In 1969, fourteen football players from the University of Wyoming were kicked off the football team when they wanted to protest BYU due to the LDS CHurch’s racial restrictions on blacks. Dr. Darron Smith of the University of Memphis tells how that protest turned out. Stanford University then refused to play BYU, also claiming objections to BYU’s racial policies. However, a few years later, Native Americans protested Stanford for using the mascot “Indians”, claiming that was also racially insensitive. In response, the Stanford Indians changed their mascot to the Stanford Cardinal (the color, not the bird). Was this hypocritical?
Darron: Very hypocritical, very hypocritical. It goes to show you where our level of thinking is around issues of race were during that time frame. The focus was on African-Americans, right. That was the focus. Pull the beam out of your own eye before you turn the gaze on others. They didn’t see that as a problem. Maybe they had permission from the tribe?
GT: No they didn’t. That’s why they’re not Indians anymore.
Darron: That’s even worse. That’s enormously hypocritical, but isn’t society riddled with enormous hypocrisy all of the place sadly?
GT: Since we mentioned Indians, we’ve got the Washington Redskins, the Cleveland Indians, and the Atlanta Braves.
GT: What’s your opinion on those? Are those racist mascots? Let’s go with even the Dallas Cowboys. Is that racist?
Darron: No I don’t think Cowboys is racist. I don’t think that’s a big deal, no. If you are caricaturing Native Americans for profit, it’s racist. If you’re using their image to make money, their likeness to make money it’s racist simply because of the history of Native Americans and white people in this country. It has not been a seamless history.
Much of the same racism that destroyed black communities are the same ones that destroyed Native American communities, banishing them to reservations and then exploiting their image without their permission.
GT: So you would support the Washington Redskins getting a new name.
GT: I guess I should note that the school just north of here, the Utah Utes, actually they do have permission from the Ute Tribe.
Darron: They do.
GT: The Illini of Illinois, I believe they have permission, as well as the Seminoles of Florida State. I guess if it has permission, then you’re ok with that?
Darron: It’s still racist.
GT: It’s still racist.
Darron: It’s still racist. I call it commodity racism, racism with a twist. Yes. Because you’re still using, still tapping into the same stereotypical ideas, whether you have their permission or not, you’re still reinforcing a cosmology of racial indifference, that these people aren’t set up for this type of endeavor, to be the fodder of entertainment, so yeah.
I asked Smith how the racist protests of the 1960s compared with Iowa State University’s protests against BYU last summer over gay athletes.
I understand and I’m sympathetic to what the plight of the gay athlete is at the Big 12 Conference, but I think it’s a little bit overstated paranoia.
GT: Let’s talk about that because yesterday at UVU there was a conference on race that you spoke at. Right before you got there we watched a movie (click here for a preview) called The Black Fourteen about Wyoming. A lot of people are going to see a lot of parallels between the black athlete of 1969 and the gay athlete of 2017.
GT: Can you talk a little bit about #1, what are the Black Fourteen of Wyoming? Let’s talk a little bit about some of those other protests against BYU about specifically their policy about blacks. Does that relate to the current gay issues that we have today?
Darron: It does and it doesn’t. It relates in terms of oppression, right, so oppressing people who are marginalized is bad, period, so it relates in that way. But in terms of the history of marginalization from 400 years of working in the fields, from being denied opportunities in jobs, this, that and the other, being terrorized by the Klan, no; gay athletes don’t have that. They don’t have that same issue. They just don’t have it.
I don’t know if you’re gay. You walk around. If you walk around in the foreground your gayness in stereotypical ways that I’ve been conditioned to believe and know as a consumer of media, then yes that’s one way to think about it, to broadcast your gayness. If you walk around as an ordinary person, looking like an “ordinary” person looks like without any identifying markers to being gay, I wouldn’t know unless you told me, so it’s not the same history. It’s a different history. I want to be clear about that. Gay rights are not Civil Rights. It’s not. It’s a different trajectory, a different history so let’s not conflate the two.
What they share in common is oppression. It’s what they share in common, but the histories of marginalization and oppression are very, very different. I’m not anti-gay. I’m not saying this to be anti-gay. I’m saying this to be correct about the suffering here, right.
We have a suffering card. It’s a very big suffering card. I realize gay and lesbian folks have a suffering card, and trans-gender people, and queers and other folks have a suffering card too, but y’all’s suffering card gets enveloped in race. In other words, someone who is black and gay feels the sting, the stigma of being black and gay three times more than a white person who’s gay simply because of the way the narrative, the way blacks have been positioned and constructed in society, so I want to be clear on that. It’s why I went on a tangent. I want to be clear. This is Gospel Tangents.
I want to speak clear when I say this, not to say I am anti-gay. I don’t want no hate mail from your listeners about me being anti-gay. I’m very supportive of gay folks. I want to be clear about the degree of oppression we’re talking about here. There’s a difference there.
You can listen to the entire episode BYU Protests on iTunes, Gospel Tangents, or watch it on Youtube below. What do you think? Are Gay rights similar or different than Civil Rights? Is the gay suffering card smaller than the black suffering card?