Steven G. Percifield--author

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Steven G. Percifield  Author and consultant
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Racial sensitivity
and the "R" word


Demeaning and totally insensitive to the original Americans whose freedom, health and homelands were all removed by the invasion of non-indigenous aliens from Europe, the Washington Redskins name was a racial slur,. Here in Chicagoland, where the plains Indians roamed unmolested for centuries and where, in 2012 we managed to murder nearly 1.4 of our own each and every day of the year, we are particularly sensitive to this sort of injustice. In our gentile society, there is just no room for a label as reprehensible and insensitive as the "R"-word.

Racial sensitivity cuts like a ball-peen hammer through the Velveeta of our daily lives here and we first dealt with it years ago. Chief Illiniwek, mascot of The University of Illinois, was a mean-spirited caricature of noble native Americans. His gyrations along the sidelines or at center-court during half-times were obviously designed to rub native American faces into the dung left by the departing bison herds as they found that they could not stand up to the onslaught when fighting a war with a better-armed, technologically advanced enemy of far superior numbers. Chief Illiniwek deserved to be banished from the arenas and stadiums where the Illini strutted their stuff. And he was.

And now, with Los Angeles housing the Stanley cup which Chicagoans know rightly belongs here, it is high time that we consider yet another Illinois bastion of racial insensitivity. Never mind that the Blackhawks possess what surely must be THE most attractive team logo in all of professional sports. And never mind that Blackhawk is not a disparaging reference to a racial group but was, in fact, the name of an honored native American warrior chief. The possibility still exists that someone somewhere might feel diminished by the use of his name or by his reduction to a cartoonish character on untold numbers of sweaters. I'm sorry but Blackhawk must go. Something less edgy, less offensive must be found.

No one could possibly be offended by using a bird's name for a team (except my Uncle Ernie who lost an eye to a red tail hawk while cleaning his gutter). So I would recommend that might be a good place to start. Since at least three of the four states bordering Illinois claim the cardinal as their state bird, and since a baseball team in a not-so-far-removed state to the southwest already uses that name, anything having to do with a redbird is probably out. Perhaps the Chicago Blackbirds? No, too close to some possible insinuations. Maybe the Crow..nah, forget it. there is a possibility. Except hummingbirds eat nectar from flowers, just like bees who make honey, which brings up Sioux Bee, which--quite frankly--could be construed as insensitive commercialization of a racial/ethnic group.

But if you're going to start worrying about offending ethnic groups, then I suggest that another team--a college team which Chicago claims as its own even though it is in Indiana--needs to take a crash course in sensitivity: Notre Dame. The fighting Irish? Let's talk stereotypes here: a short, bearded leprechaun-ish  figure, his fists raised in front of him, ready to knock the bejeezus out of an adversary. For sure he knocked down a few pints of Guiness before striking his pose. Give me a break. Are you suggesting that the Irish are known to enjoy drinking a few pints and then mixing it up? Where will this madness end.

But I can tell you, as a native of Indiana, that there is one more sports team in the area that is so offensive to many that as a matter of common decency, it must be immediately thrown into the dust-bin of political correctness, never to besmirch our culture again. The name that must go is:


Let's think about this. At last count, there were nearly 6-1/2 million Hoosiers living in the state of Indiana and a goodly number of expatriate Hoosiers living outside it. I can't speak for all but I can tell you that white socks are a part of my cultural heritage. Despite having left the state in 1978, to this day, my weekend comfort clothes are blue jeans, a flannel shirt and black loafers worn over a pair of white socks.

You can imagine the devastation I suffered in 1983 when I first moved to Naperville. We'd gone to a back-yard party featuring large hamburgers, plenty of beer and a lot of conversations. At first, I paid no attention to subdued whispers from behind me. But, as they continued for several minutes, I became curious. Turning in their direction, I saw a mixed crowd of silent people, standing there, not speaking, just looking up at the stars. I assumed it was an astronomy group and turned away. The subdued whispers started again. Slowly, I turned again only to see the same silent crowd gazing skyward. I turned away a second time and, again, the whispers began. I did a pretty convincing but slow head-fake, as if starting to turn, and the whispers stopped. I had them. Slowly I turned my head away from them and without notice, twirled like a dervish toward them. I caught them all laughing under their breath as the attractive woman in the front of their group seemed to be pointing at my feet.

"My shoes?" I asked her.

Having no pretense of discretion now that she had been caught leading the others in laughter while pointing at my feet she replied, "No, sweetheart. It's your socks. My older brother (God rest his soul) used to wear white sox back in '57. Where are you from?"

"Across the street."

She burst out laughing. The others followed. "No, dear. I mean originally."

"Indiana," I said proudly.

"Oh," she said curtly. "That explains a lot." She walked away, laughing. The assemblage of her friends followed her...also laughing. 

Frankly, I didn't see what they found so funny but was at least glad I'd had a chance to meet some of the new neighbors.

But now, thanks to the Washington Redskins, I realize that my sensitivities had been trifled with. My cultural heritage had been assailed. My self-respect had been stepped upon.

I first encountered this sort of blatant racism (if you will) as a young salesman, traveling the St. Louis area. I asked the bartender at my hotel where was a good place for a burger and a beer. She immediately named a spot on FeeFee Road near Westport but then added, "...but you wouldn't want to go there; that's a hoosier (lower case "h") bar." I departed, reflecting my regard for her disregard of my bruised feelings with a smaller than usual tip.

I went to a bookstore the next day, the abuse I had suffered the previous evening, darkening my mood. In the Dictionary of Americanisms  I found hoosier defined as "a big, burly, uncouth specimen or individual; a frontiersman, countryman, rustic..." Never having thought of myself that way I was highly offended to find that others did, just because of my birthplace. The scars still linger.

Enough of this disingenuous demeaning of my birthplace, I say. I have hired an attorney. I am prepared to step up not only for my own feelings but for those of true Hoosiers everywhere.

Look out Chicago White Sox. There are at least 6-1/2 million of us. And we're coming to get you.