Monday, March 31, 2014

The Bait-and-Switch: Discourses of Oppression and Self-Aggrandizement

Alright, as promised, my obligatory piece responding to Daniel Snyder's letter about retaining the current name for the NFL team from Washington. I've written about this a bit before in a different context, but this? This is a game-changer. So, well, let's do this.

Get ready for an onslaught of hot-headed opinions and
jargony ranting about the same ol' same ol' from me.
Ooookay. So there's a lot to unpack from this dude's letter. Like, way a lot. Essentially, if I was to come up with a "thesis," I'd say that Snyder is pulling another one out of Schopenhauer's strategems (29), that is, the bait-and-switch; this line of argumentation, basically, "How can you be concerned with sports teams when there are people in abject poverty on reservations? When indigenous women are three times more likely to experience sexual assault than white women?" And  he's doing it in order to stubbornly dig his heels in because he basically masturbates to his own reflection.

But first, I want to talk about how he's using a "selective agreement" strategy I've talked about before; that is, he's using the opinions of indigenous persons that jive with his own as evidence for why he's "right" and ignoring the opinions of indigenous persons that disagree with him. I'm going to take  this one further, though. He professes in his letter that he gave a survey to some tribes, and they picked the poverty and  stuff as the most pressing or whatever. As a pseudo-scientist, I'd like to see the survey instrument he used, because I have a stinky smell under my nose, and think it's the questions. My guess is, they were worded in such a way to manipulate respondents into providing answers supporting his assertion that indigenous people care "the most" about aid to reservations. Even without the survey or data in front of me, I'm sure it's not that the respondents don't care at all about whether the R-word is used as DC's name, but rather that they are concerned immediately about the poverty because, well, they're living it, and so emphasize that more in their answers.

Think of it this way. They're basically in a state of duress when answering the survey, and the questions are phrased in a way making them believe they have to choose between food or changing the football team's name. If their fucking stomach hurts because they haven't had a square meal in days, of course they're going to pick something that could alleviate that real pain. Duh. No-brainer. (Note: I keep talking about food, but  make  no  mistake, there are a slew of inhumane conditions on reservations. That's just a quick example.)

Also, again, as a pseudo-scientist, I doubt that sample was really representative of indigenous persons across the country- there's a reason he picked the tribes and peoples he picked, and I have a sneaking suspicion he knew the people he was asking would be more likely to share views closer to his. In other words, my gut tells me he picked people that exemplify those atrocious conditions, because he knew they would care more about aid to reservations than anything else the indigenous populations in the US are struggling with. 

But even if not all the people taking the survey are experiencing the worst of the reservation system, again, I'd bet my boots that the question wording led them right to where Snyder would want them to go. 


That being said, even if the survey was entirely coercion-free and objective, and even if the sample was representative, there's still the fact that there are lots of people that think the R-word has no place as a sports franchise name. And it's one thing to do something like keep on making  a remake of an old franchise, despite lots of fan reaction in the negative*; it's another to keep on doing something people find offensive and hurtful, just because not everybody does. When something is hurtful, it's more cowardly to side with those that aren't hurt- because those that aren't are in agreement with those in power. They pose no threat, present no challenge to the status quo. Not that their feelings are invalid, but their opinions ultimately serve the majority, rather than the oppressed.

Here's the thing. As I said before, I bet some of the questions made it seem like an either-or, feed indigenous children or change the mascot. But I think presenting it that way is just poppy-cock. It doesn't have to be an "either-or," it's only an "either-or" because white people want to relieve their white guilt while still retaining their hegemonic power and control.

Because notice what he's doing in that letter. He spews all sorts of (valid) stats about some of the troubling conditions indigenous persons in the US experience every day. In doing so, he's distracting people reading from the original topic, his team's name. Rather than discussing why so many indigenous people think the team's name is racist, he starts a pity-party about indigenous people, as if that's the only thing we should care about. 
I get frustrated whenever this bait-and-switch strategy gets used during any discussion, but it's particularly dirty in situations where the topic is this very one or the closely related one of appropriated indigenous iconography (meant to "honor" indigenous cultures, be it mascots, slogans, costumes, or hipster fashions) because of how frequently it's used as basically a cop-out. Not only does it serve to move the conversation away from its original subject matter, but it also works as an implicit ad hominem in any situation, but in ones on this particular subject, it's as if to say the individual(s) arguing for the removal of racist iconography in any way are being selfish or insensitive because they're deliberately ignoring the poverty, violence, etc. on reservations. That the people saying something is racist are willfully ignorant of those struggles; that they're selfish, bleeding-heart liberal elitists that are hypersensitive and overly politically correct at the expense of other indigenous persons  that are suffering right now; that they care more about their pseudo-intellectual pontifications about symbols and metaphor than  the real world tragedies every day that need fixing; that they "have no idea" what's "really going on" and are ungrateful that they aren't also living in squalor

It's an attempt to guilt anyone in disagreement for that disagreement by convincing them the other issue is of a greater moral concern, that the original problem is petty, at best, while the new one is concrete and terrible. 


He goes even further, though. Because for a good chunk of the letter, he's portraying his foundation as a stand-in for
Mighty Whitey that takes on the White Man's Burden- the white charity will help those poor, defenseless, uneducated injuns! He went to investigate whether it's racist or not (by hitting up the Torrez-Martinez Cahuilla tribe in California), "discovered" the poverty, and knew he had to take action, GOD BLESS HIM! Ugh. And we should think he's a saint because he's (supposedly) going to let indigenous people run the show- what an innovator, he's letting indigenous people make their own decisions! He takes the valid claim that the logo is racist, makes it irrelevant, then turns the discussion into one about how wonderful and awesome he is for starting this foundation because he's going to help and save so many poor, unfortunate souls.

Call me stubborn, but I don't really want to join this guy in his circle-jerk. It's misguided at best, entirely corrupt at worst. 

And it seems entirely shallow and hollow to me. Like he's just trying to buy off any naysayers. You see this a lot from people with money, they think it can get them out of trouble any and every time- they throw money at the problem, and it goes away. Because, let's face it, often times, it does get them out of trouble, the problem does go away. It's fucked up, but it's true. But of course, Snyder isn't stupid- he's an asshole. So instead of just giving a lump sum and more overtly throwing money at what he's now declared the real problem (because remember, bait-and-switch), he's packaging it  as an ongoing  thing through this foundation. Now, do I think  the foundation in itself is bad? Heavens, no- it's a great thing, a fabulous idea. But I don't like the context in which it's being formulated, and it feels more like blood money than genuine aid. And it feels hollow- if Snyder was to really put his money where his mouth is, he'd change the franchise name and create a foundation to provide aid to indigenous communities. Because in order for white people to believe indigenous people can handle a real infrastructure and improve socioeconomic conditions on the reservations they've been forced to live, white people need to respect indigenous people- and they won't do that if they have a jersey with a gorram racial epithet in their closet. I'm not saying the change to the franchise needs to come first, but it would help foster the respect necessary to reduce the pity and objectification preventing indigenous autonomy- since the r-word is in itself a form of objectification, after all. But no, I don't like blood money. Nor do my own people- that's why the Lakota Sioux have on numerous occasions refused money awarded them in lawsuits over the Black Hills- federal courts acknowledge that the seizure of the lands was illegal, yet the lands themselves aren't offered, just money. So the Lakota Sioux refuse to take monetary compensation in lieu of what the US government has promised and the lands they deem sacred- and it's not like the choice has ever been easy. And here's the rub: It's noble when a white person in a movie or on TV (or in history, yeah) refuses to be bought off, but Native Americans are criticized and demonized for doing it. Fuck that. (Of course, I'm not saying the tribes the money from Snyder's foundation may end up going to should say no- I can't make that call, for myriad reasons. I'm just saying, this whole, "let me donate money to placate you so I can keep what I want and by the way I'm a hero" thing is fucked up.)

And here's another rub: I have another hunch that if there was a national poll  done, or if every single person in the US that has an opinion on this (non-opinions don't count, here, since another strategy to uphold the status quo is say, "Well, nobody cares except you.") was asked, the vast majority of people that want it to stay the same would be white, and  yeah, there would be a majority in favor of keeping the r-word. And that means money. It'd cost lots of money to change the name and merchandise. And if Snyder went ahead and had them do that, he'd run the risk of losing some of that audience. And while one  would think that'd be fine (because if people decided to change teams over removal of a racial epithet, then, well, those people would prolly belong with these folks), when it comes to capitalism, that's just plain bad news. Creating a foundation that won't take any of the team's money? That runs absolutely no risk whatsoever.

Along those lines, I had someone ask me, "What if part of the  team's profits every year went to the foundation?" I'll admit, that'd prolly be less icky-feeling, because that's guaranteed revenue. But.. I actually think it'd be worse. It'd be as if the team itself was paying indigenous peoples directly to use the name, and it would more closely mean tacit approval of the r-word mascot than a foundation based off of donations. A foundation run by indigenous people can, in time, become its own entity; one tied monetarily to a white-run franchise wouldn't. But regardless, Snyder wouldn't do that, anyway. The letter isn't clear on where the money will come from, but I highly  doubt it'll be direct from the franchise, because that's just bad business, from an entirely monetary perspective. Even if the startup funds have come from the team, my guess is they'll come up with some bullshit "transition plan" wherein it'll turn over to the outside donations page, and then, you know, die.

Although, I dunno, if Snyder was concerned about safe monetary practices, perhaps he should have picked a different person to be the CEO of the foundation. 


A sort-of sidenote: I had already written the above paragraph about paying things off (I've done a LOT of editing of this essay, so things have been moving around- but that was actually the first paragraph I wrote, days ago) when I saw this article from the Native Appropriations FB feed. (Native Appropriations is also where I found out about Snyder's letter from in the first place, to be entirely honest.) I kind of want to go toe-to-toe with this guy, because I think there's a HUGE difference between schools on reservations, whose student bodies are made up mostly of native students, that are run by native Americans... it's a HUGE difference between THOSE mascots having indigenous iconography and schools off-res doing it- a boy whose grand-dad very well could have been the model for the  mascot wearing it on his basketball jersey is fine, but a boy whose grand-dad could have killed the model... And I'd point him to stuff like this study, and emphasize that it doesn't have to be an either-or thing- that making it as such is exactly what people like Snyder want us to do. 

Plus, and maybe this is a stretch, and prolly a controversial stand to take, but... well... if Snyder is only surveying people on-res, he's surveying natives that are the majority in their area. I know it's kind of selfish, but native Americans that are living on reservations aren't surrounded by white people all the time, white people that don't "get it," that are constantly appropriating iconography and imagery that an indigenous person in their midst may find sacred, or at least whose ancestors did; that don't care whether something they're doing is hurtful. On-res people have it hard, but so do people off-res- it's a difference in kind, not validity. I'd remind Gyasi Ross that claiming the concerns of off-res indigenous peoples are invalid and moot is the "divide" part of "divide and conquer." And I'm sick of my people being conquered over and over again. He's doing indigenous persons like myself and my relatives (some who do live on-res, I might add) an extreme disservice by assuming we don't care about the poor socioeconomic conditions for our on-res cousins, and, frankly, he sounds like an asshole because of it. (Okay, I prolly wouldn't say the "asshole" part, but yeah.)

Because if I haven't made this clear enough already, let me do it now. We shouldn't have to choose between aid and respect. The fact that Snyder is making people do that is disgusting and colonialist. Giving aid is a way of avoiding giving autonomy. It's not that I don't care about the reservation system, it's that I ALSO care about representations and discourses. The Indigenous peoples of the US will not be able to stay out of poverty until we're thought of as equal citizens, Americans, and human-fucking-beings. As long  as a racial epithet against us is on billboards and jerseys and hats, as long as people still go, "Bobobobobo!" waving plastic tomahawks, as long as "Indian princesses" jiggle around  parties, we won't have equal rights and access to the economic and educative systems necessary to sustain a quality of life that's above devastating. 

So just to wrap this up, yes,  I'm glad there's a foundation now; I'm sad it came at the expense (or, more accurately, the money-saving) of keeping the  r-word as the name of D.C.'s team. I wish all the recipients of any of the monies given well, and I hope that somebody somewhere  will be able to knock some sense into this self-loving douchebag that is Dan Snyder. Either that, or he croaks soon and the person that takes over has more of a heart for others and less of a hard-on for theirself.

Over and out. 




*I have to point out something related: So Mr. Bay decided to nix the "alien" bullshit he had let leak at first, okay, fine. But  he also white-washed Shredder by making him this guy. And while sure, while I've never seen Mr. Fitcher do badly in a movie (nay, he's pretty awesome in everything), it's kind of sad Bay would go with original story for fanboys but mess things up for... racial hegemony. 

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