In 1991, the Eighteenth General Synod passed a resolution asking the church to develop strategies for eliminating all forms of discrimination, particularly sexism and racism, in our church and society. A primary goal was to educate UCC members about the negative effects of racist and sexist stereotypes and imagery on the lives of Native Americans. Particular mention was made of the dehumanizing effects of offensive nomenclature used by professional, amateur and school athletic teams and the exploitation of Native American culture in advertising by its association with consumer products.
Increasing numbers of people support the goals of this resolution, especially among UCC folk. Other ecumenical and interfaith groups are slowly joining our efforts to eliminate this form of racism. We have seen a tremendous amount of progress in K-12 schools and colleges and universities across the country in either renaming their school teams and/or changing mascots and logos. We've seen changes in media presentations—both verbally and the written word—in that some sports announcers and newspaper reporters use only the name of the city the team is from. In some cases, they even have developed policy disallowing use of disparaging or demeaning names.
Even with this progress, we need help more support and more people willing to be more pro- active. We call upon those of you whose minds have been changed to help us change the minds of others. There are only about two million Native Americans in this country and only a few hundred who can wholeheartedly work on this issue. So if you have the heart and mind to do justice work, we have some suggestions for you:
Encourage your church to commit or recommit itself to the goals of the resolution. Advocate change in the use of offensive language, imagery and names by athletic teams in your community.
Plan educational events, demonstrations or boycotts in cities where major league teams use offensive names and/or logos.
Call the national offices of Justice and Witness Ministries (216-736-3721) for educational packets and films and for a list of names and addresses of ball teams/owners for letter writing campaigns.
Write to local universities and school districts that use Native American nicknames and mascots.
Look into education policies for public schools of your state and accreditation polices for institutions of higher education.
Seek justice in areas that may already be protected (such as use of disparaging or demeaning names or racism itself). If there is no such protection, seek amendments to laws or policies.
Refrain from wearing or purchasing anything with a disparaging name or logo—OR put a negation symbol over any that you own, and wear it.
Visit with store owners and explain how marketing such products exploits Native Americans and promotes racism.
Juanita Helphrey is Minister and Team Leader of the Racial Justice Ministry Team in Justice and Witness Ministries in the UCC's national setting. Contact her for resources on racial stereotyping at 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115-1100, phone 216/736-3721, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.