Sunday, June 30, 2013

Letter to the Editor

A few months ago I wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper, the Delaware Gazette. It's a pretty small paper--or at least it seems that way to someone who grew up reading the Washington Post--but we subscribe because it covers items of local interest that the Columbus paper doesn't.

So a few months ago, they covered an event around the opening of the film 42, which tells the story of how Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to major-league baseball, and the various difficulties they faced during that process. The film's premier was a huge deal here in town because of a local connection: Branch Rickey first coached at Ohio Wesleyan University--my employer! And the character, played by Harrison Ford, even mentions Ohio Wesleyan in a monologue as being a formative experience in his rejection of racism. Woohoo!

But I thought it was ironic and troublesome that, at the roundtable discussion at the premier, there was a representative from a team using a Native American mascot--well, really, a caricature of one. You'll see what I mean in my letter, below.

Well, I got all nervous when I sent it, thinking that after it ran I'd face some people who didn't agree with me or thought I was making too big a deal out of the whole thing. I braced myself, but felt it was important to speak out. (I'm taking a Homeland Security-inspired stance on these things: if you see something, say something.)

And then... nothing. They didn't e-mail or call me, didn't print the letter, nothing. Patrick and I scratched our heads. Our little paper publishes the most wacky, illogical letters you've ever seen; they print stuff that's ridiculous on a regular basis. And yet here was something I thought was calm and well informed, and they ignored it.

Well, I guess I can't leave well enough alone. Or rather, I still think the issue is worth raising. So here is my letter, copied below. I hope you find it thought-provoking. Or at least non-crackpot-ish.


14 April 2013

Dear Editor:

I read with interest your story on yesterday’s front page, “Robinson and Rickey remembered at roundtable,” and appreciate the fact that the film 42 has brought more attention to the story of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson. However, I could not help but notice that one of the roundtable speakers serves as vice president of the Cleveland Indians. I’m surprised that a panel on sports figures who stood up to racism in the 1940s would remain silent on the glaring ways in which professional sports teams today perpetuate racist ideas of American Indian people.

The defense of American Indian team names and mascots usually goes something like this: it’s just something fun, it does no harm. Recent research suggests otherwise, however. A 2008 article titled “Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots” shows that even “positive” stereotyped images of natives, such as Chief Wahoo and Pocahontas, “has a negative impact on American Indian high school and college students’ feelings of personal and community worth, and achievement-related possible selves.” In other words, even positive stereotypes make native children feel less valued, and feel that they have fewer possibilities for a meaningful future. These are not, in fact, harmless images, even when they are not overtly negative.

Another defense of using Indian mascots says that they “honor” native people; but it is not honoring (or respectful) to create a grinning caricature and perpetuate false ideas about native cultures. A more suitable honoring might be to invite the descendants of Ohio tribes to participate in ceremonies in the lands where their ancestors are buried, as the Newark Earthworks Center has done, hosting members of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma; another way of honoring would be to bring more attention and resources to the efforts of Miami University’s Myaamia Center to revitalize the language and culture of the Miami Tribe. We need to recognize the full humanity of native people and admit that it is not appropriate to use and abuse their images for entertainment.

Just a few months ago The Smithsonian held a symposium on the issue of Indian mascots; more information can be found at
Readers can also gain interesting insights from the blog “Native Appropriations,” at

I hope that your readers will remember that most people in 1946 were blind to the racism that Jackie Robinson endured—racism that we now see plainly. And I hope that we will recognize and address our own racism toward native people so that the next generation can look back at 2013 and see that we, too, like Branch Rickey, were courageous, faced our wrongs, and righted them.

Yours sincerely,

Karen M. Poremski

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Breaking radio silence

Hello, friends! How have you been?

I've decided to break my silence to share some linguistic tics I've been noticing around the innerwebz lately. What surprises me is this: rather than bugging me, they make me laugh.

Here's one: shortening the word "feelings" to "feels," then using that in a sentence.

Example: We went to our son's high school orientation a few weeks ago. The experience brought up a lot for me--pride that he's been doing so well in school, worry that he'll get lost in the labyrinthine building and be picked on by older kids, amazement that he's getting so tall and growing more independent, annoyance at his unwillingness to let us help him figure things out, sadness that he's not my baby anymore...

Using this new linguistic pattern, I might shorten all of that to the following statement on FB or Twitter: "We went to the Boy's high school orientation night tonight. I am having all of the feels."


(Our dear goofball at Science Fair a couple months ago.)

Here's another linguistic tic: using the pattern "Because [noun]"; in this case, the noun serves as the reason why you would do something that might not be... completely rational. And it works really well when this phrase is set off as its own sentence. One hundred percent grammatically incorrect! But funny!

The Bloggess provided an awesome version of this structure in a recent post that included a discussion of the phrase "because wine." (Go ahead, take a look; I'll wait for you back here. Be careful not to have any food or drink in your mouth when you read her blog--dude, that stuff might end up on your screen. To be fair, the "because wine" post takes a turn into a less funny/more difficult subject... but take a look at this other post. I had to read it out loud to Patrick the other day because he wanted to know what I was guffawing about at the breakfast table.)

I have also been thinking about knitting-related phrases that fit this pattern. For example: "Yeah, it's 80 degrees outside but I decided to cast on for these wool hand-warmers. Because malabrigo." Or "I have three unfinished lace projects on the needles but I need something easier, maybe in garter stitch. Because Game of Thrones."

(Last year I made these for my friend Mary. 
And gave them to her in July.)

Now, these are fairly specialized, so if you're not of the knitterly persuasion they might not speak to you. (And I haven't actually seen GoT, but I hear it's all the rage.) Here's a non-knitting example: "I was supposed to finish that report by Wednesday, but I decided to extend my deadline to Friday. Because naps."

Or: "I was so busy I stopped exercising and put on some weight, but now that it's summer I decided to get back into my routine. Because prancercise." (If you've already seen the original prancercise video, check out this rendition of Urban Prancercize by R. Vincent Moniz, Jr., and Jonathan Thunder. It is sublime.)

In other news, life has been handing me a platter piled high with events both wonderful and sad. The wonderful: Last week I went on a trip to Quebec as a chaperon for the Boy's 8th grade French class; it was great! (I hope to share some of that here soon.)

(Here's one of the photos I took in Quebec... 
more soon, I hope!)

Even more wonderful: In May, I went on a trip to Rosebud, Minneapolis, and Chicago with students from my "Reading Native American Literature" class. (That was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career, my goodness. I'm writing about it in several ways and hope to share some of that here.)

(Here's a photo of me in the Badlands, 
taken by one of my students.)

The sad: in April, my friend Julie died. In May, my friend Sherry died. Last week, my friend / teacher / beloved elder Albert White Hat, Sr., died. On a daily basis, I find myself mourning them and wondering how the rest of us can go on without these people on the planet. At the same time, I know that we have to go on  because of what they meant and did and made possible with their lives. I am grieving. It's a process, and not an easy one. (I may or may not share some of that with you here... we'll see what feels right.)

I hope your summer has started well. Keep your chin up, and I'll do the same. At least the innerwebz provides a few LOLs now and then, eh?


P.S. Does anybody else have a Thomas Dolby earworm now?