Diane Vogel Ferri is a teacher, poet and writer. Her essays have been published in Scene Magazine, Cleveland Christmas Memories, Raven’s Perch, and by Cleveland State University among others. Her poems can be found in numerous journals. Her chapbook, Liquid Rubies, was published by Pudding House. The Volume of Our Incongruity was published by Finishing Line Press. Diane’s essay, “I Will Sing for You” was featured at the Cleveland Humanities Fest in 2018. Her novel, The Desire Path can be found on Amazon. She is a graduate of Kent State University and holds an M.Ed from Cleveland State University.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Chief Wahoo and the Cleveland Indians

As in all matters of conscience and compassion one must try to put themselves in another human being’s shoes.  So hear me out.

If you’ve ever been a Cleveland Indians fan I’m sure you have Chief Wahoo on something—I know I do—and no one will ever come and take that sentimental merchandise away. But just because we’ve seen something all of our lives doesn’t mean it’s right.  The use of Chief Wahoo is purely sentimental. It means nothing more than that. Should a sentimental desire be more important than the dignity and respect of a portion of our population that have lived in misery, poverty and discrimination ever since white people arrived here? Would it be possible to just give these fellow Americans a break for once?

If you love Chief Wahoo and think he is harmless consider this: Chief Wahoo is a caricature, which is defined as “a comically or grotesquely exaggerated representation of someone.” It’s a parody, a lampoon, a satire —none of which are complimentary. Native Americans do not have apple red skin, buck teeth and dopey grins. Did you know the Cleveland Indians are the only U.S. team to depict a race as a logo?

Did you know the feather (in Wahoo’s cap) is a sacred symbol to Native Americans? How would you like it if a sports team used a symbol that was meaningful to you in a flippant way?  What if a team decided to be called the Cleveland Christians and use a cross in a disrespectful way, or the Cleveland Jews and use an image of the Torah along with a goofy face.

Native Americans have been pushed off their own land, mistreated, discriminated against, and are the poorest people in this country. Thirty-six percent of Native American families live below the poverty line compared to 9% of the rest of us. They live on reservations with no running water, no electricity, plumbing or phone service. We recently witnessed them being treated like lesser citizens again on the Standing Rock Reservation for trying to protect their sacred land and access to clean water and they lost once again.

For over forty years Native Americans have been asking the Cleveland Indians to stop using Chief Wahoo as a logo.  If you don’t think Chief Wahoo is a racist symbol then I’m guessing you have never experienced racism.  Many racist and offensive traditions have gone away for good reasons. For example, my mother sang in minstrel shows in the 40s with a blackface and she thought nothing of it then. That didn’t mean it was a good idea. Have you missed those minstrel shows?

Will you be less of an Indians fan without Wahoo? If so, you’re not much of a fan. Will you enjoy the games less if the players donn’t have Wahoo on their sleeve? If so, you must not be a baseball fan after all.  Like I said, how about giving these fellow Americans a break? It won’t hurt you at all, but it hurts them.