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  • Writer's pictureAntonio Gonzales

Open Letter to San Francisco Human Rights Commission

April 23, 2011

To the San Francisco Human Rights Commission:

AIM-WEST, a human rights based advocacy organization in San Francisco, and the American Indian Movement Grand Governing Council (AIM) were angered and frustrated that this year’s baseball season began without any action or decision by the SF Human Rights Commission to address racism in sports. We are especially concerned that the SF Commssion has failed to address the oral complaint(s) made by the American Indian community on numerous occasions and testimonies and before the SF Human Rights Commission at a hearing on October 12, 2006.

It was our understanding that the matter was being explored by the SF Human Rights Commission as to whether or not the issue had merit, and also as to the appropriate use of public and/or private facilities when singling out a distinct race of people, to mock and convey racist messages and gestures against them. Appropriate use of facilitates also includes questions regarding the profiting from the sales and revenue to San Francisco of merchandises which are racist in nature toward American Indian peoples. AIM-WEST, once again, calls on the SF Human Rights Commission to facilitate a dialogue and seek a remedy to this ethnic assault on Indian peoples throughout the Bay Area and assert the positive image of diversity, fairness and respect of all people that San Francisco represents.

The SF Giants baseball game on Friday, April 22nd against the Atlanta Braves provides another instance of why the issue of racism in sports merits the Commission’s immediate attention. The baseball game was widely advertised on KNBR-CBS. As part of the promotion for the game, the Atlanta team was repeatedly described as “The Atlanta Tomahawk Nation…”, as if the baseball team equates to a sovereign Indian nation. At game time gestures of the tomahawk chop was seen throughout the stadium and probably on television throughout the Bay. At one point, on the radio prior to game time, fans were inspired to declare ‘kill the Indian’, and the eerie taunts/song by the opposition’s hometown are reminded.

Perpetuating the institutionalized racism by condoning and allowing Indigenous peoples to be exploited as mascots in sports is a human rights violation and should be stopped. This has been found and researched by the United Nations as advancing negative images, and is specially damaging to young people. (see attached). Indian people(s) throughout the country continue to express their anger and frustration over the use of stereotypical mascots and sports team names. Despite this concern, expressed again and again in multiple venues and particularly in the Bay Area, many fail to understand the depth of concern felt in Indian country.

“It doesn’t hurt anyone, so why bother changing it? This is a common misconception. These stereotypes and caricatures hurt both Indians and non-Indians alike. The impact these images have on Indian peoples can be quite serious, particularly to the young. Non-Indians might feel quite differently about this subject, if the only images their children had to identify with in the society around them were stereotypes and caricatures. This can seriously damage their self-esteem and their ability to succeed in the world. Also, Indian children, like any others are taught to respect their parents and to emulate their culture, traditions and values. However, it can be very confusing for young people to see their parents and their cultures being mimicked and lampooned. As a result of the ways in which Indian culture is denigrated, American Indians suffer from the highest rate of teenage suicide, school drop-out rates, alcohol and drug addiction and health care problems. Indian children suffer with low self-esteem issues and the resulting problems.

As for non-Indians, by participating in these racist parodies of Indian culture, the perpetrator demonstrates a disturbing lack of respect for cultures which differ from his own, and in doing so, demonstrates lack of respect for himself as well.”

Let us begin a new dialogue together on how to address the issue of discrimination and racism in professional sports. San Francisco can call for a change! A big change! This is not just about the Atlanta Braves and baseball but also includes the Cleveland Indians, and in football, the Washington Redskins (the “N” word for Indian peoples!) and the Kansas City Chiefs. Moreover, the liberal use of racist mascots in professional sports provides license to local schools to adopt similar names.

If San Francisco ever considers proclaiming a Native American Day in baseball, or football in the near future, which we would embrace, let us hope that it first and foremost resolves this urgent matter of racism and discrimination and recognize the dignity and rights of Indigenous peoples in San Francisco and the Bay Area. To that end, I look forward to hearing from the SF Human Rights Commission as to how they will proceed in developing concrete steps that can be taken to end racism in professional sports.

Peace, all my relations!

Antonio Gonzales

AIM-WEST Director 415-577-1492 Freedom for Leonard Peltier!

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