Local blogs stir controversy; spark debate

Tepid headlines for the win! Thank god August is winding down, because I don't know how much more I can take. The top story at WTOPNews.com this morning was "What's the Best Grocery Store?" and the conclusion that shoppers enjoy a wide selection, good customer service, and clean stores. Well hot damn. Glad we sent some 'professional' reporters to figure that out. Personally, I prefer to shop at GOVERNMENT PROCUREMENT DEPOT #9, a joint-cooperative run by the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Postal Service.

In any event, I'm going to tackle an item that is a bit controversial. I was first tipped off to this yesterday by reader Kerry, who was outraged by an event being sponsored by the local web site BrightestYoungThings.com.

Full disclosure: I occasionally contribute photos and writing to BYT, though I am not at all involved in editorial/management decisions.

The event was part of a series of "pool parties" at the Washington Skyline Hotel, and this week's was named "Indian Summer." The post promoting the event had Google Image results for "Indian" and did contain some jokes referencing Native American culture and stereotypes. The flyer for the event did picture a large slot machine.

As you can see by the comments on the event post, there were a variety of reactions. The director of the National Museum of the American Indian even chimed in. Eventually, under threats of protest and growing outrage, the event was changed and the offensive materials removed.

When asked for a comment about the whole firestorm, editor of the site Svetlana Legetic admitted that the staff had not considered the potential for outrage. "We did not think about it, and it is probably kind of naive that we didn't but we didn't," she said via email.

I'm going to have to fault BYT a little bit here, this is Washington, DC where everyone gets outraged and where everyone is a political activist. Of course a Native American themed event is offensive. Was it funny? Possibly. Does that make it OK? No, it doesn't. I'm glad that the event has been changed and that BYT has reached out to some Native American groups to make amends. Honestly, I don't think they meant this to be offensive, it's the sad truth that making jokes and exploiting Native American stereotypes is socially acceptable. A good amount of people (myself included) were not immediately outraged to see something themed "Indian Summer." We have become conditioned to this, to the point where we, ourselves, make fun of it and don't even realize what we are doing.

Native American groups and supporters have successfully lobbied to get this "pool party" cancelled. But I'm going to stir up some trouble right now and ask why are we letting the bigger things slide? One of the big things that is conditioning us to the fact that "savage" jokes are OK, is the fact that we see names like the Redskins, Braves, Indians, etc. all the time. The Redskins had their share of controversy with the mascot and team name... but there was no serious resolution of the issue. The Director of the National Museum of the American Indian is not threatening to boycott FedEx, for example, for sponsoring the Redskins stadium.

In a 2004 poll, a follow-up to a 2002 sketchy Sports Illustrated Poll, the Annenburg Public Policy Center found that 91% of Native Americans polled were not offended by the name Redskins. That's all fine and well, but does it still excuse the matter? I don't know. All I know is that it's difficult to tell someone not to have their "Indian Summer" pool party if 91% of Native Americans are OK with having a professional sports team named the Redskins with a logo that plays into the same type of stereotypes. What if we had a basketball team named the Washington Negroes? Maybe the mascot could be a character chopping wood. Maybe they sing faux-Spirituals during half-time. Would that not be offensive? What if the mascot was something that showed a stereotypical "accomplishment" of the race--maybe a Tuskeegee Airman, a mo-town singer, or a bling-encrusted rapper? Would that be offensive?

Where do you draw the line? I don't know. This whole thing has launched a good debate. Generally the conclusion has been that most people are not offended by jokes made at the expense of Native Americans--though if the same jokes were made about any other group, it would definitely be offensive. That doesn't seem right to me. As much as I enjoy football, and as much as I don't want to piss off Redskins fans (or Cleveland Indians fans, or Atlanta Braves, or Chicago Blackhawks, etc), I think renaming these teams would set an example that this sort of thing is contributing to the idea that it's socially acceptable to insult Native Americans. If they can rename the Washington Bullets to the Wizards...

We've also learned that you have to remember there's always someone itching to start a protest or boycott in D.C.


  1. This controversy is asinine and step back for this blog which made huge improvements lately.

    Indian Summer is a well known term usually meant as a early fall return to the heat of summer. Where it came from, I have no clue. Its silly for BYT to think there would be no controversy here, but the controversy is also stupid. If you don't like it don't patronize it. Its that simple.

    The Redskins are another beast entirely. In mid Michigan, where I have spent some time, Central Michigan University's mascot is the Chippewa. Or the Chips. The school asked the local tribe if they wanted the school to change and the tribe explicitly asked them not to. They felt it was an honor. Meanwhile schools like Illinois have felt the PC pressure and retired Chief Illiniwek. Its bizarre. But if pressure comes from your community, you gotta do what you gotta do.

    Meanwhile no one gives a damn about the Boston Celtics. Perhaps if they were the Boston Paddies or Mics someone might care. And where is the outrage from ornithologists about the Orioles and Cardinals?

    I think we all need to just get over ourselves.

  2. To a certain extent I agree that the controversy was a bit over-the-top. I think it's interesting how fast the controversy unfolded, and how many people chimed in about it. A testament, perhaps, to how bored DC gets in the middle of August.

  3. Stop worrying about being so PC, white devils. Most Native Americans couldn't give a shit about your event being called "Indian Summer." It's certainly a step above forced marches to the middle of the country where life is shitty no matter how bad you slice it.

    At least you're naming a pool party something relatively nice compared to handing out cholera blankets!

  4. Really? Come on people- indian summer is a weather term. Is that possibly offensive to some Native Americans? Maybe. You'd have to ask them. But calling an event "Indian Summer" and advertising it with Native American theme is just stupid. Appropriate "indian summer" pictures should relate to fall themes- leaves and such.

    But I'm from the South, where we don't care about PCness. My high school was the Warriors and our mascot was an "indian chief." We did have an "indian summer" homecoming them one year.

  5. personally, I'd boycott the BYT's on the basis of their being annoying hipsters, regardless of what they called their pool party.