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A Critical Response To
The Red and Black: A Century of Port Jervis Football



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Phil Dusenbury
"Voice of the Raiders"

    

In his 1997 book, The Red and Black: A Century of Port Jervis Football, Phil Dusenbury, sports commentator for a local radio station, had this to say about a public school district's use of an "Indian" sports team token:

     "'Red Raiders' might indeed be a misnomer and politically incorrect in this era of 'sensitivity.'  My (Dutch-English-Irish-Welsh and Cherokee) gut feeling is, however, that the young native (sic) Americans who once roamed the perfect field and battled in their own football games would have been honored to be considered a spiritual part of the Port Jervis teams.  GO RAIDERS!!!"  pp. 4

 

    Dusenbury's remarks concerning the matter of racial sports team tokens are interesting on several counts.  But perhaps what is most intriguing is what he doesn't say.  For while it is telling enough that the author felt compelled to present his rationalization for a "Red Raiders" nickname and concomitant "Indian" mascot in the first place, his doing so without providing context or even mentioning the deep, commmunity-wide mascot controversy that spanned the two years prior to the book's publication, indicates the genuine threat the author felt because of what the issue represented.  It may likely be for this reason that "The Voice of the Raiders" was in denial about the controversy and attempted to sweep it "out of sight, out of mind." 

      To be sure, Dusenbury's worries are not baseless.  For inherent in the issue are serious challenges to his worldview and to that of similar others who exhibit an almost cult-like adolation of and attachment to "Indian" sports team tokens.

       Unfortunately for Dusenbury, by making the issue "conspicuous by its absence," and because of his "deceit through omission," he unwittingly not only further legitimated the issue's importance and relevancy, but also discredited himself as a serious chronicler.

           Additionally: 

  1. Dusenbury virtually acknowledges that the use of bad terminology is occurring in a public education setting.
  2. He employs the murky "politically correct" buzzword and is dismissive in his use of  the word "sensitivity."
  3. He attempts to subtly qualify his position on the subject by alleging First Nations heritage.
  4. He admits speaking from an emotional rather than rational perspective ("...gut feeling...").
  5. He is devoid of objectivity in his fanciful, circular, and self-serving assumption about how "young native Americans who once roamed the perfect field...would have been honored."
  6. He refers to First Nations in the past tense ("...who once roamed...").
  7. He uses an analogy to warfare ("...battled in their own...).
  8. He exhibits an almost reverential awe for the team's "Indian" mascot ("...a spiritual part of the Port Jervis teams.").
  9. He articulates the idea of "Indianness" as an abstract quality that has been absorbed and assimilated into the dominate white Euro-American culture ("...a spiritual part...").

     If perpetuating racial stereotypes and dehumanizing First Nations was his objective, then Dusenbury partially succeeded.  But the critically unexamined, guilt reducing myths the dominate society embraces about First Nations - and which Dusenbury puts forth - remain as shallow and unsatisfying as a dry brook.   For how much can be said of those who must depend upon something as mundane and unoriginal as a high school "Indian" sports team token for their source of personal and community identity?   Which is say nothing of the deep spiritual void that must exist in some who would seek to fill their emptiness with abstract, inaccurate, and blatently selfish racial constructs of human beings who have been subjected to an ongoing genocide and continue to be exploited by public schools, businesses, and sports teams across the country.


     Despite his lack of understanding concerning the "Indian" mascot issue or his personal vested interests in aligning himself with the status quo, Dusenbury does strike a worthy corrolation.

     "Sports are no trivial matter.  Just as professional sports reveal much about our national societal values, high school sports serve as a microcosm of a community."  pp. 3

      Overlooking Dusenbury's "chest-beating" assertion about the importance of sports, in the present case, this "microcosm of a community," is one wherein the district's student body is almost 91% white and whose teaching staff does not employ a single minority instructor.  This "microcosm" was no better manifest than in the district's repeated refusal to address the mascot issue in any substantive manner, despite the school board having received abundant compelling information over a lengthy time period and even having been contacted by the National Congress of American Indians, the oldest, largest, and most representative of all First Nations' organizations.

      While it is to Dusenbury's credit that he chose the traditional Port Jervis team name as the title for his book, the author seems to knowingly contribute to misinformation by using the "Raider" moniker in his chronological summaries of seasons that occurred years before that nickname came into common usage.  The author's literal rewriting of history through the use of a term that didn't appear until years later apparently begins in 1933. (pp. 36) Another of Dusenbury's boring contrivances is his stereotypical use of the phrase, "Warrior Warpath," as a season re-cap headline (1925 - pp. 26).

      A review of local newspaper archives indicates that, at least until the 1940s, "Red and Black," "Port Jervis" (and derivatives like "Port men," or "Port team") as well as "red men" were the phrases most commonly used to describe the Port Jervis team(s). 

     As regards the "red men" nickname, the term originated from the team's red and black colors just as the school's arch-rivals in Middletown, New York, were at the time identified as, "blue men" because their colors were blue and white. 

     Dusenbury states that the Port Jervis team began to be called "Red Raiders" in 1949 (pp.56).  However, the first printed reference to "Red Raiders" that appeared in a Port Jervis yearbook seems to be from the 1943 edition and was possibly  inspired by the growing martial spirit of the day.  By 1946 an "Indian" appears on the classbook cover and by 1953, the annual yearbook was rife with pictures of white students and administrators posing in various guises as "Indians." 

This is the 1953 Port Jervis yearbook introduction:

"The Indian is a symbol of Young America.  It was the Indian who taught the white settlers how to survive that first winter in the new world.

"The land on which Port Jervis is located and the surrounding  hills were at one time the home of the Lenni-Lenape Indians.  Their habitations were wigwams of bark usually built in oval shapes.  They ate from cleverly decorated clay bowls and dressed simply in deer skins and fur pelts.  From the colorful history of these Indians we have drawn the theme for our yearbook.

"The Class of 1953 like the Indian is the first of a new kind of civilization.   Modern science may entirely change the destiny of the world.  Will we like the first real Americans play an important part in the history of a new and scientific world?   The way may be hard, but, if we remember and practice the courage and perseverance of the true Indian, we will surely find that we will not be left behind in this world of great progress."     (Emphasis added.)

      Found once more in this introduction are the romanticized, stereotypical "Noble Savage" concepts, the construct of "Indian" as symbolic "other," and phrasing which focuses upon the past tense, all of which are common traits occurring in schools (though not exclusively) where "Indian" tokens are utilized.  It might further be stated that the inclination of European Americans to cultivate a sense of national identity by appropriating ersatz "Native" dress and symbolically associating themselves with First Nations, is also exemplified in the yearbook's introductory remarks, theme, and photos. (See Playing Indian, Phillip Deloria, Jr.)

      Regrettably, judging from this 1953 yearbook introduction and Dusenbury's printed remarks made in 1997, it appears that in the forty-four years that transpired between these two publications, little progress has been made toward improving the understanding non-Native people have about both historic and contemporary First Nations.  Shamefully, this sad indictment of the Port Jervis school system speaks for itself.

      By failing to take into consideration the concerns expressed about "Indian" sports team tokens by virtually every responsible American Indian advocacy group in the country as well as by scholars, psychologists, and religious and educational organizations, Dusenbury lost several rare opportunities.   More particularly, in addition to missing his chance to correct misinformation about the origins of the Port Jervis sports teams' nickname(1) or even accurately record in his summaries when the nickname came into common usage, Dusenbury lost his chance to give something of true worth back to the living peoples he superficially purports to honor: a measure of humanity, dignity, and genuine respect.

 

         (1) The Port Jervis school's "Red Raiders" nickname is sometimes attributed, without any basis in reality, to incursions into the area led by the British educated, American Revolutionary War colonel and Mohawk, Joseph Brant.   Hard evidence proving a link between the nickname and Brant have yet to be found and so any contentions to that effect can only be regarded as apocryphal.