune, saying that he had always opposed racism and, in typical form, he attacked the media saying that he was again being mistreated.

Can there be any doubt that behind the scenes and often breaking into the open racism has been employed to weaken the presidency of Barack Obama?  Like many things, few people are as articulate in identifying such realities as is poet, novelist, conservationist Wendell Berry.

8972.jpg
Wendell Berry**

Berry writes: “A good many people hoped and even believed that Barack Obama’s election to the presidency signified the end of racism in the United States.  It seems arguable to me that the result has been virtually the opposite:  Obama’s election has brought about a revival of racism.  Like nothing since the Southern Strategy, it has solidified the racist vote as a political quantity recognizable to politicians and apparently large enough in some places to decide an election…

Nobody can doubt that virtually all of the President’s political enemies would vehemently defend themselves against a charge of racism.  Virtually all of them observe the forms and taboos of political correctness.  If any very visible one of their own should insult the President by a recognized racial slur, they would all join in the predictable outrage.  But the paramount fact of this moment in the history of racism is that you don’t have to denominate the President by a recognized racial slur when his very name can be used as a synonym.” (Wendell Berry, Louisville Courier-Journal, September 15, 2015.  See more at: Berry, Revival of Racism.

I was stuck by a recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center that provided the recent history of active hate groups in the United States.  During the first eight years of the twenty-first century there were roughly 150 groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, White Nationalist, Racist Skinhead, and Neo-Nazi.  Their numbers changed very little in the period between 2000 and 2008.  However, in 2009, following the election of our president, the number of hate groups rose to over 500 — and today there are nearly 1,000 such groups in the United States!

I am not saying that white Evangelicals are all racists.  Still it is more than a little suspicious that there is not more resistance among these folks to Mr. Trump’s dog whistle to the racist fringe.  I still remember visiting a family farm, shortly after the election of Mr. Obama.  These were good people, church going folks, active in state politics.  I have known them for years.  As we talked my friends began to share email “jokes” about our president.  The language was crude, ugly, bigoted and demeaning projections.  It was raw, blatant racism in the depiction of our president. I was stunned — didn’t join in the laughter and spoke only a halting word of disagreement.  In hindsight, I wish I had said more.  In hindsight, I understand there are such “God fearing” folks and how they could vote for Mr. Trump.

In his insightful study One Nation Under God Kevin Kruse of Princeton University outlines the way the Christianity shifted in the twentieth century to become a public spiritual spectacle, useful to politicians and corporate leaders to pursue their goals of power and wealth.  Kruse cites William Lee Miller of Yale Divinity School who spoke of the American people who followed their president, Eisenhower, and “had become fervent believers in a very vague religion.”  (Kruse, p. 68)  Or, as Robert Bellah put it, “Is this not just another indication that in America, religion is considered a good thing but people care so little about it that it has lost any content whatsoever?” (Kruse, p. 68) This vague religiosity has been filled with many things — and as Evangelicalism has gained ascendancy too much of the “vague” content has been long on self concern and short on self criticism.

The vague content of American Christianity — Evangelicalism in this case, has been filled with patterns of thought and behavior that have almost no connection with the message or life of Jesus the Christ.  In fact, the vague content has been filled with shabby self indulgent understandings that are amazingly at odds with the Sermon on the Mount or the Lord’s Prayer

xraybrain

What would a beliefs x-ray show about a person’s real commitments?***

I do not seek to salvage this word “Evangelical.”  The damage, the identity theft, has been done.   Such a project belongs to others.  Thankfully, they are already at work and know it will take generations to correct what has gone amiss.  As suggested in an earlier post, these elections provide an x-ray into the flawed theological and faith perspectives of such Evangelicals. Sadly, the x-ray comes back saying the illness is at a critical stage.  This religiosity is shaped more by culture, history and prejudice than it is by the scriptures or sound theology.  Honestly, it is more a folk religion than a coherent faith practice.

What are we to do?  What is the church to do? In his column, “The Governing Cancer of Our Time, ” David Brooks speaks of the rise of authoritarianism (Brooks, Governing Cancer).  Over forty years ago, I served as part of a national research project on the church and racism.  In this work we discovered the connections between authoritarianism, status concern and racism in its various forms.  The question became how should the church, the People of God, respond?

We learned three important things:

  1. The church — especially the leaders in the church — must say NO to racism.  That which is obvious and that which is more subtle.  I wonder what difference it might have made if religious leaders and political leaders had stood up against Mr. Trump’s “birther” comments in 2008, or every year since?  One can’t help but think that the current dilemma of the Republican Party was brought about by their own silence and disrespect all along the way.
  2. Sermons and study groups alone have little effect on changing racist attitudes or behaviors.  (Sorry about this preachers and teachers.)  However, when sermons and education are combined with activities that engage parishoners with persons of a different race, especially activities that seek cooperatively to address racism, real change is possible.  We saw it in Chicago, South Bend, Fresno, Dallas and Los Angeles.
  3. Finally, a denomination’s commitment or congregation’s commitment to battle racism can be measured by the way budgets are made and expended.  In 1974 we found that almost all congregations reported they spent more on toilet paper or light bulbs in a year than they did on efforts to address racism.  Nothing much has changed over these four decades in this regard!

Silence.  Vague content to our faith.  Low commitment to change as evidenced in our practices and budgets.  These things, good reader, may be among the reasons for our current embarrassment.

Phil A

++++++++++++

Attributions:
  1. *Women viewing x-ray. Copyright: http://www.123rf.co/profile_rmarmion’>rmarmion / 123RF Stock Photo</a>.
  2. **Photo of Wendell Berry from newsinfo.iu.edu, (Indiana University media)
  3. ***Simulated x-ray of brain. Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_scottff72′>scottff72 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
     

Of Blessed Memory

“OF BLESSED MEMORY”

Only yesterday I was thinking of the three words spoken all too often these days — “Of Blessed Memory.” This is a phrase that typically follows the mention of the name of a friend who is now deceased.  That list among my friends “of blessed memory,” sadly, continues to grow.

Little did I realize that today, less that 24 hours after this awareness, I would speak those words about two GREAT women — Harper Lee and LaVerta Terry. They were both 89 years old — they certainly experienced life over the same decades, yet in very different ways.  I think they probably saw the world – its joys and challenges – in similar ways and would have been dear friends had they met.  Both will remain among my greatest teachers.

Harper Lee

harper-lee-02929
Harper Lee 1961 Monroeville Courthouse

Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Although I met Harper Lee only through her writing and the occasional news stories about her, I felt she was a friend.  We had a mutual friend, Thomas Lane Butts.  Tom who for years would visit with Harper weekly would keep me updated about Ms. Lee.  A treasured book on my shelf is a signed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird that he arranged for me during one of his weekly visits. I did meet Harper Lee’s older sister, Miss Alice Lee, at a church event over twenty years ago.  Every United Methodist active in denomination-wide activities knew of Miss Alice.  She was that remarkable lay leader and attorney from Monroeville, Alabama.

Harper Lee won a Pulitzer for To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960 which was an immediate success.  I can still remember reading late into the night while a senior in high school, caught up in the drama surrounding the trial of Tom Robinson in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama.  It was fictional but I knew it was about real life, real bigotry, real threats, real racism.  I loved picturing Scout, Jem, Boo and and most of all Atticus Finch in my mind’s eye.

So, it was a quite a joy this past year to read Go Set a Watchman, a

33973d3671642c141e5ef909cba487020df8c7a2
Harper Lee 2006

novel that was written prior to Mockingbird.  It was not as polished… and less idealistic.  It was not published back then.  Too bad.  In Watchman, Good and evil are not as easily separated… and Atticus?  Oh, sadly he turns out to be more true to real life as he buys into the racism of the town — for a larger “good.”  Alas.

I must say, however, that I found Watchman to be a great read, full of humor and a clear-eyed view of life.

LaVerta Terry

56c7ed3599a07.image
Source: Bloomington, Indiana Herald Times

LaVerta Terry became my friend and mentor when I served as her pastor in Bloomington, Indiana.  You can catch a glimpse of her dignity, intellect, her direct manner and memorable presence in this brief piece: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRrZTKik8L8

Nothing was better for me than hearing LaVerta Terry laugh — and usually at my expense.  She would tease and I would tease right back.  She usually won. However, one evening when Elaine had other commitments, I asked LaVerta to accompany me to the opera at the Indiana University.  (The opera is one of the great gifts of I.U. and LaVerta was a fine musician.)  When we arrived at the auditorium, LaVerta looked at me and said “What will people think, the two of us out on a date.”  I was ready for her and replied, “Don’t worry, they will think you are Elaine.” LaVerta was still laughing at the end of the first act.

In 1963, LaVerta Terry was the first African American hired by Public Schools in Monroe County.  Twenty years earlier, in 1944 she had won a scholarship to the Indiana University School of Music.  The remarkably sad story is that she had won first place in auditions with the Metropolitan Opera; however, when she arrived at I.U. with her luggage, she was denied a place in the dormitory because of her race.

Sadly, the persistent racial discrimination she found led her to complete her bachelors degree at Jarvis Christian College after some study at Tuskegee Institute.  What a sad story and yet she was a great spirit.  Later she became Assistant Director and Director of the Groups program at Indiana University.  This program focused on encouraging and supporting racial ethnic minority students, most were the first generation from their family to attend college.  Her students now are in places of leadership all around the world.  When I was pastor in Bloomington, I would often meet them and hear of the way Mrs. Terry had been a “difference maker” in their succeeding at the university and in life.

Laverta-Terry-1455972308 My friend La Verta Terry taught me much.  Mostly, she tried to teach me to speak the truth about difficult things with grace, elegance and style.  I will never match her in this; but often I can hear her voice in my head cheering me on.  And, like many of my dearest friends, she knew how to be a loving critic if I said or did something she thought might have been handled better.  LaVerta, lived on the other side of the white-privilege Harper wrote about.  They both knew the bitterness of racism and shaped beauty and meaning from the ugliness.

There are many, many others about whom I speak of with the words “Of Blessed Memory.”  Mostly I speak these words about folks I knew, some very well, and folks who shaped me for the good.  People like Daphne Mayorga Solis, Carl Dudley, Earl and Ethel Brewer, Stella Newhouse, Bob Greenleaf, Clarence Jordan, Scott Lawrence, Ernie and Polly Teagle, Ray Dean Davis, Bob Lyon, Gil James, Dow Kirkpatrick, Parker Pengilly, Liz Shindell, David Stewart, Jerry Hyde, Kenda Webb, Will Counts and Jane Tews… I am realizing this list could continue on and on.  It does.  Yes, the list goes on and on.  It is called “the Community of the Saints.”  Blessed are we who have known them, in person or otherwise; blessed are we indeed.

(You can read more about Tom Butts in the February 4, 2015 post Southern Exposure.  See: https://philipamerson.com/2015/02/04/hands-of-the-strong-southern-exposure-people/)

Hands of the Strong: Get Off My Shoulders!

“Get Off My Shoulders!  There is Work to Be Done.”

Amelia Boynton Robinson, 103, back in Selma with President Obama
Amelia Boynton Robinson, 103, back in Selma with President Obama

No one said it better.  “Get off my shoulders!  There is work to be done.”  Amelia Boynton Robinson was responding to those who sought to honor her by saying they were “standing on her shoulders.”  In March 1965 she nearly lost her life on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.  Severely beaten, unconscious, she was left for dead.  On March 7, 2015, at age 103, this time in a wheel chair and holding the hand of President Obama, she crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

 

“Get off my shoulders” she says, “There is work to be done.”

images-5Work to be done?  In 2015?  Yes, there is.  Don’t we have an African American President?  Isn’t this a Post-Racial society?  Well, yes our president is African American… but NO this is not a post racial society.

Today, less than a week after the remembrance of Selma’s “Bloody Sunday,” we see video of members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma singing a song full of racial vitriol and threat.  What is happening?  From Ferguson, Missouri there is the tragic shooting of two police officers at a rally outside the police station.  What is this about?

Yes, Ms. Boynton Robinson, THERE IS WORK TO BE DONE.

Racism continues to plague our society.  There are many causes, many reasons.  Racism remains because some view it too simplistically and some see it as overwhelmingly complex.  Some seem to imply that by simply cleaning up our language and no longer tolerating certain words (or by ending fraternity songs), we will eliminate racism.  I hear former congressman and television personality Joe Scarborough opining that the use of such language wasn’t a part of his experience growing up in the south or attending the University of Alabama.   There was racism around but he seemed to suggest he didn’t participate.  Really?  The implication seems to be that if we would all just clean up our language, we could end racism.  We might eliminate blatant, red-neck racist words but, while laudable, that would not be sufficient.  Language, while important, is one of the least essential elements contributing to the persistence of racism.

Language and behavior are not always aligned.  Prejudice and discrimination can be distinct realms.  Sociologists for decades have shown that what people say and how they act don’t always match.  It is possible for one to have pure language and only noble thoughts (good luck with that) and still act in ways that exclude, belittle and diminish another. 

Racism can also appear to be overwhelming as it is so complex.  Prejudice and discrimination are only two elements in this wicked brew.  There are also deeply embedded institutional and cultural patterns.    We could elect an African American president and still see the dismantling of voters rights in our nation.  This is the other side of our dilemma — we can treat racism as so complex that there is little we individually can do about it.  This is when the words “get off my shoulders” take on special meaning.  We are to keep moving ahead against the forces of injustice, despite the complexities.

For example, how will we now see the situation in Ferguson?  There is absolutely no justification for the shooting of two police officers simply because they are seeking to keep a demonstration peaceful.  My prayers are with those men who were shot — and their families.  It is also my hope that arrests are made soon.  The irony, of course, is that the rally on the evening of March 11, 2015 should have been one of celebration.  The U. S. Justice Department had documented the on-going patterns of discrimination and institutional damages against the black citizen in Ferguson over many years.  Changes were being made, judges and officials are being replaced by persons committed to making change.

And what happens now?  More violence.  This time directed toward the police — police there from other municipalities.  Is this what we have come to?  Are we really so caught up in an eye-for-an-eye sense of justice that anyone could think such a shooting is justified?  Faced with such patterns of revenge, I am astonished that the shooting of these officers in Ferguson did not result in greater violence.  The restraint of the police officials on the scene is, in my view, nothing short of remarkable — and is doubly worthy of praise. 

Now the question my friend — should the protests in Ferguson continue, even after these shootings?  It is not my call.  Others on the scene who are committed to nonviolence need to make this tough decision.  However, if there are citizens who still feel their voices have not been heard, then…  yes, the right to peaceful protest remains essential.  Such are the complexities of dealing with race in our time.  What is on display in Ferguson requires deeper thought and careful study.  The killing of Michael Brown this summer only tore the scab off of a wound that runs decades deep.  I commend to the reader the exceptional research done by Richard Rothstein on housing and job discrimination in St. Louis over the past century. These decades-old practices of racial discrimination helped established the template for the challenges we face today.  What is true of St. Louis is true of every city in our nation.  This report can be found at: http://s3.epi.org/files/2014/making-of-ferguson-final.pdf.

A video interview with Mr. Rothstein can be seen at: http://www.epi.org/event/the-making-of-ferguson-with-sherrilyn-ifill-and-richard-rothstein/

The mystery of why racism persists may lie in our temptation to view it too simply — or to become overwhelmed by the complexities of continuing institutional and cultural realities.  Most of us live our lives in places where we don’t easily see how we can make a difference.  We can be careful in our language and be nice to others but is there more?  We are more comfortable standing on the shoulders of others rather than seeing the work around us to be done.  This work may be as simple as greeting a friend, or as challenging as joining a protest march. 

Many of you make a difference every day, in your places of work or play.  Sometimes it is a smile, sometimes an appreciative or corrective word, sometimes it is making a donation, sometimes it is writing an elected official, sometimes it is joining a project that affirms racial justice.

This past fall a group of friends gathered in Chicago to celebrate my spouse Elaine’s birthday.  I watched and listened remembering the ways Elaine has learned and acted to seek racial justice.  Like Joe Scarborough, she grew up in north Florida.  She too was taught not to say ugly racist words.  However, she looks back with astonishment on the reality of discrimination, segregation and Jim Crow laws in Tallahassee where she grew up.  I have been privileged to watch as Elaine has journeyed ahead in her own ways, seeking to end discrimination and promote racial justice.  Her work over the years as teacher, school board member, advocate for justice and her life as friend to so many signals an abiding witness to the work that still is to be done. 

Recently I was surprised when Elaine said she had arranged to volunteer in a school nearby.  I was proud for her and I also chuckled to myself when thinking about the witness Elaine will be making.    

IMG_0778
Dr. Adrienne Mims and Dr. Elaine Amerson, September 28, 2014.

There is work that we all have to do.  Won’t you join?