(Photo: Aaron El Sabrout)
The Cleveland Indians have been in the media recently because one fan decided to remove the logo from his ballcap, tweeting a picture of the removed logo and hashtagging it #DeChief. Dozens of people followed suit, and suddenly one man’s action became a movement. Now, a group of people are looking to follow suit, with #black out the blackhawk appearing on tumblr, and quickly gaining momentum.
The Chicago Blackhawks have been around for eighty-eight years. They’re named after a military battalion, the Black Hawk division, that Frederic McLaughlin (the original owner of the team) had commanded in World War I. Their logo, the ‘Indian Head’ was designed by the owner’s wife, and depicts a Native American man’s profile adorned with feathers. The battalion itself was named after a Native American from the Sauk Nation, Black Hawk, a prominent figure in Illinois history.
The Blackhawks’ name and logo are marks of respect. They’re honouring the Native American people and the military division that shares their name, how can that be a bad thing? Wearing the logo should be a symbol of pride, right? It’s not like the Cleveland Indians, whose clearly racist logo depicts a redskinned person with a feathered headdress and a dopey grin or the Washington Redskins, whose name is a huge source of controversy in the NFL (The Redskins, notably, have recently had the trademark license cancelled for the second time because of appeal from Native Americans who feel the name is disparaging and offensive). Wearing the Blackhawks’ Indian head logo should be a symbol of pride, right?
The Blackhawks logo, is, to put it briefly, an appropriation of Native American culture and imagery, and a homogenization of dozens of different cultures that Blackhawks players and fans parade around on their chests as a twisted form of honour. It isn’t as blatantly offensive as the Indians or the Redskins—it’s not a “funny” caricature or a racial slur. It’s just a picture of an ‘Indian head’ profile with a normal skin colour and no comically oversized or exaggerated features. However, just because it’s not explicitly racist (such as say, the literal red skin of the Cleveland logo) doesn’t mean it’s not offensive. The Blackhawks using an image like this is allowing the organisation to profit from an outdated and exaggerated portrayal of a group of marginalised people. It’s exploitative, and it’s normalising the idea that Native American people are all the same and can be encompassed in one image, and that’s precisely why it’s so dangerous.
So, what exactly is #black out the blackhawk?
Co-founder, Aaron El Sabrout, says: “Black out the Blackhawk is a social media awareness campaign where we’re trying to bring attention to the fact that the Chicago Blackhawks logo is a culturally insensitive caricature, with some really problematic appropriative elements. We started on tumblr, but we’re working on branching out and maybe getting in touch with the Change the Mascot campaign, which is trying to get Washington’s NFL team to change their name and logo.”
The campaign is primarily visual; tumblr is a highly image based medium of sharing, and Blackhawks fans want to be able to post and reblog pictures of their favourite players, but were unwilling to have the logo on their blog, so #black out the blackhawk was created as a means of erasing the logo from jerseys, helmets and even backgrounds. Many supporters of the movement also choose not to wear merchandise with the logo in public, and encourage others to do the same thing. El Sabrout also says “When you walk around Chicago there are a lot of Blackhawks logos staring you in the face all the time. Anthony Roy, who’s an outspoken opponent of the logo, said it was like “a sea of floating dead Indian heads.” That’s not really something we think should continue, so we want to try to convince people to either buy merchandise without the logo on it, or not buy merchandise at all, in the hopes of putting more pressure on the team to change it.”
The movement isn’t perfect. It’s still in it’s beginning stages, and I question the decision to use the outline of the Blackhawks logo as the logo for the movement (for one thing, surely the point is to erase the logo completely? The outline of the logo is still visibly recognisable as the logo they’re working so hard to erase, and it seems a little counterproductive), but you can’t deny it’s an important first step in starting to change the born and bred culture of team names and Native American appropriation that has been going on for over a century, and I personally am incredibly excited to watch the movement grow, and see where it goes from here.