Chattanooga Free Press banner
An Electronic Publication of the Chattanooga Free Press, Chattanooga TN

Tuesday, 9 January 1996, p A4

  Everyone's Mascot [editorial by Lee Anderson, publisher and editor]

Everyone's Mascot

Chief Moccanooga has led the cheers for the Mocs of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for many years now. One might suppose that UTC's choice of a mascot bespoke a certain affection and regard for American Indians. But that's not the way some local activists see it.

"This is racism, pure and simple," says Tom Kunesh, who says he is a Lakota Indian. "Whites or 'Euro-Americans' do not own Native American culture, nor do they own the right to play-act what they believe to be a stereotype of a Native American."

This being America, people who live here -- even "Euro-Americans" -- have a right to do a great many things that may or may not please their neighbors. So we don't think UTC should be bullied into changing its mascot. If Chief Moccanooga's days are numbered, that should be through the free choice of the UTC administration, faculty and student body.

One change that many might embrace would be for Chief Moccanooga to dress in an authentic Cherokee costume rather than in the feathered "war bonnet" of the horse Indians who roamed the Great Plains.

"If the mascot could be more of an accurate portrayal of one of the Southeastern tribes, then it would be a compromise," says John Anderson, an Iroquois and a UTC graduate.

We hope UTC will look favorably on that idea. And in the interest of compromise, we propose also that the parties concerned take a more accurate view of the issues raised by critics of mascots such as Chief Moccanooga.

First of all, a team mascot, even if decked out in a stereotypical manner, is not intended as derogatory.

The University of Mississippi Rebels' mascot is the stereotype of a Southern "colonel," complete with droopy mustache and goatee. That doesn't anger the Sons of Confederate Veterans, nor should it.

Texas A&M University has a small dog named "Reveille" as a mascot, but the school, whose student body once was entirely military, is represented also by a cartoon drill instructor who looks like a cross between Sgt. Snorkel and Arnold Schwarzenegger. No offense is given or taken.

Second, a mascot does not dehumanize American Indians. It puts them in a class not only with lions and tigers and bears, but also with Vikings, patriots, steelworkers, meat packers, oil drillers, prospectors, padres, rangers, mariners -- in other words, with everyone strong, brave and manly. To have an Indian mascot thus is hardly a racist put-down.

Third, aboriginal cultures are not the exclusive heritage of those who today call themselves "Native Americans." Even people with no Indian ancestry have a right as Americans to take pride in the culture of all who have ever lived here. And there has been so much inter-marriage over the years that Indians and Europeans cannot possibly be separated into distinct groups.

The Randolph family of Virginia, for example, counts Pocahontas, "Virginia's First Lady," among its progenitors.

Will Rogers, the quintessential American, was a Cherokee, though his ancestry was mostly white.

Most important is this point:

Every human being in the Western Hemisphere is a "Native American." Those who would exclude any person from that title on the basis of his ancestry are in fact displaying a racist attitude toward their neighbors.

Some of the people whose ancestors came across the Bering Strait centuries ago may wish Columbus had never "discovered" America; who can blame them for wanting a lightly populated continent all for themselves? Who wouldn't be stirred by such a dream? But at the same time, who can indulge it?

Some whose ancestors hail from Europe or Africa may likewise wish Columbus had never crossed the Atlantic, but most have found opportunities here.

Then there are those of us who are happy to share our world with all our neighbors, regardless of ancestry. We believe most Americans feel that way. Agreeing as we do on this one big issue, we shouldn't have any trouble finding agreement on such a small thing as a college mascot.

And we should never be unnecessarily sensitive, seeing an affront when none is intended.


Lee Anderson, Publisher -

Tuesday, 9 January 1996, p A4

Copyright 1996, The Chattanooga Free Press