Derrick Z. Jackson

More offensive than the vuvuzela

By Derrick Z. Jackson
Globe Columnist / June 22, 2010

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TOO BAD American sports fans are not as exorcised about the tomahawk chop as soccer purists are about the vuvuzela. The deafening blaring of the one-note plastic horns at the World Cup is so irritating that they have been banned at Wimbledon as well as the top football, rugby, and cricket stadiums in Cardiff, Wales. The Gaelic Athletic Association and the German Borussia Dortmund football team have also banned them.

I am certainly not here to defend the vuvuzela, as two hours of “bzzzzzzzzzzz,’’ is not my idea of spectator sports. But I wish we could import some of this outrage for more serious sports matters. No one in the United States has any business criticizing the vuvuzela when we still have the ridiculous raising and lowering of arms in the tomahawk chop at Atlanta Braves baseball and Florida State football games, with fans chanting to alleged Indian music as if they were at a powwow. The Cleveland Indians still have Chief Wahoo with a grin that for decades now has been unacceptable.

The Washington Redskins still hold onto a nickname that today could never have a counterpart such as “Blackskins,’’ “Whiteskins,’’ “Yellowskins,’’ or “Brownskins.’’ The new National League Hockey champion is the Chicago Blackhawks.

There have been noteworthy victories in reducing the stereotypes. The National Collegiate Athletic Association five years ago announced that schools could not use mascots, nicknames, or imagery of ethnic origin in postseason play. Rather than be iced from tournaments, most colleges have either changed their name or received tribal permission to continue them. The University of North Dakota is preparing to change its nickname from the Fighting Sioux. In South Carolina, Newberry College two weeks ago changed its nickname from the Indians to the Wolves.

High schools in many states have also been slowly modernizing their nicknames and rituals, including those in Massachusetts. Last year, the Gill-Montague Regional School Committee voted to end the display of the tomahawk chop and its accompanying music at Turner Falls High School. School committee chair Mary Kociela said at the time, “We have a responsibility as leaders to foster inclusiveness and respect in all that we do.’’

A fresh reason to maintain that responsibility came this spring in a study on the effect of American Indian mascots, done by researchers at The College of New Jersey and Ohio State, Illinois and Pacific universities. They found that participants who were exposed to stereotypical Native American mascots and icons “were more willing to endorse stereotypes about a different minority group.’’ The study found that “even if the intention of the depiction may have been to honor and respect, the ramification of exposure to the portrayal is heightened stereotyping of racial minorities.’’

Lead author Chu Kim-Prieto of The College of New Jersey said in a telephone interview, “I don’t want to make it like people become racists just because they are exposed to the stereotypes . . . But the implication is that the more willing one is to endorse stereotypes, the more that it negatively impacts efforts at multicultural understanding.’’

It is long past time to end that kind of exposure. Curse or ban the vuvuzela if you will. But back home, our Indian sports stereotypes speak louder than 100,000 plastic horns.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at

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