Saturday, February 17, 2007

Big heap thoughtcrime

The NCAA has a policy not to allow certain universities to host postseason events, mostly on the grounds of "hostile and abusive" campus atmospheres.

This comes in handy when Penn State decides to flood the quad with chlorine gas on purpose, but not so much in other circumstances - for example, when your team is named after anything having to do with Native Americans. The latest casualty is Chief Illiniwek of the University of Illinois. It turns out that their appeal was in vain, and the University is striking its tent on this issue.

The major objection to the Chief, who has been around since 1926, is that he trivializes and stereotypes Indians. Another objection, seen here, is that his dance is too authentic, and thus trivializes Indian religious belief.

Lost in all of this is the actual history of Illiniwek, gleaned fairly easily from the University's athletic department website. What's written there suggests that the whole point of the Chief is educative, to show the strengths and virtues of the Native Americans:
The expression "Illiniwek" was first used in conjunction with the University of Illinois by football coach Bob Zuppke in the mid 1920's. Zup was a philosopher and historian by training and inclination, and he was intrigued by the concept the Illini peoples held about their identity and aspirations. They spoke a dialect of the Algonquin language and used the term "Illiniwek" to refer to the complete human being -- the strong, agile human body; the unfettered human intellect; the indomitable human spirit.

Agile and strong, unfettered mind, indomitable spirit... sign me up, please.

The first performance was well-received. The first student spent the following summer studying Indian culture, and his replacement, who wanted to give Illiniwek a genuine costume, hitchhiked to South Dakota to explain his intentions and was made an authentic outfit by three Sioux women. "Since then, five different authentic outfits have been used by Chief Illiniwek. The one used in performances now was purchased in 1983 from Sioux Chief Frank Fools Crow..."

This mutual cooperation and understanding is a little too much to bear for certain folks, who've banded together to be a colossal pain in the headdress. Now to start off with, I am going to be clear: they have the God-given right to be as colossal and painful as they please. I would never silence them. But that doesn't mean I agree with them. In fact, given some of the statements printed there, it's hard to disagree because one isn't sure what they mean. The most convoluted screed so far is dated November 17, 2006, by D Anthony Tyeeme Clark, "Why I Don't Do Interviews About the Chief." (Press releases, yes. Interviews? People questioning me about my public statements? Oppresion!)

The problem with print and television journalists is that they frame the issue of Chief Illiniwek around the notion of “objectivity” as it tends to be constituted in a so-called balanced journalism.
It figures. One of the few times the media actually strive to be balanced and objective, they get condemned.

Emerging out of a dominant culture and power of antagonism that elides the play of power in racism and colonialism,
Uh-oh. I smell some rifted writing coming on.

journalists uphold a racist, colonialist, ...
You already mentioned that.

... misogynist, and heterosexist status quo when assuming two opposite sides:
Oppresors! How dare anyone assume TWO sides!

... a multi-racial, majority-white critical mass who, through the lens of critical cultural theory, represent a form of homo-social Chief love rooted historically and psychologically in the fear of being emasculated (of losing white-male heterosexist power and privileges), and “the Native Americans,” who in local mass media represent chief hate, as well as assimilation.
It was more confusing, believe me, before I corrected the punctuation - but even the repaired version is nonsense. He seems to be accusing journalists of assigning people to two categories, both of which he himself has invented and neither of which is complimentary.

I guarantee you that the critical mass doesn't look at things through the lens of critical cultural theory. They're not gullible enough. They couldn't care less, and thank God for it. For example, Mr. Clark, looking through his lens, darkly, thinks that people's love for Chief Illiniwek is based on fear of being emasculated. I think the psychologists call this "projection," personally, but leave that aside for a moment. About the only thing clear here is that Mr. Clark prefers demonizing those who disagree to explaining his objection to the Chief. He's hit every PC buzzword for "my enemies are evil" - misogyny, racism, heterosexism, and colonialism. (I wouldn't be surprised if they all had really big carbon footprints, too.) He's so opposed to the objective approach that he's decided to be barking mad to to set himself apart.

Chief Illiniwek can be understood simultaneously as a dignified symbol of the university and an example of what Renato Resaldo terms “imperialist nostalgia,” a widespread tactic used by white peoples and people of color collaborators in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States (and, before apartheid ended, South Africa) to cover up domination and transform those responsible for the oppression of indigenous peoples—including American Indians—to act as innocent bystanders.
Um... really? So, it's insulting for Illiniwek to be a dignified symbol? I don't get it. Historically, oppressors destroyed the cultural and social practices of those they conquered. Rome didn't celebrate Carthaginian or Etruscan achievements, they obliterated every possible trace of them and plowed the very soil with salt. The admirable stuff (like the Hellenic gods and art) they simply stole and renamed. It's a strange oppression that consults with an indigenous people for a more authentic expression of their nobility and power.

Thus, love for the high-stepping, jumping official symbol of the University comes into view in ways that empower adoring fans and university alumni to ignore the history (e.g., genocide) and its lingering residue (such as legal title to stolen land) from which most white people and many non-Native American people of color continue to reap untold benefit.
Oh, criminy. Look, the U.S. is not giving back Chicago, OK? For one thing, they built it. For another, Native American persons have equal rights under law with everyone else, so even with the country's faults we're coming out ahead of most similar situations in history. (In fact, since Indian nations are still technically sovereign, sometimes Native Americans have more rights under law in US Courts than they do in tribal proceedings - little things such as trial by jury and the right to counsel.) The treatment of the conquered Native American peoples isn't something to be proud of, but making the misdeeds of history the only parts that matter is patently dishonest.

Oh, and he does go on... it's all about power, blah blah, and "the struggle for hegemony." He's half-right, at least, on that count - but he's the one who wants the hegemony. He wants the University of Illinois to adhere to his ideal of white behavior: bowing and scraping and forever apologizing, pausing every moment to acknowledge the evils of their past (but NEVER the successes or virtues); and forbidden to admire a culture other than their own. This permanent sorry is more acceptable than a vigorous debate between free minds: the best way for us hegemonic oppressors to deal with our profound dread and apprehension is to be made to constantly feel it.

Dominant culture and power constitute a reaction formation of visual impressions, assumptions, stereotypes, and expectations that transform unacceptable urges into their opposite and free white people and their people of color allies from the necessity of dealing with profound dread and apprehension.
Just to recap - you're not allowed to admire a foreign culture, and you're not allowed to transform unacceptable urges into their opposite. In the old days, that was called improving your character; now it's just a smokescreen, a way to dodge unpleasant feelings.
Thus, through an enduring life-cycle of repetitive signifying practices (from children's literature and activities such as “sitting like an Indian” to scouting and Y-Indian Guides and Princesses) Illinoisans link their children and themselves through reaction formation to the institutionalized authority of spiritual guides such as Chief Illiniwek who capture their imaginations and offer them cathartic reproof of their ancestors' injustices and conceal their complicity in the ongoing oppression of Indian peoples.

As for the "substance" of the objections: scouting? Lord Baden-Powell, trying to instill character in young men, was doing evil? He was oppressing Native Americans? Horse feathers. All of these hundred-dollar words really just boil down to one thing: D Anthony Tyeeme Clark is furiously determined to take his offense. If facts don't back up his umbrage, he will denounce them as false objectivity. If Illiniwek were a caricatured savage he'd complain on those grounds, but since he's meant as a noble figure of admiration and pride for the school, he'll complain on those grounds instead. Admiring the Chief means oppressing the rest of us! You are complicit! And I will toss as much sociology and grievance jargon at you as I need to avoid your questions!

Really, if he just says, "Chief Illiniwek offends me," then we can discuss why. If he further says, "I think that holding up Illiniwek as a wholesome image after having warred against actual Indians, confining them to reservations, is patronising lip service," then we have an actual position to be argued. In doing so, he may actually change some minds - but he also runs a risk of having his own mind changed. People discussing an idea from two different sides are in one sense colleagues: searching for a consensus, trying to reach a true answer or at least an accurate understanding of each other's thinking. This is obviously unacceptable - he says as much when he brands those who cooperate "collaborators." Descriptively, it's accurate, but he's not trying to define, but conjure. When he says collaborator he wants us to think quisling. Beyond that he doesn't want us to really think at all. He's so proud we are not allowed to admire his pride, his people so noble that we are not permitted to want to be like them. According to Mr. Clark, we are permitted only to be inferior and acknowledge it, never to improve on it. This amounts to racism, and Mr. Clark's fancy dress terms don't make his hatred virtuous, any more than putting a warthog in a prom dress makes it the homecoming queen.

Forgive me if I decline to share in delusion, however erudite.

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