The Chicago Blackhawks logo and name has been controversial for years. As the team gained popularity after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, not only in Chicago, but all around the country, their logo started to come under scrutiny.
Last week, a popular rapper from Chicago, Vic Mensa, called attention to the “racist” logo on Twitter.
While the logo is controversial, it doesn’t receive the same flack as football team Washington Redskins or baseball team Cleveland Indians and there’s a reason for that. The Chicago Blackhawks were named after an individual Native American and the logo represents him.
Black Hawk was a leader of the Sauk Indian Tribe in Illinois. In the early 1800’s, he and his people were forced to give up their land by American settlers. Because of this, Black Hawk sided with the British in the War of 1812 in an effort to gain back his land, but lost. In 1832, when Black Hawk was 64, he led roughly 1,100 Native Americans to Northern Illinois to recover his land once again. This started the Black Hawk War which lasted for five months, a war in which Abraham Lincoln served as a volunteer. It ended when a U.S. gunboat killed hundreds of Native Americans, forcing Black Hawk to surrender and give a poignant farewell speech.
Ninety years later, Frederic McLaughlin bought the team and named it Black Hawk after his Infantry Division in World War I, which was named after the aforementioned Sauk leader, Black Hawk. His wife, Irene Castle, designed the original logo. Over the years, the name has become one word and several variations of the logo have been used.
Having said that, while the logo and name of the Blackhawks is not entirely racist, it does invite racism. Many fans attend games with headdresses and red face paint. There are also fans whose twitter icons are tomahawks, arrowheads, headdresses, etc. With the Blackhawks having a prominent Native American figure as their logo and name, they are allowing their fans to appropriate Native American culture. It is the organization’s responsibility to be aware of this and to educate their fans.
A few years ago, the Blackhawks tried to do just that by partnering with the American Indian Center of Chicago. They started a campaign to educate and inform fans of the history behind the organization, but besides the fact that a campaign was created, there’s not much information out there of what that campaign entailed. Clearly it didn’t do much, considering the fact that racism and ignorance of some fans continues. They need to revisit and relaunch this campaign in a more effective manner.
Ways the Blackhawks can do that include adding the logo’s history on their website and putting out videos to educate fans. When they show the usual “don’t go to the bathroom during play” video before a game, they should show a video about appropriate fan wear, for example. While they’re at it, they should create and enforce rules where fans with headdresses, red face paint, etc. cannot enter the arena. It is the organization’s duty to tell their fans when they are in the wrong and not be passive on the subject.
The partnership with the American Indian Center went beyond education. The organization helped build a recreation center within the center and along with them, helping restore an iconic statue inspired by Black Hawk, named “The Eternal Indian”, which is located in Oregon, Illinois. Additionally, prior to some home games, the team honors Native American veterans during the National Anthem.
“There are many groups that approach us and say they want to do this and want to do that and many times we’re hesitant because we question their motives,” said Scott Sypolt, Executive Counsel for the American Indian Center. “The Blackhawks have been very genuine in wanting to help and have been very aware of cultural sensitivities. We’re very appreciative of that. They live up to everything they say they’re going to do.”
Even with the history and the team’s community outreach, some Native Americans still deem the logo to be racist and insensitive.
“It lacks dignity,” said Suzan Harjo of the Morning Star Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group. “There’s dignity in a school being named after a person or a people. There’s dignity in a health clinic or hospital. There’s nothing dignified in something being so named (that is used for) recreation or entertainment or fun.”
The entire situation can be avoided by creating a new logo that avoids the use of any Native American imagery. However, that is very unlikely due to the team’s long history and the long history of the logo itself. By replacing the logo with an actual hawk or something similar, they would arguably be removing the connection of the team’s name and its meaning.
To many unaware of what the logo truly stands for, it can be seen as racist. To many aware of its historical background, it’s still seen as racist. You can decided for yourself whether or not you think it’s racist, but only after being provided with the facts and the logo’s history, something that the Blackhawks are responsible for.