On the Particular Racism of Native American Mascots

Critical Philosophy of Race 4 (1):95-126 (2016)
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An account of the specific ill of Native American mascots—that is, the particular racism of using Native Americans as mascots, as distinct from other racist portrayals of Native Americans—requires a fuller account of the function of mascots as such than has previously been offered. By analyzing the history of mascots in the United States, this article argues that mascots function as symbols that draw into an artificial unity 1) a variety of teams existing over a period of time and thereby 2) a community of individuals who are thus able to use that team as their own symbolic locus of unification.This unification of teams and their concomitant communities is accomplished by appeal to a symbol that facilitates a particular fantasy of collective identity. The usage of Native American mascots is racist not only because it involves stereotypical portrayals of Native Americans, but (more specifically) because it treats Native persons simply as a means to symbolic unification—and not, importantly, as members of the community they thus serve. In other words, in these cases mascots work as unifying signifiers precisely by being the purely instrumental facilitator of a group's collective fantasy of itself.

Author Profiles

Erin Tarver
Vanderbilt University
Erin C. Tarver
Emory University


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