The debate over the racist name and mascot of the professional football team based in the nation’s capital, the “Redskins,” has reached a fever pitch in recent months. Fifty U.S. senators signed a letter urging the National Football League, or NFL, to take action and change the name. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently canceled several of the team’s trademarks because they were disparaging to American Indian and Alaska Native, or AI/AN, people and communities. And several media outlets across the country have stopped printing and using the name, including the San Francisco Chronicle, Slate, and The Seattle Times.
AI/AN students across the country attend K-12 and postsecondary schools that still maintain racist and derogatory mascots. Research shows that these team names and mascots can establish an unwelcome and hostile learning environment for AI/AN students. It also reveals that the presence of AI/AN mascots directly results in lower self-esteem and mental health for AI/AN adolescents and young adults. And just as importantly, studies show that these mascots undermine the educational experience of all students, particularly those with little or no contact with indigenous and AI/AN people. In other words, these stereotypical representations are too often understood as factual representations and thus “contribute to the development of cultural biases and prejudices.”
This report examines the current research about the impact of these mascots and team names on the mental health and self-esteem of AI/AN students, while sharing the real stories of AI/AN students in their own words. It also provides an overview of the ongoing movement across the country to retire them from K-12 and postsecondary schools. Finally, the report proposes recommendations to local, state, and federal agencies that will help school administrators, educators, and community members transform learning environments that are hostile and unwelcoming to AI/AN students and their families into ones that are supportive.
Stegman, Erik and Phillips, Victoria F., Missing the Point: The Real Impact of Native Mascots and Team Names on American Indian and Alaska Native Youth. Center for American Progress, July 2014.