Meet the Native American grandmother who just beat the Redskins
June 18, 2014
The woman who was the driving force behind the cases that led the U.S. Patents and Trademarks Office to cancel the federal trademarks for the Washington Redskins Wednesday is 69-year-old grandmother and longtime Native American activist, Suzan Harjo.
"Suzan has been fighting this since 1992. Native American people have been fighting this since 1972. … The reason it has come up recently is because Suzan has worked really hard to bring this in the public eye," Amanda Blackhorse, one of the five Native American plaintiffs in the case filed before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, told Business Insider.
"She’s just a tremendous woman. She’s a strong Native American woman, and I’m so happy to have met her and to have been a part of all this because this is what we need to do," Blackhorse added.
Harjo was born in Oklahoma and is of Cheyenne and Muscogee ancestry. In a conversation with Business Insider shortly after the U.S. Patents and Trademarks Office’s decision was announced, Harjo said she became involved with political activism while she was still in school.
"One time when I was in school, I was selected by our Cheyenne leadership to come to Washington with them. And when my family asked, ‘Why do you want her to go?’ They said, ‘Because she talks good and she ain’t afraid of nobody.’ So, those became resumé items," Harjo recounted.
In high school, Harjo was inspired to fight against what she describes as “racist stereotypes in American sports” because of an Oklahoma Native American activist named Clyde Warrior.
"He made a personal cause of getting rid of the mascot ‘Little Red’ at the University of Oklahoma," Harjo said of Warrior. "Most of the Indians in Oklahoma couldn’t stand ‘Little Red’ and we called him the dancing idiot. He was always portrayed by a white guy in Indian costume."
Little Red was eventually banished by University of Oklahoma President J. Herbert Hollomon in 1970.
According to Harjo, activists involved in the effort to eliminate Native American mascots always viewed the Washington Redskins football team as “the worst” offender.
"No matter where you went or what was the mascot fight of the moment in any locale, everyone would always say, ‘And the worst one is right there in the nation’s capital, the Washington team name,’" said Harjo. "It was the worst one, everyone pointed to it."
Harjo moved to Washington D.C. in 1974. Soon after her arrival, she said someone gave her and her husband tickets to a Redskins game.
"We’re football fans and we can separate the team name from the game, so we went to a game. And we didn’t stay for the game at all, because people started — someone said something, ‘Are you this or that?’ So, we started to answer, then people started like pulling our hair," explained Harjo. "And they would call us that name and it was very weird for us. So, we just left and never went to another game."
Harjo said her experience at the Redskins game “solidified” her opposition to stereotypical Native American sports mascots.
"That just solidified it for me because it wasn’t just namecalling, it was what the name had promoted," Harjo said. "That’s the example of what objectification is. You strip the person of humanity and they’re just an object and you can do anything.
You can pull their hair! I wouldn’t even touch someone else!”
Harjo, who eventually became the first president of the Morning Star Institute, a D.C.-based national Native rights organization, began looking for ways to change the Redskins name. She said she settled on the strategy of trying to get the team’s trademark canceled after she was contacted by a Minneapolis lawyer named Stephen Baird in 1992.
According to Harjo, Baird was working on a law review article about his theory the Redskins’ trademark could be canceled based on a section of the U.S. Trademark Act prohibiting trademarks that “may disparage … persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols.” Harjo said Baird heard she had “looked at all sorts of causes of action, and not settled on any of them, and had been talking with various attorneys about ways that we could approach this.” When Baird called her, Harjo said his “first question” was why she rejected using the Patent and Trademark Office as a forum to fight the Redskins name.
"And I said, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about,’" Harjo remembered with a laugh. "Once he explained his theory, I was so intrigued by his theory. It was very different from the kinds of things we’d been looking at. … It didn’t interfere with free speech, it wasn’t even forcing a decision. What it’s saying is, ‘Here’s what the federal government will or will not sanction.’ Because, it’s the federal government’s role to grant the exclusive privilege of making money off this name."
— Chapter: Sister in Opryland 1952 from Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe by Gayle Wald
These are my extremely quick “fan” made designs for the upcoming Disney movie “Moana”.
Stop. There is a reason why “fan” is in quotations.
I am not a fan. I am full of dread. Disney is about to tackle a Polynesian princess and that terrifies me.
For one, I am so angry at all of the fanmade designs I have seen. The sexy stereotyped Polynesian designs that somehow condenses hundreds of different cultures into a tube top and a a ti-leaf skirt.
Do you have any idea how offensive that is. That would be like making Mulan and saying “Hey she’s Asian, let’s throw her in a yukata”. Do you know how offensive it is that people think that Polynesian is a singular race? Hint: Massively.
I picked four cultures out of the vastness of Polynesia and each design is clearly different from the next. Each design is 100% endemic to the culture it is from, and it’s not even the tip of the iceberg.
We are not a homogenized area of the world. We have different languages, traditions, and ways of life. We are not all the same. We are not coconut bras and grass skirts. We never needed compasses. We are celestial navigators - it hasn’t died out. We journeyed across the Pacific using the stars and waves to guide us. We perfected aquaculture and sustainable living. Our heritages are rich and varied and beautiful.
We are not a tube top and a ti-leaf skirt. We are not an indistinguishable fabric swathed on brown bodies with random flowers in our hair. Stop fetishizing us! You have the internet at your discretion, and this is the best you can come up with?
Secondly, the fact that Moana will be dealing with mythology in Polynesia makes me want to crumple up and cry. It angers me to no end that people keep playing fast and loose with things they think are obsolete. Most of us still believe in our Gods (myself included). My family has a heiau, as recent as one generation ago my family has stories of conversing with Gods. Yet, people act like it’s fair game. Last I checked if anyone made retcons to the undead carpenter millions threw a shitfit, but because we are a marginalized people our beliefs are not allowed some respect?
It makes me angry and I won’t apologize for it. It makes me angry that when I call out other minorities for falsely portraying or marginalizing my culture (and the cultures of my fellow Polynesians) I get the “well I’m a minority too so I’m excused”. That is the worst offense, when people who should know better still treat you like an obsolete toy to be bandied about as characters.
We are indigenous people and we deserve respect. We deserve for people to care about our culture. For people to be afraid that the nightmare which created whitewashed Pocahontas might happen to us. If you call yourself an ally, or self-aware, I demand that you fear for us. I beg that you question what may happen in the wake of what Disney has been spewing out. Don’t be part of the base that turns Moana into nothing more than a token.
We were too young to stop Pocahontas from being made. We are not too young to afflict a change and prevent it from happening again. Signal boost my words, or write your own. Do something. Don’t let a movie go out across the world that could damage those that have already taken heavy hits. Don’t be compliant, don’t be silent. Don’t DO that I beg you. I am begging you on my knees, I grovel to you.
Don’t condense our cultures to an easy stereotype. Don’t let our stories become distorted for entertainment. Fight for good writing, fight for good designs. Fight for a movie you would be proud to watch. Give us something more than a rebellious teen who is Polynesian simply because they say she is.
Please. Please. With all my heart, a’ohe hana nui ka alu’ia. No task is too big when done together.
It’s not exactly a novel observation I’m making, there, but it’s definitely one I think more people should understand about the play. It’s a large part of why it’s my favorite Shakespeare piece.
Othello has been presented to me in more than one class as a play about the nature of evil and lies, and about the dangers of jealousy. But to me, it’s always been a play about the way a society teaches people to hate themselves.
I think you’ll find some objections to NBC’s The Sound of Music having some dishearteningly familiar (incorrect) rationales.
Earlier this month, veteran stage actress Audra McDonald gifted audiences with yet another sublime performance in NBC’s live remake of The Sound of Music.
While the overall production received mixed reviews, critics across the country heralded McDonald’s portrayal of Mother Abbess and her soul-stirring rendition of “Climb E’vry Mountain” as the television week’s top highlight, with Time calling her “the show-stealer of the night.”
Despite such acclaim, McDonald’s portrayal of the majestic Mother Abbess was not without its detractors. But negative reviewers had nothing unflattering to say about the five-time Tony Award winner’s acting or vocal abilities—instead, their opposition was chiefly rooted in the portrayal of the often-overlooked Mother Abbess as a black woman.
“We turned it off after we saw a negro nun,” tweeted dave44s. “No negro species in the Sound of Music.” (Note: dave44s’s sentiment was retweeted over 200 times before his Twitter account was suspended.) Mike Greenberg of the ESPN sports talk show Mike and Mike also objected to the new production, arguing that it should not be performed. “They don’t rewrite history books,” he fumed.
Despite spewing such vitriol, detractors maintained that their opposition to McDonald’s Mother Abbess was not driven by racial bigotry but instead by a desire for “accurate” history. One commenter, Will506, went so far as to write,
“Audra McDonald did not belong in the Sound of Music as a black abbess in the Austria of 1938. It is a factual impossibility and respectful negative reaction to that represents not hate speech but a comment on 2013 political correctness run amok.”
One can easily point to the existence of the Sudan-born St. Josephine Bakhita, who was stationed at an Italian convent less than 200 miles from the Austrian border in 1938, to begin to refute such a claim. But the confidence with which detractors rejected the historical possibility of black nun in the Austria of 1938, along with the fact that the claim went unchallenged, even by McDonald’s staunchest supporters, demands further attention.
To say that there could not have been a black nun in a European convent in the modern era not only demonstrates a profound ignorance of the long and rich history of black Catholic nuns in the Atlantic world, but also reflects the egregious limitations of the white American racial imagination, which has for centuries equated blackness with moral debasement and vehemently denied the existence of “a virtuous black woman.”
Despite the Catholic Church’s long (and painful) history of racial exclusion and segregation in its religious ranks, thousands of black women have dared to profess the sacred vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in the Atlantic World. In doing so, they provided a powerful refutation to whites who characterized Africa-descended people as sub-human and used the ideology of white supremacy and racist manipulations of the Bible to justify African enslavement and racial segregation.
Although the overwhelming majority of the world’s black Catholic sisters served (and continue to serve) in the Americas and Africa, the presence of black nuns in European convents is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, one of the first documented black nuns in Europe was Louise Marie-Therese, the famed Black Nun of Moret, who took the religious habit in 1695 and remained at Benedictine abbey at Moret-sur-Loing in France until her death in 1732.
Kidnapped off the coast of present-day Ghana and sold into Spanish slavery as a child around 1686, Venerable Teresa Chikaba entered the Convent Dominican Sisters of Saint Mary Magdalene in Salamanca, Spain in 1703 and professed her vows as Therese Juliana of Saint Dominic in 1704. Generally regarded as the first black nun in a Spanish cloister, Chikabaremained in the convent until her death in 1748. She is currently under consideration for sainthood.
In the nineteenth century, several American-born women of African descent also became nuns in Europe. Barred from becoming fully-professed sisters in white and indigenous congregations in the Americas because of their race, these black women crossed the Atlantic Ocean to embrace the religious state. While the majority of these women were extremely-light skinned and could pass for white, at least three dark-skinned, U.S.-born black women of slave heritage entered European congregations in the nineteenth century. Fredericka Law of Savannah, Georgia, for example, received the habit of Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception at the Shrine of Portiuncula in Assisi, Italy in 1882. She took the religious name of Sister Benedict of the Angels and professed her perpetual vows on her deathbed one year later. She is buried in Rome.
Europe’s most famous black nun is undoubtedly St. Josephine Bakhita, who spent twelve years as a slave in Sudan and Italy before her emancipation in 1889. She entered the novitiate at the Institute of the Catecumenate in Venice, Italy in 1893 and professed her vows as a Canosian Sister on December 8, 1896. Affectionately called Mother Moretta, or “our Black Mother,” St. Josephine Bakhita persevered in religious life through the rise and fall of the Third Reich until her death in 1947. She was canonized by the Catholic Church in 2000.
Although there is no known documentation of black Abbess in Austria in 1938, she certainly could have existed. Indeed, if St. Josephine Bakhita could exist as a black nun in a white congregation in Mussolini’s Italy, imagining a black nun in a white congregation in nearby Austria is not that far-fetched. Moreover, if hundreds of free and enslaved black nuns could exist in the brutal slave societies of the Americas, surely the decision to portray Mother Abbess as a black woman in a 2013 production of The Sound of Music should not rack the mind.
*jumps up and down, cheering*
The Pop Diaspora of M.I.A
One of the most entertaining and frustrating things about being a fan of M.I.A has been watching white critics struggle to articulate her style while challenging her right to the aesthetic she cultivates. Artists of color aren’t often recognized for their sophistication or intent. Rather, they’re ascribed a “primitive rawness.”
With her synthesis of diverse but connected motifs M.I.A gets dubbed “cut and paste.” Words like “patchwork,” “slapped-together,” and “scotch tape” are regularly used, and that’s from positive reviews. American critics, unsure of the cacophony of identities and experiences M.I.A offers, commonly project their own uncertainties onto her.
The reception of her albums can be charted along her public perception, which took a hit in 2010. Her increasing success hadn’t changed the tone of her antiestablishment politics and the juxtaposition made scoffing at M.I.A as fashionable as dancing to Galang had been.
Laquisha originates in ‘Lakeisha’, a Swahili name meaning ‘favourite’. The popularity of Laquisha originates in the French influence on black people in America, where the ‘La-’ naming prefix became popularized among freed black slaves.
So how do you spend enough years on this planet to think African names are a bad idea to give to a child, but never consider why?
These guys are charging people $20 to view Banksy’s latest piece in East New York, Brooklyn.
The piece is part of Banksy’s “Better Out Than In” project, wherein he creates a work in a different NYC location daily, then Instagrams the general area of the work.
Banksy is British artist who keeps his real name and appearance secret. His works sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and two have sold for well over one million each.
East New York is a predominantly black and Latin@ neighborhood in Brooklyn. According to Wikipedia, it also has the highest crime rate in New York City, and over half of its residents experience poverty.
According to reports, white people are currently flocking into East New York to look at Banksy’s piece. A few tried to chisel it out of the wall, and claimed to have called a contractor to remove it when their attempts failed. Since then, a group of neighborhood residents have taken charge of the site.
Gawker writes: “These men, heroes that they are, have elevated the original work, turning it into a performance piece about the commodification and hipster-fication of people’s homes. If you’re going to treat a neighborhood like an art museum, why shouldn’t the residents of that neighborhood charge admission like an art museum, particularly when many New Yorkers would never come to that patch of the city but to take a picture of a stencil painting of a beaver?”
I ain’t evn mad.
Mad? I’m proud as hell. Making money off some foreign dude coming in and messing up your neighborhood when if you did the same thing you’d be arrested for vandalism and vilified as “thugs” by the same white people lining up to see this? That’s some fucking badass entrepreneurship. I hope they make enough money to start their own business because these guys should be going places.
Here’s the storify of all her tweets on the topic. I suggest everyone go read it.
This is the most Kanye related stuff I’ve ever had on my blog, but it’s because regardless if I listen to him as an artist, everything he’s saying and is about is entirely real and important.
yeeeeeeeah that’s what i figured
i think i may take it intentionally literally and dress up as like my favorite city or something?
What would have once sounded like a far-fetched feminist fantasy – women forming the majority of a parliament – is a reality in one country in the world, Rwanda.
In fact, women are making gains throughout all of Africa, but these achievements have been met with a loud silence from the western feminist movement.
Last night, 13 people, including a 3-year old boy and several teenage kids, were shot in a mass shooting in Chicago.
And nobody cares.
When the Sandy Hook shootings took place, the nation mourned. The next day, the country came to a standstill. Every news station was talking about it. The families of the victims were inundated with gifts and money from around the country. The outpouring of material support was so overwhelming that Newtown had to decline further gifts because they literally had no place to put them. They had so many donations that they had to give away much of what was given.
When the Navy Yard shootings occurred recently, again, it was front page news. National news outlets were immediately analyzing the situation. Timelines were established. Profiles of the victims, as they became known, were run. Profiles of the shooter followed. The shooting dominated the 24-hour news cycle.
And yet when 13 people get shot in Chicago, the nation barely takes notice. At best, it is relegated an interesting tidbit placed in the side-bar.
Here is the front page of NBC News:
The New York Times:
The LA Times:
CNN, to their credit, appears to be the only national news outlet which felt this story was worth front-page exposure, though I highly doubt it will be there for long:
Why is it that when 13 people get mowed down in a Black neighborhood in Chicago, including a 3-year old boy who was shot in the face, it is not a national day of mourning? Where is the outpouring of support for the families of the victims? Where are the touching profiles by news anchors about the lives of the people that were shot? Why is it a national tragedy when 26 people get shot in Newtown Connecticut, or 13+ people get shot in the Navy Yard in D.C., but the nation barely bats an eye when 13 people get shot in Chicago?
Perhaps it’s about expectations. We expect people in poor Black neighborhoods to get shot, so it doesn’t shock us. But when people get shot in a cozy white suburb, or in a military installation, it is a big surprise. These areas are supposed to be safe, unlike low-income minority neighborhoods, riddled with idleness, crime, and violence.
But think about the implications of that statement. This means that culturally, we value the lives of poor Black people less. We simply don’t care when poor Black people die because we expect it to happen. If only they had been lucky enough to be born White, or in a better neighborhood, they might be worth more sympathy.
Some might argue that people living in crime-ridden neighborhoods have only themselves to blame. But mobility costs money. Structural racism makes it difficult for many people in poor Black neighborhoods to lift themselves out of poverty. And it’s not for lack of trying: 83% of children from low-income families have at least one working parent. So the old “culture of poverty” canard does not explain the plight of people in low-income communities.
What’s really going on here is that America does not give a damn when Black children are shot. Or about Black bodies in general. There will be no national outpouring of support for the victims of the Chicago shooting. The world will not stop turning in America today. Radio hosts and news anchors have not set aside other news items to focus on the victims, or to ask tough questions about whether policy changes can prevent another tragedy.
Instead, they will keep talking about the Navy Yard shooting while 3-year old Deonta Howard, pictured above in some of the screenshots, sits in critical condition in a Chicago hospital with a hole in his face where his cheek used to be.
Race still matters in America. If you needed any indication of that, look at the screenshots above, and ask yourself how many Black children would have to be shot for it to qualify as a national tragedy. The number would probably scare you. And it should.