Mascot Mania: Cultures are not your costume

Written By Sarah Gibson

Hi. This is a piece about a very ugly side of mascottery: the surprisingly common practice of using caricatures of indigenous people as mascots. Allow me to provide a content warning to those who may need it: I will be talking about indigenous people in America, and how they’ve been treated historically. Before we start talking, I want to make a few things clear. I am a white person, and my whiteness gives me a lot of privilege. No amount of reading could ever replace the ability to talk about this as an indigenous person, and I want to make it clear that we should always listen to them first. If an oppressed culture so clearly communicates to you that something that you’re doing is wrong, you do not question them, because you will never be able to access the headspace needed to process your own actions the way that they can. To be honest, most mascot news at the present time orbits around this topic, and I’ve put it off writing about it for so long because I wanted to make sure that I was ready to write about this.

However, as Point Park’s resident Mascot Expert, I’ve been asked about this before. I just wanted to make it very clear here that we should put the thoughts and opinions of indigenous people first, but as someone whose column is just about mascots, I felt it would be a disservice to flat out avoid addressing it, because that’s just ignoring it.

 Here’s my opinion, in short: cultures are not costumes. Racial mascots are just another cultural kick in the gut to the people whose ancestors were raped, murdered and sold by white people. I’ve heard a lot of arguments about this, and they all hold water about as well as a bowl made of cotton candy would. 

Having a mascot based on indigenous people isn’t a ‘compliment,’ and it certainly isn’t honoring them. When you base your mascot on an entire group of people and you create a caricature of that race for the mascot, you’re encouraging your fans to act like that caricature.

As a mascot fan, I think of mascots as something to be bonded over. Mascots are supposed to be for everyone. When you make fun of someone’s race by turning it into a mascot, what does that say to the indigenous children watching? What does it say to the children who aren’t indigenous? It communicates a normalization, which in turn perpetuates this hateful line of thinking.
If you genuinely thought that enjoying indigenous mascots was supportive, it isn’t, but you definitely should have known that by now. If you really want to help indigenous people, put some effort in trying to be a real ally. Educate yourself on indigenous tribes and communities. Promote indigenous-owned businesses. Get involved with groups that campaign, lobby and protest for the land rights of indigenous people. Long story short, if you really want to show that you appreciate indigenous people, maybe try listening to real ones instead of defending some guy in a mascot costume.