Thursday, September 18, 2008

Racist mascots?



Most of you are familiar with the controversy surrounding Chief Illiniwek, the former "mascot" at the U of I that was finally "retired" last year after over a decade of protests. But many of you seemed not to be aware of the former team name of Pekin High School -- the Pekin Chinks. The name was changed in 1980, but apparently you can still find memorabilia (t-shirts, mugs) in some shops in Pekin. And according to James Loewen, author of Sundown Towns, many residents still defend the name and insist it was a compliment. Some say it is a reference to Peking -- now Beijing -- China, which is supposedly where Pekin got its name, but others dispute that origin. Anybody want to do a little research?


15 comments:

Katie said...

I googled this topic and found an entry from someone who had graduated from Pekin.

"The fun part is that Pekin High's sports teams and thus their students are today known as "Dragons", actually a rather natural name given the name "Pekin" which supposedly was short for "Peking", the Chinese city which was supposed to be half way round the Earth from Pekin."

It also states that they used the term "chink" to mean hard worker. I think this is so wrong. The first thing most people think of when they hear the word chink is a racial comment towards Chinese people. I don't understand why if Pekin meant for their Mascot to represent something different, then why does the image on the pictures look the way it does? There are countless mascots schools choose from, so why choose one that is going to be offensive to people?

Christina_Lee said...

When Greg talked about this during class last week, I was shocked. I have never heard such thing and I thought that it was a joke. I also think it is wrong. When you look at the pictures of the t-shirt and mug, you can clearly see that is has "Asian font" with a picture of a dragon. I mean that isn't what China is all about. It is sending a message of stereotypes about the Chinese people. Although the mascot changed, I still find it shocking to hear that it is still seen today in that city. It's surprising I haven't heard of it, even though Pekin is so close to ISU.

Kelly R. said...

I had heard about the controversy about the U of I Chief mascot and I did not think about how racist it was until I got to college and had friends that went there. I never even thought of how offensive sitting "Indian style" was until I got to college either when we had to say "criss cross applesauce" at the day care I worked at. I was happy to hear that they "retired" the mascot as well as the Pekin Chinks which I thought was more offensive than Chiefs. I mean can you imagine having a mascot of "Gangster" or "Albinos" which represent African Americans and whites? I cannot believe that schools would have even thought of such a name but then again today's society is much different than a few generations ago.

Carli said...

To be honest, when I first heard about the U of I mascot being "retired" I thought it was ridiculous. I guess I never viewed it or interpreted it as being racist. I actually thought that it should be kept because it is part of U of I's long tradition and I saw it as honoring the chief, because I had heard that the dance and other things they did were supposed to be accurate and done with respect. I had many friends that went to the university and they were all outraged when the chief mascot was taken away. HOWEVER, my friends nor I are from a Native American back round, therefore, this could be the reason we did not see the racism in it. I am sure many people felt the same way. In class though, Greg said something that made me change my view. He said something along the lines of if people are offended by something then it is not right. Therefore, even though I may not have viewed the mascot as offensive, the fact that others do (for maybe a reason I can't understand) is enough to take action about it. We may be disappointed that such a famous figure that represents U of I is now gone, but at least one aspect of racism has been put to an end. I think the point I made demonstrates why acts of racism happen: People being racist may not realize what they are doing is hurtful to others (even though many do), which is why open communication between people and studying perspectives is so important.

Kelly C. said...

I agree with Carli in the fact that I disagree that U of I took away their mascot. A great family friend of mine was appointed the Chief for two years while he attended U of I. I asked him about how he felt about the taking away of the mascot. He responded saying that it was absolutely ridiculous. He does not view this as a racist gesture because of all the work and research he had to put into it. He had to spend weeks on a reservation in Arizona and was taught the particular dance from the chief. He was not allowed to leave the reservation until the dance was mastered.
When I went to go see Matt perform, along with the athletes, the amount of sincerity that was placed in his halftime dance was nothing but authentic. I view that there was nothing racist about the U of I Illini. It is unfortunate that the NCAA viewed this as "hostile and abusive" (http://chiefilliniwek.blogspot.com/ because it was truly amazing. I have a lot of respect for all the individuals that participated in that program.
I think that the Pekin Chinks is a completely different story because Chinks is a derogatory name for Chinese individuals. That could definitely be viewed as racist.

Julie said...

I was really puzzled when I came across Katie's research saying that they used the term "chink" to mean hard worker. In fact, chink has never meant hard worker. I searched chink on dictionary.com and it gave me three definitions, a crack, a sharp ringing sound, and an offensive term for a person of Chinese descent. Even if Pekin really is half way round the Earth from Peking why would they use their mascot as Chink. If they were using their mascot as chink for the reason as "hard working" why would there be stereotypical Asian font and a Chinese dragon? I also was researching Pekin, Illinois and found out that it was a KKK center in Illinois. I am not trying to make any conclusions but this could be why such a racist mascot was developed. Also looking at blogs people laugh at the mascot and some are proud of it because it shows respect. What people do not understand is that it is racist and that it actually has no meaning.

John said...

There are many mascot that are offensive all over sports. Chief Illinwek was offensive to some so he got removed, or at least that is what U of I would like you to think, they would like you to think that they removed their mascot because he was offensive and the university felt bad for offending people. However for years Native Americans had expressed that they were offended and U of I kept there mascot. I believe that the University removed the mascot because they were feeling the outside pressure from the NCAA, not because they actually took time to consider that they maybe mocking a race of people. I am sure that they had received several complaints from Native Americans who were very offended, but these complaints went unheard and U of I had no intention of ever changing their mascot. That is until they were going to lose money . U of I was going to lose the right to host NCAA playoff events, if they did not remove their mascot. In college sports Universities all belong to conferences, those conferences receive money for all of there teams that reach the playoffs, the money is then dispensed to Universities that made the playoffs and that are hosting a playoff event. Well when U of I found out that no more money was coming there way, they quickly became very P.C. They quickly saw the error in their ways and did the right thing, they removed their mascot. Isn't funny how much our society really cares about doing the right thing. I don’t know what offends me more how long they had there mascot or the terms that it took for them to do the right thing. If something is offensive it should be changed we should not justify why it is not offensive.

amchmie@ilstu.edu said...

I found this excerpt from a person claiming to be from the class of 1961 from Pekin High.
"Inspite of the renaming of the team, and the era of political correctness.....we are still

Pekin Chinks

and shall be forever........

In fact, in the right small shirt shop in Pekin, in a back room to which access is controlled, you can still purchase bright red tee shirts that proclaim Pekin Chinks; and, of course, I have one! Next year, 2006, I plan to attend our 45th year reunion in Pekin, and join my fellow Chinks as we enjoy our heritage.

At the Friday night social we'll all be wearing memorabilia from PCHS!"

This post was interesting to me because the writer basically shrugged his shoulders at the racial issue. Because he still has pride and still wants to be a Pekin Chink, he has disregarded the feelings of others.

As future educators we need to consider how our actions affect others. It is okay to be passionate about something, but be sure to always take into account the effect you may have, especially on the children that we will teach.

This person's viewpoint also shows me that although society is beginning to change these racial representations, it does not erase the emotions that some people may have. Sure, Pekin changed their mascot, but it does not change the fact that this writer still supports the Pekin Chinks.

When I read this person's post, I could not help but think of the parents that we will encounter. The parents have their own opinions and ideas and we need to realize this immediately. You may disagree with parents, but remember that some are set in their ways, just as this Pekin grad expressed his feelings toward the Chink mascot.

Caitlin Wlezien said...

When reading all the posts about college mascots, I could not help but thinking about all the professional sports teams whose name or symbol they wear on their jersey is related to Native Americans. Without even putting much thought into it I can think of the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians in the MLB. In the NHL of course there are the Chicago Blackhawks. The braves have no form of a Native American on their jerseys, but they do have the long running tradition of the Tomahawk chop which involves arm movements and chanting in a way which is stereotypically associated with Native Americans. Then you have the Indians which have an animated red face of what is supposedly an "Indian" with a feather coming out from behind his head. I would think for starters that having the name Indians and associating a Native American persona along with it would be cause enough for an uproar. The Chicago Blackhawks also have a picture of a Native American on their jerseys. After thinking about this and looking into these teams mascots, not one of them teams mascots have Native Americans. The Chicago Blackhawks for example have a hawk (the bird) as a mascot. Is that why they are flying under the radar and allowed to continue their traditions? I would think just using the faces and not honoring the traditions like U of I did would be more offensive to me, but like it was mentioned previously, I do not come from this heritage. With my heritage however, I would rather it be honored then stereotypically represented.

Greg said...

I think Caitlin brings up a good point that there is sort of a double-standard for "Indian" nicknames, logos, and mascots when it comes to professional sports teams (and another blatant example is the Washington Redskins -- can you imagine a team called the Brownskins or Whiteskins?). I think part of the reason this happens is that colleges and universities are institutions of education, and often supported by taxpayer dollars, so there may be a greater sense of responsibility to the broader community (or a more urgent need to succumb to public pressure). Still, in the U of I's case, it took over 20 years of protests to resolve the issue.

And pro sports teams have occasionally responded to public pressure and ended offensive practices. The Atlanta Braves used to have a "mascot" who was an actual Native American person -- called Chief Nok-a-Homa -- who came out of a tipi in the bullpen and did a "dance" every time the Braves hit a home run. This tradition was ended due to opposition expressed by members of the Native American community.

Gothdaddy said...

Interesting. I went to school in Peoria and after high school drove a truck with a route into Pekin. I remember the controversy in 74-75 when the name change was suggested. At that time I knew it would be a lost cause because of the racial climate - even in the 70's in central Illinois. I had lived through some minor 'riots' at Central High School in early '73. Being a minority, I still can recall some classmates hiding behind bushes and yelling at me 'spic' as I walked home. So despite everything, Peoria was a very racially divided place then. No one understood the idea that a mascot could be offensive because these terms were part of their language. As an industrial town, Peoria, (which was 5th on the list of US cities to be bombed by the Germans if they had a long range bomber), had what appeared to be the all-American mentality. Turning places like Caterpillar, WABCO, Hiram Walker, et al., into industrial war plants made the people very aware and against Asians and eventually, Lebanese, (although there were some very prominent Lebanese business families in the 70's), Hispanics, Blacks, etc. Peoria was the 'Heartland' and in being such, if you had not been a farmer or a blue collar worker with Caterpillar, you really weren't doing all that much. Peoria has always been a very small town. Parts of those memories I adore because they are from my youth. But there is a picture of me from 7th grade in Miami, the year before we moved to Peoria. My Anglo step-father had said that because of my skin color I was going to have to learn to be a good fighter or be smarter than others. in that picture from 7th grade I have a huge smile. People ask why I never smiled that way in other pictures and it is because I realize that my 'innocence' was vanquished by the racism i learned about in Peoria. I will always love Peoria and I acknowledge that I have put some bad memories on a shelf in a closet, but nonetheless, I learned to bear up to the name calling. I still am very against racism from these lessons but I survived. I recall one more story about central Illinois. Years later, after high school, I was with an old girlfriend and her mom at their bowling league in Morton. One of my girlfriends mother's friends, after being introduced to me, asked me, (after she had considered who I was by skin color), "Oh, do you have any little friends who work in the fields over at Libby...?" That is why it took so long to change the mascot and name.

Coincidentally, with regards to the other logos mentioned. I lived in Cleveland for 11 years and had a good friend/associate/boss who was a lawyer and on the forefront of trying to change the Indians logo. People tend to look past these things because they believe that they really don't harm anyone. It's not true, but like the birther movement, there is not enough evidence in the world to convince them otherwise.

sarahbunnie86 said...

I happen to live in Pekin, IL. Not happily though. When I heard of the Pekin Chinks I thought it was a joke and there was no way this could be true. To my suprise my dragons were once the chinks. Talking to older people who graduated as chinks they find it offensive that the mascot was changed to the dragons. Ironicly I'm married to a chinese man who had learned about pekins history when he was at U of I. If my family and I had known about Pekin and its racist past we would have never come here. Its embarrassing to say you live in Pekin.

Captain Fatbody said...

Well I know it's a late response onto perhaps a dead or dying thread, but I had to state simply the link between chink and worker that I believe is being missed. Chink is a word for hard worker. Why? The Chinese were used for slave labor during the railroad boom. They were hard workers.

A chink is a hard worker. It's a derogatory term, to be sure, but the definition provided, while not in the dictionary, has validity. It's one of those ironic situations where the proof that disproves a belief is inherent in the belief itself, if that makes any sense.

chink = not derogatory = hard worker = person of chinese decent who worked hard = derogatory word for chinese = chink

Amanda said...

This is response to the one who stated that todays generation is different than a few generations ago. HELLO! This name was not assigned to the school in the last 10 years. It is from previous generations. You people speak as if we are a racial community and this was simply a MASCOT. Every city has racism and to put it at the school mascot is ridiculous! I am so sick of hearing from ignorant things people have done that were spread across the news and papers as if the whole city is bad. It is all just a bunch of people who want a reason to gossip and point fingers. You complain so much it affects the students and all the children who live here since they have to continuously hear about it. If anyone is racist here it is all of you who are slinging mud in the wrong direction!

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