Tim Giago: Racism and hypocrisy over Imus

Let’s talk about racism and hypocrisy today.

Several years ago I received a phone call from my friend Frank LeMere, a Native American activist. He advised me to tune into a radio show called “Imus in the Morning.” To be frank, no pun intended, I had never heard of Imus or of his morning show. LeMere was upset because he had heard some racial remarks about Indians on the show and since I write a nationally syndicated news column, he thought that I should listen to the show and then write about the racist comments.

The show was aired locally on KTOQ radio and so on my morning walks I fastened on my headset and listened to the Imus in the Morning radio show. As a matter of fact, I got to the point that I actually enjoyed the show and when I discovered that it was simulcast on MSNBC, I became a fan not because I overlooked any of the racial commentary, but because there were so many good journalists and politicians on the show that were faced with the prospects of answering questions they would never be asked on the other talking heads programs.

I was also impressed by the work Imus was doing for young cancer victims, children with autism and for his stand on the war in Iraq and his subsequent work for the wounded soldiers of the Iraq war. He also spoke out early and strongly about the way Black Americans were treated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

I have always believed that it is a crime to condemn an individual after a life of good deeds for one stupid mistake. Was Jesse Jackson banned from radio and television or public appearances for life when he referred to Jews as hymies and to New York City as Hymietown? Of course not. And was the Reverend Al Sharpton similarly banned for his racist remarks about whites during the Tawana Braley episode. An article in the Associated Press datelined Texarkana, Texas even referred to Sharpton as a “race hustler” during that nefarious affair.

Richard Prince, an African American journalist uses his post, Richard Prince’s Journal – isms, to publish commentary from minority journalists. I know Richard because he invited me to speak at Florida A&M, FAMU, to the black student body about the use of Indians as mascots several years ago. I spoke there hoping that I could convince Black Americans that it was insulting to American Indians to be used as mascots for America’s fun and games.

I used the analogy of honoring African Americans by naming a sports team the Washington Blackskins. And in so honoring them the radical fans would have the freedom to paint their faces black, wave spears in the air replicating the infamous “tomahawk chop” of the Atlanta Braves, and to make vociferous chants mimicking the perceived chants of Native Americans. The black students at FAMU got it!

I emailed Richard Prince a couple of weeks ago and asked him if he could assist me in getting a 30-minute forum at the upcoming UNITY Convention, a convention that brings all of the minority journalism associations together, so that I could address them on the issue of using Indians as mascots. He advised to contact the UNITY president directly. I haven’t done this as yet, but I do hope they will contact me after reading this column.

To me it is so very hypocritical of African Americans to spout remarks of racism every time people like Don Imus make stupid remarks and yet themselves show up at Washington Redskin football games or Kansas City Chiefs games decked out in feathers and war paint, waving tomahawks, and believing that in doing so they are honoring Native Americans. This is the height of hypocrisy.

When Chinese Americans castigated Pekin High School in Pekin, Illinois for using “Chinks” as its mascot, the practice ceased. Why is that any different than using the color of a people’s skin as a mascot? I call the percutaneous selection of a mascot by Washington the equivalent of using the “N” word, and I have since used it as the “R” word when referring to this professional football team. But my pleadings have, for the most part, fallen on deaf ears in the Black community.

Let me reiterate that is not an honor for Native Americans to be aped and ridiculed at sporting events across America on a weekly basis. We are human beings and not mascots for America’s fun and games. And please do not bring up the Fighting Irish, Vikings, Celtics or any other American racial mascot because if you do not know the difference of what is done to Native Americans as compared to these other mascots, you are living in a world of extreme ignorance.

Native Americans are small in numbers with little political or societal clout and we have been relegated to the roles of savages, murderers, rapists and anarchists by the movies and the media. Don Imus said something stupid and he has apologized. Rev. Sharpton and Jesse Jackson said something stupid, but did they apologize?

I certainly do not expect the Black community to come to the defense of American Indians when they protest the use of their skin as a mascot for the Washington football team, but I do expect that they shed this aura of hypocrisy if they choose to support this mascot.

I recall when a local newspaper, referring to the Indian basketball team from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, expounded upon the athleticism of the “Redskins from Pine Ridge,” and lauded their ability to run, jump and shoot.

Does that sound familiar to most African Americans? I implore America’s Black community to walk a mile in our moccasins and help us tear down the racist use of Native Americans as mascots for America’s sporting events.

McClatchy News Service in Washington, DC distributes Tim Giago’s weekly column. He can be reached at najournalists@rushmore.com. Giago was also the founder and former editor and publisher of the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers and the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the class of 1990 – 1991. Clear Light Books of Santa Fe, NM (harmon@clearlightbooks.com) published his latest book, “Children Left Behind”.

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