Barack Obama’s election as the first black president is a great moment in our history. We’ve come a long way since separate drinking fountains for blacks and whites, but still have far to go. There is still racism in this country and it continues to be an unresolved issue.
Last week, new U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder called us a “nation of cowards” because we don’t talk enough about race. “The need to confront our racial past, and our racial present, and to understand the history of African people in this country, endures,” Holder said.
The need to talk about racial issues, images and policy became more evident last week when the New York Post published a cartoon depicting a dead chimpanzee, shot by police officers who were captioned saying, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.” Many felt the ape represented Obama and evoked racist symbolism.
The Daily Forty-Niner is not advocating infringement on free speech, but instead that we need to include race in our societal discussions.
Following Holder’s lead, we’re compelled to ask, is Cal State Long Beach a campus of cowards? Do we avoid discussing race because it’s too sensitive, or is it because many see racism as a thing of the past?
Rather than looking outward for discussion to begin, perhaps we should take an introspective look at how we address race issues.
Here on campus, a symbol of California’s horridly racist past dances around in costume. To many people of color, the Prospector Pete mascot and the ominous miner statue on the upper campus, combined with the “49er” school spirit iconography — emblazoned on everything from coffee mugs to our beloved sports teams — represent a violent history.
During the Gold Rush, Anglo forty-niners wiped out 80 percent of the American Indian population. From 1849 to 1861, the genocides reduced California Indian populations from approximately 150,000 to less than 30,000.
The mining camps used to advertise “Indian hunts” in local newspapers and store windows. Documentation abounds of bounties offered and paid for Indian scalps. Men were the most valuable, but women and children’s scalps could pay for a drunken night on the town.
Many miners created cottage industries of Indian slavery. Women and children were kidnapped from their villages and sold into domestic servitude or to mining camp brothels.
Georgiana Sanchez, a CSULB American Indian Studies professor, said there have been repeated attempts by the American Indian community to shed the 49er/Prospector Pete imagery.
“This [Prospector Pete statue] is a very offensive symbol to us. It causes deep pain because the 49ers wiped out our ancestors, cultures and languages with the genocides. We personally have long wished it would be torn down,” Sanchez, an elder of the Chumash Nation, said.
To add insult to injury, the statue seems to scowl across a campus as if to say, “Go away Indians, or else.”
Sanchez said CSULB officials once offered to change the school symbol to 49er/Gabriellino, the latter referring to the ancient Tongva people whose land CSULB is built over. That compromise was refused because “Gabriellino” is considered a racist name harkening to when the Tongva tribe was enslaved and victimized in the mission system.
While American Indians were the most brutalized victims of Prospector Pete and his bigoted cronies, Mexicans and Chinese weren’t treated much better. They were beaten and murdered by miners stealing their placer claims, their lands and their histories. But that is for future discussion.
We not only need to open the dialogue about race relations, we must push it. We must consider Holder’s words and seek, “opportunities to engage one another [so] we can hasten the day when the dream of individual, character-based acceptance can actually be realized.”
Only then can we hope to become a post-racial society.