"Symbolic Racism: Chief Wahoo and the Cleveland Indians"


James V. Fenelon


Assistant Professor

Sociology Department

John Carroll University

first submitted

January 1997

edited in

June 1997

ASA Paper Title:


Papers on Racism

at the

American Sociological Association

Annual Meetings

Toronto, Canada

August 1997

Word count: 7,298

(including title, abstract, and notes)


"Symbolic Racism: Chief Wahoo and the Cleveland Indians"

This paper discusses the baseball team symbol "Chief Wahoo" as a racial icon employed by the "Cleveland Indians." Symbolic domination, racism and racialized group interest are analyzed in research designed with multiethnic surveys, participant observation, and newspaper analysis.

We test for the conditions of "white racism" established by Feagin and Vera (1995), finding all are present when the analysis is extended toward additional ethnic groups, including racial minorities. Additionally we find interaction with social institutions' "structural effects" (Bonilla-Silva, 1997), directly related to Gamson's media "framing" (1990, 1995). We establish that these phenomena are direct functions of the size and power of protesting groups.

Media reinforcement of gross stereotypes is demonstrated citywide. Activism is suppressed even as public and private figures act as Officiants in the highly ritualized racial acts, with thousands of Acolytes in the fans and viewing public. Awareness of racially connected issues is in open denial, accompanying a strong resistance to any changes.

Findings are: 1- institutionalized "white racism" is evidenced in display, distribution, and defense of the racial icon Chief Wahoo; 2- ethnic group orientation toward symbolic issues is influenced by one's own group interests; 3- racialized content and targets of iconic symbols are controlled by dominant social groups; and 4- collective ethnic group activism is more likely to cause changes in perceptions of whites "framing" racism issues.

Other observations include that "minority" groups are not aligned, nor are they mutually assisted by their struggles against racism. Dominant groups continue to typify "minorities" as monolithic, while employing divisional tactics that typically fractionate minority ethnic groups (Morris, 1993).

Direct all correspondence to:

James V. Fenelon

Sociology Department

John Carroll University

University Heights, OH 44118

"Symbolic Racism: Chief Wahoo and the Cleveland Indians" by James V. Fenelon, Assistant Professor, Sociology Department, John Carroll University, first submitted January 1997, edited in June 1997, from ASA Paper Title: WAHOO: WINDOW INTO THE WORLD OF RACISM for the Papers on "Racism" at the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting in Toronto, Canada, August 1997.

Outline: Symbolic Racism: Chief Wahoo and the Cleveland Indians


Chief Wahoo as a Racial Icon

Who are the "Cleveland Indians?"

Mascots as Symbolic Domination

Racism Research and Group Interest

The Chief Wahoo Survey Design

Results of the Survey Analysis

Distinctions: Gender, Age and Education

An Ethnic Orientation Toward Icons

Media Reinforcement of Stereotypes

Institutionalized Racial Structures

Activism, Acolytes and Awareness

Symbolism and Racism

Findings about Feelings




Addendum: Survey Instrument

News Clippings

Visual Imagery



This paper analyzes and demonstrates the inherent inter-ethnic conflicts in orientation, perspectives and attitudes about racial symbolism used in public discourse such as sports mascots. The analysis suggests that "racism" is maintained and perpetuated by many if not most of these symbols and icons, and that ethnic group position is reinforced through defense of their display. While "minority" group issues, racially defined, are discussed and presented through the findings, primary research design is accomplished through surveys of major ethnic groups in response to the unambiguously racial "Chief Wahoo" sports icon employed by the "Cleveland Indians" baseball team, and of the media through newspaper headlines representing social institutions.

Data has been collected from the three major ethnic groups involved in this analysis -- (2) "Whites," "Blacks" and "Indians" -- to evaluate racial "group interest" (Blumer, 1969), minority group interest issues (Bobo et al, 1992) and an accompanying "racialization" of American society, (Omi and Winant, 1996). These ethnic orientations toward racial issues are then set against group and individual levels of participation in maintenance of "white racism" (Feagin and Vera, 1995).

Chief Wahoo as a Racial Icon

Discussion of Native American names, terms and symbols used as mascots, team names, (Churchill, 1992) and shamanic representation of schools, colleges, and universities (Rose, 1992), as pervasive throughout American society is discussed in sociological literature (Snipp, 1989:24). Many common "savage" stereotypes (Shively, 1992) are socially derived from historical conquest, (Aguirre and Turner, 1994:100-106) and ideological dominance (Steinberg, 1981) that further extends racism as an outgrowth of "internal colonialism" (Blauner, 1972) into popular discourse, symbolic representations and even the media (Doob, 1996:202-207).

Among the strongest stereotypical logos of major sports teams is the "Chief Wahoo" symbol of the baseball team called the Cleveland Indians. The grinning caricature (Figure #1) depicts a Native American "Indian" nearly always painted bright red with overly huge front teeth, shifty eyes, and headband with a feather protruding from behind. While some symbols such as the Kansas City "Chiefs," bear some resemblance to actual "Native Americans" however generalized, the Wahoo does not even appear human. It is an unambiguous racial icon meant to symbolize stereotypical and usually negative images of Native people as "wild" but "friendly" savages, (Berkhofer, 1978) (Thomas, Miller, Nabokov, Deloria, 1993).

"...Still, today, in Cleveland, the stereotype for Native Americans is the very ugly Red Sambo better known as chief wahoo... ...What is an Indian?... ...the reflections are fragmented, partial or chauvinistic personal reconstructions of reality. The most classic example of this is the professional sports teams like the Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs and so on. They make a lot of money off keeping lies and illusions of Native American stereotypes alive by distorting in disrespectful ways the dignity and pride, as well as the true identities of indigenous people, by making logos and mascots of them, and then telling them to feel honored by the savage negative stereotypes bestowed upon them. Of course, it's not an honor. Those who think this way and insist upon it -- well, that's their prison of racism." (Reyna, 1996)

The above expression by a local activist and "indigenous" person, represents the majority of Native Americans' perspectives in the Cleveland area, as discussions and interviews indicate.(3) Nonetheless, as noted above and discussed later in this paper, nearly all of the defenders of logos and names deny there is any negativity involved, preferring to claim that it indirectly "honors" Native Americans for historical or contemporary reasons, or that it does not directly refer to living Native peoples, but is rather a continued tradition innocently started with good or no "intentions." Evidence from this study belies these statements, including continued media usage of "the tribe," "warpath," "beat the drums" and the garb and "warpaint" of the fans themselves. (Figure #8)


"Team Name Changes" include: 1869 -"Forest Citys" ; 1889- "Spiders" ; 1900 - "Blues" ; 1902 - "Bronchos" ; 1903 - "Naps" ; and in 1915 - the "Indians" (4)...


This first Wahoo is closer to the "Indian" on a buffalohead nickel and is less stereotypical and more humanlike. -->

(Note the eagle feathers.)

Following pictorial histories are from Watson (1997)(5):

In 1928,

this brightly colored head appeared on the team uniforms.

It marked a first step toward cartoon stylization. -->

(Note the similarities with the contemporary Kansas City "Chiefs" icon with the headdress and "ugh" posture.)

In 1947,

the team unveiled this blatantly demeaning face,

the first to be called "chief wahoo"

The large hooked nose, toothy grin,

gleaming eyes and exaggerated cheekbones, -->

add up to a ridiculous, ugly image


(Churchill, 1992)

This degrading image of Jews

by the Bavarian tabloid Der

Sturmer in the 1930's.... -->

(wahoo-esque features:

broad face, nooked nose,

grin/grimace, triangular eyes)

...The editor of Der Sturmer

was executed during the

Nuremberg war crime trials for complicity in genocide in dehumanization of Jews.

1997, TODAY...

This chief wahoo appeared in 1952. --->

The image is more boyish (cartoon),

but it retains all essential features of its predecessor,

with the (feather, deep red) appearance of shiftiness

due to the triangular eyes (pointy ears, toothy grin).

The Cleveland Indians

Native American "Indians" residing in the greater Cleveland metropolitan area originate from many locations throughout the United States, with stronger and weaker ties to their home cultures or reservations (Nagel, 1995). Estimates of the population in the city area range from three to five thousand, depending on identification procedures used (Snipp, 1989).(6) However, many Natives have located in Cleveland as a result of the Relocation Program (Fixico, 1986), generated during the Termination policy era of the 1950's and into the 1960's (Deloria, 1985). Natives from the Cleveland area now experience an urban minority existence (Nagel, 1996), tempered by complexity of American Indian ethnicity (Thornton, Sandefur, Grasmick, 1982).

The other "Cleveland Indians" -- a baseball team so-named after the turn of the century -- maintain high visibility and great support from the general metropolitan populace and political structures, especially after their "Cinderella team" turnaround pennant-winning season in 1995. "Chief Wahoo" came to symbolize the team after World War II, often with derision for the past twenty years of losing seasons. However, since the 1995 season Wahoo flags with nothing more than the Wahoo icon and the word "Indians" are found virtually everywhere in the Cleveland area, whether seen hanging from cars, in bars and offices, and often from private and public flagpoles, including directly under the flag of the United States. (7)

Thus racial icons and ethnic terms usually associated with Native Americans have become highly ambiguous as to their reference and intent. This is further complicated by sports and media usage of the independent terms "tribe" as well as "Indians" to refer to the baseball team and fans. Constant reference to or usage of "going on the warpath" and "wild" fans displaying the "Chief" have prompted activism and protest against the team, the local media, and even the entire city. (8)

During these protests, large and small groups of mostly male fans, usually decked out in Wahoo images and colors with warpaint and plastic feathers, would yell taunts back to the demonstrators, including "We conquered you..." or "Go tribe, that's OUR tribe!' and "We're the Indians now!". Native protesters and their supporters assured us that these, and much more violent responses, have commonly occurred over the years of their protest. (9)

In September and into October of 1995, the Cleveland Indians baseball team was headed for the pennant playoffs and then the World Series with the Atlanta Braves. Correspondingly, "real" Cleveland Indians, Natives, increased their protest activities, including support from AIM organizations outside Ohio. Thus grand conflict ensued between the two sports teams and their rabid fans against Native American protesters opposing the teams' terminology, names, actions, such as Atlanta's "Tomahawk Chop" and racialized symbols as in Cleveland's "Chief Wahoo." Native activists dubbed this nationally televised set of games as "The World Series of Racism."

Nearly all of the conditions of systemic and universal "white racism" (Feagin and Vera, 1995) were thus in play during the world series in Cleveland and in Atlanta. Moreover, both sides took umbrage with their opposition as being in denial and irrelevant. Central to the entire issue, incredibly and ostentatiously, was the pernicious racial icon of "Chief Wahoo" accompanied with massive costuming and wild antics associated with the most stereotypical notions of "Indians."

Mascots as Symbolic Domination

Georg Simmel (1971:227) identifies differences between "subjective and objective culture" and furthers analysis to modernity including conflicts with other "world views" (pg.378). Simmel begins his famous essay by stating the opposition of "man" against "nature" is a "great dualism" with man "overpowering it, then overpowered by it." Besides assuming an ideological dualism, this statement demonstrates placement of people of other cultures and ethnicity in a subordinate, if not inferiorized, position in respect to the dominant social group. Iconic images like "Wahoo" represent a "state of nature" that is shared with "libidinous blacks" (Jordan, 1968). Continually reinforced by media representations of Native peoples as "tribes" in this sublimation to nature, such images demonstrate the dominant-superior position of "whites" as civilized (Takaki, 1987). Inferiorization through depictions of savagery in the "natural" man, probably originates around 1493 in the Papal Bulls (Smedley, 1993), first used as a justification for genocide (Legters, 1992), and then as foundation for race-based slavery (Takaki, 1993).

Thus "Indians" and "African"-Americans are typified and symbolized as animal mascots, uncivilized "tribal" peoples who are "warlike" and "aggressive." We would suspect that when these notions are challenged, or protested, then members of the dominant group will reify images and ideologies of domination (Thompson, 1990), leading to "minority" resistance (Scott, 1990). Demographic pressures and African-American protests during the civil rights era (Morris, 1984), have to some extent turned around continued and incipient usage of any racial icons of "blacks" without real political costs. Moreover, when "minorities" protest excesses of the dominant group, their relatively weak position is exposed and exploited by the dominant group (Steinberg, 1995). as an expression of domination and its corresponding resistance.

As the historical icons of black domination have subsided (Mander, 1991) (Takaki, 1993), Natives have become the last vestige of racial icons exploited and displayed by dominant groups. Belief that Indians were "the vanishing race" along with a general lack of demographic and socio-political pressures, have increased the powerlessness of urban Indians, while reservation-based Natives focus on treaty and legal precedence (Cadwalader and Deloria, 1985).

Racism and Group Interest

Because of the above discussion, we would therefore suspect that different issues will produce many different forms of resistance and attachment to ideologies of identity (Green, 1995) for these differing ethnic "minority" groups. We would also suspect that the dominant group, "whites" would resist any social change that might reduce their dominance in relation to power held by subordinated groups (Rosenblum and Travis, 1996). Furthermore, we suspect that subordinated groups will come together only when their interests are perceived as coinciding.

The basis for evaluating group interests and response to issues (Aguirre & Turner, 1995), specific to Blumer's racial group position (1970) and their competitive "interests" (Lyman, 1988), is analyzed best through observing differential responses to unambiguous discriminatory issues. Feagin and Vera (1995) discuss how whole communities and cities may respond to such threats, real or perceived, to their dominant positional ideologies. Omi and Winant's racialization (1996) places many of these contemporary struggles and ensuing conflicts within notions of political correctness and deniability through institutional forms of racism, again as one of group position. Schuman and Steeh (1996) closely discuss changing normative perceptions on the parts of whites, along with attitudes and changing levels of tolerances for specific issues (Pedraza, 1996), as that of resisting any non-structural forms of change on the ideational level (Morris, 1993:20).

Therefore, with the "Chief Wahoo" issue in the Cleveland urban landscape of whites, blacks, Latinos and Indians, we have possible entry, a window so to speak, into issues of racism, "minority" group positioning, and socio-political tolerance of unambiguous racial icon displays. Moreover, we have the potential to observe group positional movement as the defined issues become less specific to Indian ethnicity, and more generic to "minority" groups in general.

The "Chief Wahoo" Survey Design

Shortly after the "Cleveland Indians" entered into the 1995 World Series, college campuses exploded with the controversies inherent in two baseball teams with race-based names, exaggerated by their racialized imagery and actions. Some of our students flaunted their Wahoo baseball caps and racial paraphernalia, engaging us in debate about the nature of racial icons. Collectively, we decided to survey student attitudes about the Wahoo image and related issues, leading to the survey instrument described below (addendum #1). One important point is that we decided most observers and participants, especially defensive whites, were asking the wrong set of questions, with a focus on why it was so important to Native protesters. Instead, we needed questions with a focus on why the Wahoo image was so important that the players and the fans refused to change it, and even attacked the Native protesters and critics. Another set of questions would need to revolve around the observation that many other "minority" groups, such as blacks, appeared not to have such strong feelings about the issue, or sometimes sided with whites.

The survey collects self-identified information about respondents' "race/ethnicity," gender, education, and age. The ethnic group variable was a self-identified write-in, categorized later. Basic questions included the first two specifically about retaining the Wahoo and whether it was discriminatory or disrespectful. The second question reversed direction to correct for any bias, and extended the issue to "minorities." The third question, again changing directions, jumps directly to blaming "minority" groups "like Native Americans" with a clear generalized focus. The fourth question, again reversing directions for consistent respondents, has a focus solely over minority group representations. Finally, the fifth question reintroduces "symbols like Wahoo" dependent on mainstream cultural acceptance, again reversing direction.(10)

The questions flow from directly about the Wahoo, to issues of respect and discrimination, to issues of perspectives about minority groups, to issues of minority group names/representations and social change, to issues of the "rights" of those minorities to challenge the dominant society. The basic design elements are thereby to penetrate deeper issues and racial perspectives of blaming and representational conflicts through the racial icon Wahoo and Native Americans. Problems associated with this design include whether the Wahoo issue slants respondent answers, and whether respondents make the shift to "minority" group issues. Finally, open-ended "feeling" responses are written in phrases at the bottom of the survey form for each respondent to fill in.(11) These questions contribute a qualitative flow to the individual responses (Alasuutari, 1995).

Results of the Analysis

The means and descriptive breakdowns of the questions are reported on the following page, along with correlation matrices for the five questions, and linear multiple regression results. Lesser correlations and irrelevant significant tests for the other respondent variables demonstrated the importance of Ethnicity as an explanation for variation, as described below. Essentially, extremely high correlations between the five respondent questions indicate how tightly coupled issues appear to be in the analysis. Interaction may explain some of the highest correlation score, -.686 in the expected direction, between the Retain and Discrimination questions. However, scores remain high, from .52 through .58, for questions even without the Wahoo, except for the "minority" blaming question. Also, the direction of correlation follows the design perfectly, yielding a strong positive .6 between Retain and the Fight It acceptance question at the end. Methodologically, we must ask what is the suspected cause for the correlated variation, and whether there are competing explanations.

Figure 2 -- Three Statistical Observations on Survey Responses -- N=504

1. QUESTION VARIABLES -- DESCRIPTIVES -- Characteristics Valid(12)

Variable Mean Std Dev Min. Max. N Label

RETAIN IT 2.83 1.47 1 5 499 RETAIN

DISCRIMIN 3.04 1.50 1 5 499 DISCRIM

MINORITY 3.67 1.27 1 5 502 MINORIT

CHANGE IT 2.54 1.37 1 5 500 REPRESS

FIGHT IT 3.70 1.28 1 5 501 FIGHT IT



RETAIN IT 1.0000 -.6860 .5835 -.5507 .6047

( 497) ( 499) ( 498) ( 498) 1

DISCRIMIN -.6860 1.0000 -.5372 .5163 -.5589

( 497) ( 499) ( 498) ( 498) 2

MINORITY .5835 -.5372 1.0000 -.4615 .5812

( 499) ( 499) ( 500) ( 501) 3

REPRESS -.5507 .5163 -.4615 1.0000 -.5208

( 498) ( 498) ( 500) ( 499) 4

FIGHT IT .6047 -.5589 .5812 -.5208 1.0000

( 498) ( 498) ( 501) ( 499) 5

(Coefficient / (Cases) / 2-tailed Significance... All correlations show P= .000 )

3. MULTIPLE REGRESSION - Questions regressed on Ethnicity

Multiple R .41497 R Square .17220 (13)

F = 32.72821 Significance of F = .0000

Variable in equation B SE B Beta T Sig T

RETAIN IT .176536 .052022 .206710 3.393 .0007

DISCRIMIN -.122392 .049686 -.145728 -2.463 .0141

CHANGE IT -.120584 .047815 -.130530 -2.522 .0120

(Constant) 1.960708 .301016 6.514 .0000


Variable not in equation Beta In Partial Min Toler T Sig T

MINORITY .007448 .006368 .433486 .138 .8901

FIGHT IT -.034501 -.028395 .427792 -.616 .5379

Regression analysis of all five questions on the respondent variable Ethnicity appears to explain most of the variation in the analysis. As the reported data on the previous page clearly shows, with an R Square of .172 with three question variables entered and two left out of the analysis, co-variation between the responses is significant when regressed on the Ethnicity variable, showing a highly significant F-ratio of 32.7 with each variable easily significant at the .05 level. Interestingly, the two more general "minority group" questions of Minority and Fight It labels, drop out of the analysis with high T significance. As suspected, greater ambiguity about minority group rights, whites' more experience with blacks, and closer correlations of blacks with Indians, probably disrupts the previously identified co-variation by ethnicity.

Regression analysis with the five question responses failed for other respondent variables, with only Retain staying in the equation in two instances, both with relatively low R-square value. Since we do not want to assume ethnicity as the only causative variable, although we hypothesize those results both in strength and direction, we will also study co-variation with other techniques, for each of the other respondent variables.

Distinctions: Gender, Age and Education

Suspected and measured differences for the three variables of Gender, Age and Education, are small and generally not significant in ANOVA analysis of variance. Age has a low F ratio, but does show significance in the scores reported below. That is probably due to a large disparity of the N in the age groups. Age and Gender explains some within group variance on Retain It, but the between group variance is greater. Distinctions of Education are completely overpowered by Ethnicity, surprisingly knocking out the variable as even a partial explanation. The racial icon is thus linked to ethnic orientation, and respondents' experience with "minority" ethnic groups.

Figure 3 -- ANOVA Scores on Survey Questions by Respondent Variables

ANOVA ON EDUCATION - Survey Questions Analysis of Variance

Mean Square F score Sig.

Retain Wahoo 4.305 2.008 .063

Discrimination 4.621 2.048 .058

Minority Issue 2.216 1.398 .214

Change Wahoo 3.174 1.696 .120

Fight Wahoo .912 .556 .765


Retain Wahoo 9.469 4.371 .037

Discrimination 1.386 .617 .433

Minority Issue 4.336 2.668 .103

Change Wahoo 3.901 2.164 .142

Fight Wahoo .747 .457 .499


Retain Wahoo 9.810 4.710 .000

Discrimination 6.238 2.817 .005

Minority Issue 4.355 2.755 .006

Change Wahoo 6.477 3.628 .000

Fight Wahoo 3.649 2.217 .025


Retain Wahoo 48.303 30.599 .000

Discrimination 46.525 27.668 .000

Minority Issue 21.848 15.791 .000

Change Wahoo 30.151 20.273 .000

Fight Wahoo 17.006 11.492 .000

Clearly, the only respondent variable that demonstrates both a quite high set of F-scores, especially for the first two questions, and strong significance, well below .005 level, is Ethnicity. Additionally, even the lowest F-ratio of the Fight It (Wahoo) question at 11.5, is well above the highest scores around 4.5 for the single Retain (Wahoo) question on Gender and Age variables. Analysis of variance demonstrates that ethnicity is the strongest and most significant explanation for the observed correlations, with little or no explanatory power assigned to other variables.

Ethnic Orientation Toward Icons

Besides the strongest explanation for covariance of the five questions and responses, ethnicity orientations toward the "racist Wahoo" icon and its related issues of racial perspectives, appear to also explain the movement of racial group positional interests, as discussed earlier. Utilizing the same data in visual graph formats, as depicted in figures 5 (A - E), we analyze the individual questions mean score for each ethnic group and report the mode for those groups. The "Mean by Mode Results of each Question by Ethnicity" shown below (Fig.4) demonstrates the previously identified changes in direction for each group, a consistency in the response patterns, and markedly different trends for different ethnic/racial groups. Moreover, group responses tend to shift away from the high contrast as the issues become more generalized, with "blacks" moving closer to the "Indians" tight grouping. Further analytical discussion will refer to the graphed bar charts for each individual question following Figure 4.



_________ _________ _________ __________ _________ __________

"Whites" 2 4 3 3 3

"Indians" 5 1 5 1 5

"Blacks" 3 2 4 2 4

The modal means shown above demonstrate the nearly opposite ethnic group responses, between "whites" and "Indians" that are hypothesized in the research design, especially in the first three survey questions. The ambiguity in the Change It and Fight It questions, discussed below, indicates less clarity of which racial-ethnic groups are involved, evidenced by modal mean scores of "blacks" as well. The Bar Charts below demonstrate these patterns more clearly.


#1 Wahoo Survey, Barchart for Question 1

With the Retain by Ethnicity bar chart, distinct white, black, and Indian trends appear. "Whites" are in strong agreement that the symbol should be retained, even with demonstrations, and show a linear decrease toward disagreement with retention. These are very robust findings. "Blacks" spread rather evenly across the response selections, with the majority near neutral, although a large block under the "Indians" tightly grouped as being strongly against all retention indicates patterns that will appear for the more clearly shared "minority" group issues following. Ethnic orientation from "race" and perceived group interest toward the Wahoo is demonstrated. The following bar charts from the next four questions explore related issues and test for ethnic group movement with differently worded survey questions.


#2 Wahoo Survey, Barchart for Question 2

In the Discriminate by Ethnicity chart these distinct trends continue, as correlations show, with a few more "whites" finding the Wahoo as disrespectful (14) in otherwise more disagreement. "Blacks" have moved in a slight spread toward agreement that the Wahoo symbol discriminates. "Indians" remain tightly grouped in strong agreement that Wahoo is disrespectful discrimination, evidencing movement toward generalized "minority" issues.

Two important observations can be made in this chart demonstration of the data. The first is that even when reversing direction of the question, the strong ethnic trends remain significant. A second is connected to resolution, so that the dominant culture, "whites" view discrimination differently, perhaps are more open to it, than their right to retain the icon for their own use.


#3 Wahoo Survey, Barchart for Question 3

The Minority by Ethnicity chart shows shifts in political correctness about reverse blaming along with shared issues in terms of typologizing activists against racial stereotyping. "Whites" are in a rough, abbreviated bell curve around the neutral and disagree responses while "blacks" demonstrate clear movement into strong disagreement shared with the "Indians" tight gouping. Thus blacks appear much more closely aligned with Indians against any blaming of "minorities," while Indians are grouped against blaming scenarios that include the Wahoo. We surmise that proximity to and familiarity with the issues around labeling has produced the shift in orientations. This has strong repercussions on the way the symbolic racism issue is "framed" (Gamson, 1990) both by Native protestors toward other "minorities" and for the mainstream media.


#4 Wahoo Survey, Barchart for Question 4

The question in the Change (repress) by Ethnicity chart demonstrates real minority issues, generalized without direct reference to Native Americans or the Chief Wahoo icon. "Whites" have an uneven pattern of responses, with a mode in agreement for change, for "all" minorities. "Blacks" similar to the previous question but stronger in agreement, mostly align with Natives, while a number of "Indians," although still tightly grouped, move away from strong agreement. This first change with Indian responses would seem to indicate less solidarity with generalized minority issues once Native Americans' issues are not solely fronted. We surmise that strength of response, against or in favor, is influenced by the perceived ethnic group ownership of the issue. This also has "framing" repercussions for the "white" public of the mainstream society.


#5 Wahoo Survey, Barchart for Question 5

The Acceptance (Fight It) by Ethnicity chart further evidences the above movements, reflecting attitudes about whether minorities should protest issues accepted by dominant groups. "Whites" for the first time move to disagree, with a stronger reverse bell curve of question #3. "Blacks," with some exceptions, are now strongly aligned with Natives in disagreement. "Indians" disagree with a reverse of the previous question responses including a few exceptions.

We find clear and significant trends that ethnic groups shift in orientation when they identify with the issues. Another analytical question therefore becomes whether these measured group movements occur because of ethnic groups' perceptions of their own interests. Either way, "framing" issues (Gamson, 1995) appear influential on the dominant groups' resistance to change.

Media Reinforcement of Stereotypes

The media reporting and discussing these issues shows a reinforcement of stereotypical terminology and imagery, and confusing references to "tribe" and "Indians" that demonstrates collective group interests may partly be influenced by how well-informed the ethnic groups are. Lexis/Nexis listings of Chief Wahoo wordings in major newspapers, and the reporting of protest activities, demonstrates considerable ambiguity of the words "tribe," "Wahoo" and "Indians" when referenced in headlines and stories about both the baseball team and the protest groups. "Tribe" as a word, used in legal and historical discourse to mean Native people (Mander, 1991), has become synonymous with the baseball team "Cleveland Indians" virtually replacing standard usage in the region, ( i.e. the July 13th Plain Dealer sports sections headlines: "Tribe tops Twins" "Justice, Thome lead Tribe" and "9th-round pick impresses Tribe" for local baseball stories).

Cleveland's Plain Dealer reporting was found the most often referencing, and reinforcing, baseball team imagery with the words and the Wahoo icon. While a handful of stories did appear, numbers of submitted letters to the editors and attempts to replace stories were rejected. Thus mainstream media constructs and considerable tolerance of racial icons about Native Americans, demonstrated through the lack of reporting and interest in the Wahoo and Indians racial issues, whether winning or losing, reflect the institutionalized nature of the racism, with considerable participation from all sectors of society in the "symbolic racism" (Sears, 1988).(15)

"Tribe" is now universally used in the Cleveland area, in "pandemic pathological" usage, by virtually all the broadcast media, and especially the local and regional television news stations, demonstrating flagrant disregard and ignoring of the racial references of the Wahoo, as in Fig.6, carefully orchestrated by the team management and their public relations offices to the media.

FIGURE 6: (2 News Charts) 1."Slant" of Newspapers; 2."Slant" by Interest Areas N=244 (16)


Figure 6 reports data and findings from Lexis/Nexis listings from major U.S. newspapers. Frequencies from the first chart, '"Slant" of Articles on Chief Wahoo by Newspaper Types,"' demonstrate that the Cleveland paper has a strong favorable bias toward the Wahoo, with roughly equal proportions shared with regional and national papers in the other three coded categories of: analytical, unclear, and baseball. The chart approximates a bell-curve shape skewed toward baseball and favorable categories, revealing standard journalistic practices in mainstream media, servicing the general public.

However, in the "News Slants: Content Analysis by Story Slant by Special Interest" chart, using the same data set with a "special interest" variable coded on the headline and article thrust, two clear patterns emerge. The first, and strongest, is that the sub-categories of "anti-Wahoo" and "critical" biased articles are only found in the "analytical" and "unclear" categories of stories. Secondly, "pro-Wahoo" and "money/government" and to a lesser extent "ironic" sub-categories are overwhelmingly found in the "favorable" and "baseball" story categories with high N counts. While some categorical interaction was expected, the separate modes produced in this analysis, demonstrate strong reinforcement of the Wahoo icon and its related racial terms, by all the media. When this is added to the placement of "baseball" and "favorable" stories on a sports front page, with "analytical" stories embedded in special sections, usually less well-read, we can observe prime institutional participation in the diffusion and support of racial-oriented icons and terms.

Thus the local media, and to some extent regional and national newspapers, consciously or unintentionally, reflect and perpetuate rituals of symbolic racism within the dominant society. These reflections are outgrowths of the size and influence of the protesting group, quite small, and the generalized ideologies of the rest of the population, already vested in the symbols.

Institutionalized Racial Structures

The participation of all social sectors and institutions of local Cleveland and generalized American society in the display, distribution and maintenance of the "Chief Wahoo" racial icon, reflect that the racialized American society only responds to demographic and political pressures to de-emphasize racism when strong group interests are employed in the protests (Morris, 1993). Also, advertisements in the media employing and selling the Chief Wahoo icon and the Indians logo are defended by having legally registered the Wahoo logo as a trademark (last in Fig.#1).

Criticism against a Native scholar's "deliberate distortion" of the Wahoo in art displayed at the Cleveland Art Institute (Figure #7), evidences this society-wide tolerance toward racism, and the suppression of protest. Attempts to back out of an agreement to show the art on city billboards further shows the contortions even bureaucrats will use to avoid confronting the issue. And, the ironic "smile for racism" pointed at enjoying the Wahoo, was directly criticized by local African-American leaders meeting with Native American activists, as "causing racism." (17)

Figure 7-A: Re-Distorted Racial Icons

Thus acceptance by the mainstream or dominant society in the greater Cleveland city area, including non-Indian racial "minorities," precludes the "normal" routes of organizing grievances.

Furthermore, ideologies used to justify display of the racial icon are reified on a daily basis during baseball season and long afterwards, in such city-sponsored events as the "Wahoo Winterfest" supported by regional foundations, the city government, and local corporations.

To illustrate the "structural" systems of symbolic racial domination (Bonilla-Silva, 1997), representative headlines for each sub-category have been culled from our NEXIS listings:

Figure 8: Headlines Indicating Institutional Racism (italics are mine)

Critical (18)

1. At Issue: Politically Incorrect Team NickNames; Wahoo: Proud or Offensive?

2. Atlanta, Cleveland Have the Names; Dissenters Don't Have the Numbers

3. Natives Fighting a Losing Battle in Series Protest

4. Braves/Indians: Controversies: Not all Indian Groups Upset with Team Names, Rituals


1. Governor Hails Indians' Win By Flying Flag

2. White Dismisses Indians Meeting (day before:) Mayor Will Meet Wahoo Protestors

3. Indians Pennant Hoisted at Statehouse


1. Wahoo Under fire, Cleveland Profits From Its Caricature of American Indian

2. Wahoo Windfall for Artist; Grinning Mascot's Creator All Smiles Over Demand for Baseball Cards with Reproduction of Original Logo

3. Whammy; The Indians' Rise and Marge Schott's Foibles Produce a Shift in Allegiance

4. Southern Hospitality, Deep in Enemy Territory, Store Decides to Cater to Visiting Fans


1. We've Only Just Begun; ...But the Yankees Spoil Opening Day By Trouncing the Tribe

2. Toasting the Tribe: Chief Wahoo and Co. Deserve Tomahawk Chop (2)

3. Hispanics find "family' with the Indians (2) Braves Squeeze Past Tribe

4. Braves vs. Indians, Inside the Stadium: Little Tribe-al Warfare Waged in the Stands

Pro-Wahoo (19)

1. Tribe Talk (2) Tribe's Chief Wahoo is Well-Liked Symbol

2. Baseball, Race Relations Don't Mix; Lighten Up; It's Time To Play Ball

3. Rally Round The Wahoo; Seems as if any Place You Look These Days; Here's a Chief, There's a Chief, Everywhere's a Chief, Chief

4. Braves vs. Indians: Protestors forgetting the honor bestowed along with Indian Names


1. Chief Offender: Team Logo Ridicules Native Americans

2. Indian Logos Are Called Biggest problem; Chief Wahoo is Top Offender, according to Haskell (Indian Nations College) officials

3. Real Indians Dislike Wahoo (2) Many Native Americans just Sick of Tribe Fever

4. Native American Stereotypes Live on in Sports Logos, Rituals

These headlines demonstrate that in Critical stories, the media is aware of demographic power (#2 & #3) and political divisiveness (#1 & #4); that the Government stories utilize icons (#1 & #3) and avoid confrontation and change (#2); that in Money stories both people and cities profit from selling the icon (#'s 1-4); that the Ironic stereotypic references are purposefully constructed (#'s 1-4); that in Pro-Wahoo stories a general public will support the icon (#1 & #4) even in contradictory racialized stories (#2 & #3); and that Anti-Wahoo stories will indicate fair journalism even as they depict protesters as "only" Native American (#'s 1-4) activists.

Perhaps the single best illustration of these forces at work, still incredibly strong in 1997, remains the confrontation over Heap-of-Birds' Wahoo artwork. In their reverse chronology, these headlines read: Figure 7-B:

1. Billboards Across City to Tag Wahoo as Persona Non Grata

2. Indian Artist Alleges Censorship; Institute Opposes Billboard Jab Against Wahoo

3. Furor in Cleveland Over a Mascot Drawing:

The entire city has thus personified the Wahoo caricature (#1), ignoring its racism (#2), while defending its use (#3). The public, represented by art institutions, sports teams, the media, and government, have appropriated the Wahoo image and reifed a justification for privileged use. When the "minority" group so typified protests, the mainstream responds by claiming ownership, extending to attempted censorship of an art image that re-distorts an already distorted stereotype. Thus the social institutions of Government, the Economy, Families, the Media, Art, and the Law, coordinate actions around a racial icon in this local / regional case, in defense of "white racism." Moreover, the supporters include a large portion of Latino- and African-Americans, led by a city government with a "black" mayor by the name of White. Although mostly on the symbolic level, greater ironies showing the results of our racialized American society are difficult to find.

Activism, Acolytes and Awareness

Feagin and Vera elaborate on roles of Officiants, Acolytes, and Participants (1995:9-14) within society-wide institutionalized racism such as described above. The racial "symbolic rites" displayed by fans crudely dressed up as "Indians" are thus protected "ritual" behavior of dominant groups. Any activism against the racial icons is viewed as a threat to this normative social order, leading to its attempted suppression. Acolytes perpetuate both the rituals and behavior of groups, making most costumed fans of the "Indians" and certainly the media when reporting on the "tribe" behaving as Acolytes, and decreasing any awareness of the acts and rituals as racialized ideology. Moreover, nearly the entire population of the Cleveland area are more than "passive" participants, but are actively participating in the display of crude racial caricatures usually with the "Indians" labeled directly underneath.

A city of racial Acolytes, supported by a foundation of active participation by the entire population and orchestrated by the city "fathers" and their political leadership as chief Officiants, calls into question the perpetuation and maintenance of such a clear racial icon often perceived with disgusted rejection by a large majority of the Native Americans targeted by the symbols. Through ritualizing the behavior with only one, under-represented group as the primary target, other racial "minority" groups do not perceive their collective interests as being threatened. Thus "white racism" in these cases extends, in terms of participation, to racialized behavior by blacks and other "minorities" who may even play key roles in the acts themselves. However, as issues become framed as socio-politically connected to all "minority" groups, with African-Americans, "whites" become more "passive" and even supportive of the strong stances taken by the well-represented and organized ethnic groups with a standing history of activism and protest.

Symbolism and Racism in Sports

The findings about symbolism and racism underscore observations that the Chief Wahoo icon is an appropriated image of American Manifest Destiny ideologies that is difficult to study, and impossible to root out. In a perverted sense this "honoring" or inferiorizing of the "natural" noble-savage Native, is an integral symbol of American popular culture and history. An "Indians" team is generic language shared by "the major six" (National Coalition Against Racism in Sports): Washington "Redskins" and Kansas City "Chiefs" football teams, Atlanta "Braves" baseball team, the Florida State "Seminoles" and the Illinois "Illini" university named mascots, including dancing "Chief Illini" and horseback riding fake warchiefs in feather headdresses at Florida games.

Racism is thus controlled and defined by dominant group ideologies (Thompson, 1990), that responds differentially to similar cases of different ethnic groups. "Frito Bandito and Black Sambo were eliminated, but Chief Wahoo and his ilk live on...." Bellecourt, (1997) maintains, speaking for the suppressed American Indian Movement. Responding to social movements, protests, economic and demographic pressures emanating from minority ethnic groups in relation to institutional structures with specific goals and objectives, our American society, collectively, does not include small groups with idealized or denied histories, like Native American "Nations."

Racism is thereby expressed through the Wahoo icon as being socio-politically acceptable, especially in accordance with group behavior and ritual, continually reinforced by its own leaders.

Moreover, racism is defined and enacted with fluid boundaries partly determined by one's relative group position and perceived ethnic interests. This is particularly evident in the changing means and modes of the black population of the survey, when "minority" group issues replace Wahoo, or Native American issues. The Washington "Redskins" clearly demonstrate this one issue. Historically, the term "Redskins" was used in cash bounties during frontier killing (Takaki, 1993) and is therefore related to genocide. AIM demonstrators equate modern usage with "nigger" (Bellecourt, 1997) attempting to"frame" the term to well-known racial stereotyping. However, they are constantly rebuffed, even in the nation's capitol with a large African-American presence.

"Blacks" and other racial "minorities act similar to the whites' orientation on these issues, such as generally-defined issues of minority group rights, protest, social change and an opposition to mainstream or dominant social values. Apparently, ethnic groups perceive their own interests as being definitional to observing other groups, whether this is "blacks" viewing the Native issues as closer to them, or "whites" observing socio-political issues with which they are more familiar or attentive because of the size, mood or protest activity of the minority group.

We return to the Wahoo survey to analyze these perspectives.

Findings about Feelings

The survey shows that more than half of whites do not find the Wahoo icon as offensive, and either refuse or cannot see that Native Americans do so. They also ascribe these "feelings"(20) to their lack of intentionally referring to Native peoples, flying in the face of the fans' own antics.

Types of perspectives on the nature of "offensiveness" and of "intentions" differ widely across ethnic groups of "whites, blacks, and Indians." We coded responses into eight racism categories, with 1 reserved for highly racialized remarks, 4 and 5 near neutral, and 8 only for anti-racism. This "Types of Feelings" variable was correlated with Ethnicity at .43, significant at the .01 level, and with the Keep Wahoo Question at .705, supporting the previous findings. We find that these differential codified responses about what "Wahoo really means," reflect the local society well, showing that whites have developed an elaborate system of denials and justifications.

Figure 9: Survey Feelings Responses, Coded on Racism (#1), Anti-Racism (#2) N=324











In Figure 9A, "Survey Feeling Responses" two clear patterns emerge. First is that whites are grouped in a bell-curve with a mode of "not offensive" -- their most common actual answer. Secondly, the mode for Indians and Blacks is "anti-Wahoo" (#6) with Blacks grouped in a bell-curve skewed toward "pro-Wahoo," and Indians in a bi-modal pattern strongly "for Removal." Thus Whites, even those able to see Wahoo as offensive, do not associate the icon with racism, while both Blacks and Indians are found in the"Removal" and "anti-Racist" extreme categories. Furthermore, some Blacks share the "anti-Protest" category with Whites, who are alone in the "pro-Racist" extreme remarks.

Figure 9B "Feelings about Chief Wahoo Coded by anti-Racism" demonstrates separation of the ethnic groups on racism more clearly. This boxplot shows ethnic inter-quartile ranges, again with Feelings coded on 8 levels from pro- (1) to anti- (8) racism. The center quartile ranges do not overlap for Whites, Blacks and Indians, and the Median line for whites is "not offensive" while Blacks' "anti-Wahoo" and Indians' "for-Removal" median lines are on the anti-racism end. Ethnic orientation appears to explain the group responses on any racism connected to the Wahoo symbol, as well as whether "society" bears any responsibility toward changing the icon.

Examples from the survey responses underscore these findings:

Examples of Survey Feeling Responses for all 8 Categories

(w=white, b=black, I-Indian)

1.) pro-Racist

w - not offensive, it's a good discriminating symbol, you can't change every offensive symbol

w - should grow up, be glad we're not mad at them

w - Indians have to live like Americans anyway, it's not intentional

2.) anti-Protest (21)

w - just a symbol, should Bulls protest because they've a team named after them?

w - it won't get changed because it honors the first Indian baseball player... meant to represent baseball not a minority group

w - 1.) Wahoo is great 2.) chill out and relax 3.) no harm, find better things to do

3.) pro-Wahoo (22)

w - 1.) not meant to be an Indian 2.) caricature, tribute not mockery 3.)compliment not insult

w - not offensive, what else would they have for a team named the Indians

w - 1.) just a cartoon symbol, not disrespectful 2.) normal symbol for Cleveland Indians

4.) not-Offensive

b - not offensive, a winning team

w - not a real issue for Native Americans

b - no hurt for me

5.) Unimportant (23)

w - 1.) it's only a logo, save protesting for worthy causes 2.) slow change

w - (I) would feel disrespected if it represented my culture

b - 1.) there are bigger minority issues than this 2.) this is a minor issue for minorities

6.) anti-Wahoo

b - 1.) similar to blacks 2.) I don't like it

I - not betraying (the) true Indian

b - (it's) similar to aunt jemima, disrespectful

7.) for-Removal

b - disrespectful if black, should be changed

I - 1.) hates wahoo, blacks hypocritical 2.) AIM Chapter, red sambo

b - we don't like it, so why (is it) so hard to change?

8.) anti-Racist

I - national disgrace, embarrassing, racist

b - 1.) racist symbol, needs to be abolished 2.) stereotyped, derogatory, racist

I - (It's) a symbol of institutionalized racism, manifestation of ignorance, ...human disease in need of eradication

Sharply defined group interests and feelings are evidenced in the written responses of the survey, such as the defensiveness and justified denials in the #1 pro-Racist, #2 anti-Protest, and #3 pro-Wahoo categories. At times these whites will deny it has connection to Native people and that it "honors" Native Americans in the same sentence. These examples of both anti-Indian and anti-minority feeling show "harmless" and "honoring" are another form of discourse control by whites as the dominant group. Dominants are in position to enforce definitions over those subordinated, interpreting a "cartoon caricature" as "not disrespectful" or harmful.

Blacks begin to join whites and Latinos, with a very few Indians, in the #4 not-Offensive and #5 Unimportant near neutral categories, again expressing value judgements on racially oriented icons as "just a symbol" and thereby a small issue. However, as correlations to answers to the survey questions demonstrate, more "blacks" and other "minorities" join the Indians with #6 anti-Wahoo feelings, finding similarities to "aunt jemima" and "sambo" images. #7 for-Removal and #8 anti-Racist responses, underscoring alignment of blacks with Indians on racism, especially stressing the harmful, derogatory effects of racially charged symbols, although Indians also believe many blacks are "hypocritical" on the Wahoo issue.

We find that this component of survey responses can be seen in three broad groups: those defending, justifying and defining the Wahoo symbol (#'s 1, 2, 3), using racialized remarks; those attempting to avoid Wahoo racial issues (# 4, 5) through de-emphasizing problems; and those stressing negative racial icons (#'s 6, 7, 8) by emphasizing symbolic racism. All three groups are markedly different in ethnic make-up and their ideologies of racial symbols. Feagin and Vera's (1995) "white racism" is found to be an accurate description of racialized remarks of the survey respondents, when that analysis is broadened to include ethnic orientation, media institutionalization, and discourse control by dominant group members.

The Chief Wahoo icon, reinforced and reproduced by a powerful sports industry, remains a potent and polarizing symbol of a severely under-represented racial "minority" group. Written responses demonstrate the power of symbols, depending on individual ethnic group orientation, involvement of related social institutions including the media, and acceptance or rejection of cross-over issues by other subordinated racial groups. When dominance nears total, the officiants, acolytes, and a participating public unleash normally constrained racial rituals.

Epilogue: Institutional Repression

During the 1997 season, as Cleveland's team headed to the World Series, protest activity picked up, under local leadership of Juan Reyna, institutional representation by Juanita Helphrey (UCC), and national support by Vernon Bellecourt (NCARS & AIM), among other Native and non-Indian supporters. Through playoffs in October, these protests were barely mentioned by local media, even as the pandemic usage of "tribe" and "Indians" moved into institutional social life throughout the Cleveland area, including the family, schools, friends & peers, the economy, religion, our laws, and local political governance and leadership. Evidence is provided below in two forms -- chart of quotes reported on television, and observations of the protests and non-coverage of violent arrest of its leaders.

NBC channel 3, 10/19/97, right after winning game 2 of the World Series, newscasters decided to show the opposing sides. Mariner's fans were dancing around in wild war whoops, under a big sign saying: "SCALP THE INDIANS," holding hairpieces as if scalps, alongside batting helmets. These Mariner fans demonstrate the universal nature of the "Indian" stereotypces, and the power of these racialized rituals in environments that have not yet developed their use. Their antics are negative imagery of "savage" Indians, pervasive and dishonoring, and replicated locally as shown below.

Quotes from the local Cleveland media representing social institutional racism:

"Our Indians"- "Scalp-em!"-"Our tribe"- "Tribe wins... Indians beat Yankees, then Baltimore, going to the World Series." (Ch. 19, evening, 10/115/97)

"Everytime I see a little kid with an Indians cap, sporting our beloved Wahoo, I know everything is OK here in Cleveland." (Dick Feagler, Ch. 5, 10/15/97)

"Chief Wahoo has come back, the Tribe has won again. Old-fashioned American life has won out right alongside the Indians." (Ch. 8 news, 10/15/97)

"The great American past-time... It's destiny. The Tribe wins... Party time for the Indians fans in the Flats... Tribe fever closes river road in fest, seven arrested for drunk and disorderly... Go Tribe... (Ch. 3 news, 10/15/97)

"Baltimore will be going the way of Cleveland. Tribe fans have sold out before the first pitch for two years now. The deadhead Yankess are mo match for the Indian's Tribe." (Channel 3, 10/16/97, newscasters)

"Cleveland Indians' Tribe Fans are passive aggressive" Juan Reyna, 10,16/97.

Sister (Mary) Assumpta, sporting her bold red Wahoo, a guest on Tribe Special, (ch. 5) predicted the "Indians" would win again, after an epic win against the Yankees, their traditional enemies. (Ch. 5, 10/17/91). Again:

"...trying to help the Indians win... My mission here is conversion... I'm looking for converts... Those Marlin fans tried to bribe me (holding too much in her arms) -- look at all this good stuff, but it didn't work -- I had my fingers crossed... (dishonest)..." (10/19/91, channel 5)

"Tribe fans at (local high school) are showing their spirit, painting a 35 foot by 40 foot colorful Chief Wahoo on their playing grounds. They hope it will last over the Series... Tribe Fever is so strong, we think it's just the beginning. Like our great American past-time, this will last and last, for longer than their (student's) painting. (Ch. 3, 10/17/91)

As "Tribe Fever" boiled over, and protest activity increased, local police, working with team owners in an enterprise called Gateway, moved against them. First, police tried to "box-in" the most active group of protesters behind iron fencing, that got smaller each night. We photographed police intimidation of those protesters who moved to their normal positions, threatening arrests of everyone present. Finally, on the last night, a Wahoo effigy was burned outside one gate. Uniformed police immediately grabbed Bellecourt and took him into custody. Protestors were told they could no longer stay in the area. Reyna and Helphrey were then taken into custody, detained outside the stadium by "off-duty" policemen in uniforms, put in "private" stadium cells, and handed over to a local precinct hours later. Protest leaders were arrested for "trespassing," charged with "disorderly conduct" and manhandled by the police officers masquerading as private security forces.

As a church leader and non-violent Native woman, Helphrey (1998) asked: "If we were disturbing the peace with disorderly conduct and aggressive behavior, then what about the pro-Wahoo fans with huge placards yelling and screaming at both protesters and other team fans?" Clearly, they were arrested because of their message and not their actions. Institutional racism is further evidenced in the law enforcement and criminal justice systems, reinforced by a lack of media attention and "biased" reporting, then put on ice for the next baseball season and its openers of Wahoo Winterfest put on by the city government. Indictments were handed down against the "Fort Jacobs Three" since the "city" fully intends to pursue charges, with little or no media reports on these significant protest events.(24)


The above quotes show that socialization toward acceptance, display and even affection of racial symbols, terms and icons, occurs at very early ages. Children are systematically and quite consciously socialized into passive-aggressive uses of racism and racial imagery. For instance, a vice-president of the university where I teach, wrote in a letter to the editor that "after Mommy and Daddy, my parents taught me to say Chief Wahoo." At first we mocked him, finding another gross and racist exaggeration. However, my wife works at a bilingual daycare, where one little boy hardly 18 months old, pointed out a celebrated identification of the Wahoo on a baseball cap on one of the staff. Within the V.P.'s letter we see racism conflated with political correctness, appealing to mainstream ideologies employed strategically in other racial conflicts.

We have corroborated testimony, anecdotal evidence, and other reliable sources, that demonstrate these effects on Native American children and adolescents. Native organizational women leaders report that their children, in schools and on streets by the police, are commonly accosted with "Hey, you Wahoo." Collective identity is an issue not addressed in this paper, which underscores rampant, covert racism in our society. It seems too incredible, too overt, ostentatious, just too obvious, that a whole city readily dives into a celebration of such racism, during the 1990's. The underlying problem is, what other than racism could all this be?

The findings of this research, based on surveys and participant observation, are 1. institutionalized "white racism" is clearly evidenced in display, distribution, and defense, of the racial icon Chief Wahoo; 2. ethnic group orientation towards symbolic issues is influenced by perceptions of one's group interests, in addition to acceptance by the dominant society; 3. experience and awareness of the racialized content and target of icons and symbols is partly controlled by dominant groups, sometimes dividing racial "minority" group interests; and 4. collective ethnic group activism is more likely to cause changes in perceptions of whites regarding racism and race issues, because of broader levels of representation and perceived need to respond to demographic and political pressures developed in earlier struggles.

Participation of major social institutions in the reproduction and reification of this icon, further exacerbates public participation in racial rituals, causing more denial and justification, found in three general responses -- defending/denying, de-emphasizing, and resisting.

We find sociological impacts from this particular form of symbolic racism, can be found on seven graduated levels of racism:

1. Native American children (and adults) face direct prejudice and discrimination because of the Wahoo and association with the name "Indians."

2. Native American adolescents and adults experience prejudice and discrimination in the forms of intimidation and suppression by local "officials."

3. Non-Indian racial minorities are forced to make hard choices on participation in racial rituals, or rejection by one's peers and/or associates.

4. Blacks, Latinos and Whites, when displaying, supporting or denying racial symbols and language, are perpetuating racism across the spectrum.

5. Whites, along with some racial minorities, are flaunting highly racialized rituals, racial symbols, and language against and directly in the face of protest, reifying racist discourse, actions, and ideologies.

6. The media, especially on television news, reproduces and displays all the above, directly approving of racial imagery through all sectors of society, including its defense and denial.

7. Therefore, and finally, there is both direct and indirect suppression of all criticism, from young kids to university professors, and their free speech, in all sectors and the social institutions of the Cleveland metropolitan area. (Even my research results have been suppressed.)

Another observation is that "minority" groups are not necessarily aligned with each other, nor are they mutually assisted by their struggles against racism. Dominant "white" groups, including scholars, continue to "frame" minorities as monolithic and aggressively against dominant social group interests on racial lines, even as they continue to employ divisional tactics, and fractionate minority groups' orientation toward racism issues. On the symbolic level, these relations are clearly evidenced in differing orientations toward and "framing" of ethnic groups in response to the Chief Wahoo survey questions. Important, measured differences demonstrate that racism is alive and well in relation to symbolic dominance and societal issues, such as this racial icon so deeply supported by one of America's major cities.


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Thornton, R., Sandefur, G. and Grasmick H. 1982. The Urbanization of American Indians. for the Newberry Library. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Watson, James. 1997. "Why chief wahoo Can Not be Fixed" in Newsletter: Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance. Cleveland, Ohio. June-July, 1997:pgs.4-5



- Your "race" or "culture": ( ) Gender ( ) Age ( ) Education ( ) -

I would like to investigate, with you all, some of the perceptions and attitudes about mascots such as the Cleveland Indians' baseball chieftain symbol 'Wahoo" currently portrayed everywhere. Therefore, could you respond to the following questions:

I believe the Wahoo symbol should be retained irrespective of demonstrations against it.

Strongly Agree. Agree somewhat. Neutral mostly. Disagree mildly. Disagree Strongly

( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( )

The symbol Wahoo is disrespectful of Native Americans and minorities.

Strongly Agree. Agree somewhat. Neutral mostly. Disagree mildly. Disagree Strongly

( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( )

Minority groups like Native American activists are too pushy and blaming.

Strongly Agree. Agree somewhat. Neutral mostly. Disagree mildly. Disagree Strongly

( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( )

We need to change names and terms, history, curriculum and other representations of "minorities".

Strongly Agree. Agree somewhat. Neutral mostly. Disagree mildly. Disagree Strongly

( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( )

If the mainstream culture of society accepts symbols like Wahoo, minority groups should not fight it.

Strongly Agree. Agree somewhat. Neutral mostly. Disagree mildly. Disagree Strongly

( ) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( )

Thank you very much. Now, if you could, would you please write a sentence or two which describes your own feelings about chief "Wahoo" and attempts to change it by some groups (?)


1. * Direct all correspondence to:

James V. Fenelon

Sociology Department

John Carroll University

University Heights, OH 44118

2. "Whites" is generically used for Caucasian Americans, "blacks" for African-Americans, and "Indians" for Native Americans. Besides advantages of abbreviated usage and easy identification, most respondents wrote in these ethnic labels for themselves. We apologize if these choices are not consistent with individual sensitivities, but defend their use in this study.

3. Interviews, formal and informal discussions, and participant observation notes indicate these perspectives from every major and minor Native American Indian organization, spokes-person and/or leader in the Cleveland area, including the Lake Erie Native American Council LENAC, Women of All Red Nations WARN, the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Respect, AIM both branches of the American Indian Movement, the American Indian Education Association, and various other groups and resource programs.

4. According to the Team itself, the history is "A local daily newspaper ran a contest and the name "Indians" was suggested by a fan who said he was doing it in honor of the player, Louis Sockalexis." However, non-biased sources report local sports newscasters picked the name. Sockalexis apparently never played a prominent role in team lore until the protests started. Ironically, logo defenders claim both to honor Sockalexis and that there is no connection to real Native Americans.

5. James Watson wrote "Why chief wahoo Can Not be Fixed" in Newsletter: Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance. Cleveland, Ohio. June-July, 1997:pgs.4-5, on the Wahoo logo.

6. 1990 US Census Data for Ohio by Race is American Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut: 20,358

Census data for Cleveland--Akron--Lorain, area is American Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut: 5,133

There are arguments for both low and high counts from census data because of self-identification, (Nagel, 1995) but for approximate metropolitan figures these are as reliable as any.

7. When I arrived in August of 1995, the city and suburbs were alive with the Wahoo symbols, especially the "Indians' flag" without direct reference to either Cleveland or the baseball team. When I objected as a Native US veteran to the "Indians' flag" flying under the United States flag, the acting President of the university stated he could do nothing about it. In fact, patriotism was tightly coupled with support for the winning baseball team symbolized by Wahoo and the Indians. Students, faculty and administrators took umbrage at my critical observations.

8. Much of this was not open to even light humor. When I responded to excited statements about the "Indians are wining" with "It's about time" the other parties looked askance and said "Yeah, it's been almost forty years" to which I responded "More like a hundred or more." One person retorted with "Oh yeah, well 'Go Tribe!'" to which I responded "O.K., which one?" The idea that I was hostile to the Indians (baseball team) soon spread around the college.

9. In a college colloquium, after hostile students accused speakers of only recently addressing the issue "because we're finally winning," the LENAC Director stated her mother first took her out to protest decades earlier. Of course, the protest was getting attention because of the winning.

10. We decided to collect most of the surveys away from local colleges, partly because the Native American respondents would certainly have to be non-students if adults, since the population is so small and collection is so difficult, complicating the comparative statements.

11. An unintended set of problems arose in survey collection by a young mixed-race woman senior conducting the surveys for a funded mentoring project with me. Some respondents became loud and potentially aggressive with the questions, as well as defensive about the Wahoo and Indians. Interestingly, this same young woman, African-American, was accused of being biased as a Native American when presenting initial findings at Miami University at Ohio, with their team then called the "Redskins."

12. Variable: Ethnicity; N of Cases:484; Mean:1.8; SD:1.27; t-value:31.16; df:483; Sig:.000

13. Adjusted R Square .16694 Standard Error 1.14656 Analysis of Variance DF 3 + 472; Mean Square, Regression: 43.02477; Residual:1.31461

14. Does this mean that some "whites" see it as disrespectful and yet want to retain it anyway? Implications of this trend, further evidenced in the following questions, suggests awareness of political correctness in the attitudinal but not the practice or application areas of endeavor.

15. In fact, two reporters at different times refused to write about the first report of this research, even in an abbreviated form with considerable public interest.

16. First we ran "Tribe" with "Chief Wahoo" but the NEXIS return numbers were overwhelming, so we restricted it to the Wahoo and received 714 cased from our cutoff of December 30, 1996, backwards until July 1985. We stopped entering after case #244, during October, 1995, since that is the point that participant observation began, and initial review of the data suggested strong repetition of the findings.

17. These meetings were called mostly by black church leaders in June of 1997, with Juan Reyna of the Committee of 500 Years and other well-known Native leaders. Every argument and response in this paper was advanced and retorted, with mixed results and no consensus.

18. These are other critical Headlines that illustrate similar points: 1. World Series: Braves vs. Indians; Protestors Beliefs Clash With 'Fun' of Some Fans; 2. Native Americans Protest, Most Passers-by Uninterested in Message; 3. Tomahawk Chop Raises Ire; Politically Incorrect Symbols of Teams in World Series Offend American Indians; 4. World Series: American Indian Movement Continuing Protest of Indian Nicknames for Teams; Change Slow; Indians Say Fight Isn't Going Away; 5. Braves/indians: Protest Targets Indian Mascots; Native Americans Return for Series

19. Two more that show personification #1, and ethnic identification #2, are: 1. One Dedicated Tribe Fan Felt She Experienced the Loss of a Loved One as the Indians Fell; 2. Viva Tribe! Hispanic Players Give Latin Fans Another Reason To Cheer in Playoffs

20. This survey variable allowed respondents to write-in a phrase in a blank space at the bottom. Large numbers of whites said the Wahoo was either "not a problem" or was "not offensive."

21. Other representative examples demonstrate the related concepts: 1.) symbolic, not meant to represent Indians, fictional, poses no threat; 2.) if it is offensive then why are Native Americans just complaining now? 3.) Native Americans are making a big deal about this, instead they should be happy that they are used as a symbol of pride; 4.) not a symbol of Native Americans but rather of Cleveland, not a stereotype of natives.

22. Some more: 1.) viewed with pride, so how is it disrespectful? 2.) not offensive because he is not Native American; 3.) traditional, not meant offensive

23. For #5 "Unimportant": 1.) not exploitive, take it too far; 2.) doesn't represent Native Americans And for #7 "for Removal":1.) no one has right to make fool of another.

24. In February, 1998, I asked all three of my classes who were familar with the protest, issues, and the series, and none of them had the faintest idea of the arrests and charges.