Open Letter Campaign: Racist Imagery



This is an Open Letter to Amanda and Joe Ripperger, the owners of the Sports Page restaurant in Indianola, and all other owners of establishments with racist mascot decor:


It was brought to the attention of Great Plains Action Society that an Indianola community member contacted the owners of the Sports Page restaurant about their racist “R*dman” mascot sign hanging at their establishment. Though the owners, Amanda and Joe Ripperger, said they took time to think about removing the sign, they eventually declined to do so based on typical, problematic reasoning. The reasons they gave are among the most common rationalizations in defense of racist images and mascots and so we are taking this opportunity to, once again, clarify some points about the racist images and mascots “debate.” We are including text from their response to the community member for context and transparency. From the community member:


They approached the restaurant owners and this was their answer:


On our first request to remove their racist signs, we were told they were “decor,” nostalgia and history. However, we believed they would be sensitive to additional feedback and might hopefully change their position.


Here is their second response:


“We had a great Christmas and enjoyed our time with our family. We, like you, have talked this topic over several times in the past few days. We have even gone as far as to speak with some of our customers and friends with Native American background about it. I believe that this topic is controversial for the Native Americans as well. There are several different opinions on what is appropriate and what is not.


I am very sorry for your families hurt that you have experienced in our community, and we do hear your concerns. We have decided that the signs will remain up. Our restaurants are a piece of Indianola's community, but most importantly they are ours. We have owned and operated these restaurants for 10 years on January1 and we are so proud to be part of the Indianola community that it seems like we would be erasing something that is near to our hearts. Nothing hung on our walls is meant to be derogatory. We hope that you and all our customers know that.


Thank you for sharing your perspective with us.


Sincerely,

Amanda and Joe Ripperger”



What follows is our response to this issue, applicable to all persons or establishments that continue to display racist imagery.

  1. THIS IS NOT A MATTER OF ‘OPINION’: FOR DECADES, MULTIPLE SCIENTIFIC STUDIES HAVE SHOWN THAT THESE IMAGES AND MASCOTS HARM INDIGENOUS CHILDREN. Exposure to this racist imagery also correlates to increasing negative views of Native people in non-Native children. Too often this issue gets brushed aside as a matter of “differing opinions” about what is or is not “offensive.” To be very clear, this is not about what is or is not offensive, or whether there is consensus about this among the vastly diverse Indigenous communities. It is not acceptable to use the excuse that “my Native friend says it’s ok” as they may not be educated on the seriousness of the topic. Experts have weighed in and it is clear that children mascots hurt Indigenous children, full stop.

  2. GOOD OR BAD INTENTIONS ALONE DO NOT DETERMINE THE WRONGNESS OR RIGHTNESS OF AN ACTION. So often we see people claim that because they have good intentions, their use of racist imagery and mascots is not problematic. However, it’s still problematic, because regardless of an individual’s intention, it is still an act that harms children. It does not matter if you have no ill intent in displaying Indigenous images and mascotry, nor even if you are doing it with good intent, as means of honoring our cultures. Good intentions, or the absence of bad intentions, does not make it ok to display racist and demeaning decor.

  3. RETIRING MASCOTS AND DISCARDING STEREOTYPED IMAGE IS NOT AN ERASURE OF ANYONE’S IDENTITY; IN FACT, THE EXISTENCE OF THESE MASCOTS IS A CONTRIBUTING FACTOR TO INDIGENOUS ERASURE. Many supporters of racist images and mascots are under the impression that retiring them is taking away from their identity because being a [insert racist mascot here] is a huge part of who they are. It’s unfortunate that people have built their identity around “being” a [racist mascot], because identifying as something that harms children and society in general is problematic, and that identification should especially cease when they learn about the harmful effects on children. Furthermore, identifying as someone who went to a particular school or lived in a certain region with a Native mascot is not the same as actually possessing that identity. Presuming that an image or mascots is an identity is a form of Indigenous erasure. When non-Native people claim they have the right to identify as an “Indian” or “Mohawk” or “R*dman” they are asserting that they have just as much right to those terms as the actual people that those terms were originally intended to dehumanize. As long as those terms are at the disposal of non-Native people, they represent a failure to recognize the humanity of the people they are hurting. Racist images and mascots serve the function of dehumanizing Indigenous people (see also: “Well, if we have to change these mascots, what’s next? Lions? Tigers?”- this “objection” we see all the time is just people telling us they classify us as subhuman-adjacent without saying they classify us as subhuman-adjacent).

We’re hopeful that going forward, we can provide a better understanding of the issue at hand. Indigenous Peoples have been objecting to the use of racist mascots since before most of us were born. It’s very tiring to have to continuously address the same ignorance over and over again, so we hope that this open letter can help put things into perspective for all those who might not have a full view of the “image and mascot issue.”


Any concerns regarding whether or not someone finds it “offensive” or not, or whether there were good or bad intentions, or how long a particular mascot has been used are all moot. It’s about ending a practice that harms children and society as a whole. It is firmly established that racist images and mascots are harmful and so it is a practice that must be abolished.


Sincerely,


Great Plains Action Society