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Chief photo a provocation

I am writing to express my objection to The News-Gazette publishing a photograph in the March 15 special e-edition of a man dressed as Chief Illiniwek at the Big Ten men’s basketball championship game the day before in Indianapolis.

The paper did not indicate that this person was apparently in violation of the NCAA ban on “displaying hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots” at college athletic events.

The photograph seemed like a provocation against opponents of the University of Illinois’ use of Native imagery. More broadly, the photograph, together with television images of Illinois fans dressed in Chief apparel at previous tournament games, speaks to the unresolved UI mascot issue. This issue will gain national attention if Illinois makes a deep run in or wins March Madness.

In light of last summer’s protests around the world against racism, the dismantlement of Confederate monuments, and the recent confirmation of the first Native American member of a presidential Cabinet and racist attacks against Asian Americans, the optics of Black male basketball players dressed in “Fighting Illini” jerseys and Illinois fans in the stands wearing Chief symbols on national television will appear more racist and ridiculous than ever.

Racist symbols constitute forms of violence that dehumanize Native people and everyone. Given this reality, I call on The News-Gazette to refrain from publishing such photos. I also call on university administrators to reprimand and disown racist fans for wearing Native imagery and to retire “Fighting Illini,” “Three in One” and all Native imagery. The world is watching.



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