Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Tomahawk Chop

A number of years ago, something called the "Tomahawk Chop" was quite popular at Washington Redskins games.  One of the most salient things I recall reading was Jane Fonda--and if I recall correctly, her husband at the time was involved in ownership?--saying in response to criticisms by Native Americans of the Tomahawk Chop at the games was  something along the lines of "I did not mean it to be offensive.  However, when you tell me that it offends you and that is not my intention, then I will stop it."

I have used that in my classes over the years--it is not about "political correctness."  In fact, I come unglued sometimes at the term PC or political correctness.  It is about valuing people, valuing human beings, and how we feel, language ourselves, want to be named, and want to be respected.  It is about the dignity and respect.

So when I read the New York Post "defend" its racist (whether intentional or unintentional) cartoon depicting the author of the stimulus bill as a dead chimpanzee when the author of that bill was President Obama, then I have to ask myself why we still have not understood this concept of valuing people, and treating them with dignity and respect, and thinking about what our actions actually mean to others.  An apology saying "I did not mean to offend you" is one thing--when that is truly the case.  But the Post did not really make an apology, as in the next sentence, the editor said, "Except for some of you who just overreact to everything and don't deserve an apology."  I took that personally--I am one of those people who "over-react"--when I see a cartoon that shows the violence of shooting someone--anyone for any reason--and cavalierly passing that off, I am angry.   It is not the shooting as much as the cavalier attitude that says it does not matter that really gets to me.  Like Amadou Diallo, for example.  Or Sean Bell.  Or Billey Joe from Lucedale, Mississippi a few weeks ago.  Or the Jena 6.  Or letting black people drown in jail in New Orleans when the city flooded.  Or the Cradle to Prison Pipeline in Mississippi.  

When I see a reference that invokes the ugly racist image comparing Africans or other dark ethnic groups with apes and monkeys, I am not inclined to accept an apology.  I want it to stop--period.  When I see that Mississippi is channeling young black boys as early as 6 years old into the penal system, I don't want an apology.  I want it to stop.  When I read that a young black man is more likely to die before he is 24 than to graduate from college, I don't want excuses.  I want it to stop.  How can we not understand and get that it is deeply offensive--to all of us?  If we cannot understand that by now, then clearly, we have not been paying attention for at least our own life times, if not for long before that.

I do not know what it will take for us to have the kind of honest and thoughtful discussions to confront this, but I hope that we will somehow take the New York Post cartoon incident, the Billey Joe Lucedale, Mississippi incident, and all the other ongoing incidents that deal with every ethnic group whether Aleut, African, Belizean, Caribbean, Caucasian, ad infinitum and begin to ask ourselves "what are we so afraid of?"

Thirty years ago I participated in a workshop.  In one exercise, we had to close our eyes and imagine that we were terrified of the person sitting next to us.  We had to feel the fear and scream as if the person next to us was really someone of whom to be afraid.  The room was filled with screaming; it sounded as if we were really afraid.  It felt as if we were really afraid.

Then, the workshop leader said calmly: Now, understand that the person you are sitting next to and of whom you are afraid--is sitting next to YOU--and is afraid of you.   

1 comment:

Gigi said...

Couldn't have said it better. I don't understand why people can't get it. :)