Updated: April 28, 2020 6:56:22 pm
This past week, one of the US’s most popular butter brands began trending on social media. It wasn’t because of any coronavirus-caused butter shortage as one might think, but because the company, Land O’Lakes, had changed its packaging after nearly a century, to the disapproval of many.
Why did a 92-year-old butter company change its logo?
The US butter company removed the iconic figure of a Native American woman “Mia” from its products. Imagine Amul doing away with the iconic image of the Amul Girl from its packaging, one that every Indian almost immediately associates with butter. For many Americans, the image of “Mia” on packages of Land O’Lakes held a similar association. But the use of a caricature of a Native American has received criticism from many in the Native American community who had said they found the caricature to be racist and offensive.
In February this year, the Minnesota-based company had issued a press-release stating that they would be changing their packaging in the following months, but had made no mention of discontinuing the use of the offensive caricature.
While Native American rights groups and other social media users welcomed the move, there were also people who questioned the company’s decision to use an offensive and racist caricature to begin with. Some other social media users criticised the company for changing the iconic logo, only to receive a drubbing for encouraging and supporting something that Native Americans found racist and disrespectful.
— @_IllumiNatives (@_IllumiNatives) April 15, 2020
Why is the use of Native American mascots & logos by US companies problematic?
There are several companies in the United States that use Native American logos and mascots, all of which have faced criticism over the years. While some companies have slowly phased out and stopped using this kind of imagery, there are others that continue to use them. While “blackface” being racist is well-known, relatively fewer people, especially those around the world are aware of “redface”, the offensive, racist practice of dressing up like a Native American.
Today, in the US, “redface” is most visible during sports matches for baseball teams Atlanta “Braves” and Cleveland “Indians” and the football team Washington “Redskins”. This cultural appropriation of names by professional sports groups, the use of offensive caricatures as mascots and the use of Native American clothing by sports fans during matches has faced consistent criticism for being disrespectful towards Native Americans.
For at least five decades, there have been calls for the change of the name of the Washington Redskins, but the team has refused to do so. Fans at these sports matches have been seen painting their face red and wearing costumes headwear in an appropriation of headgear worn by Native American tribal chiefs that is considered a sign of respect and honour. Native Americans say fans donning them in jest is disrespectful to their heritage and culture.
Sorry we’re not all docile and silent like your beloved Indian Maiden. It’s just butter. Tastes the same with or without the racism. Maybe you should stop being so sensitive?
— Dr. Adrienne Keene (@NativeApprops) April 16, 2020
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Are things changing in the US?
Change has been slow in this regard. Native American community leaders in the US have been using their influence and platform to raise awareness about why this cultural appropriation is disrespectful. After dismissing complaints from critics for years, in 2018, the Cleveland Indians announced that the primary logo of the team, ‘Chief Wahoo’, would be removed from the players’ jersey because it was not “appropriate” on the field. The logo would be replaced by a large ‘C’ instead. For now, the team has said that they will not be changing the team name that is also considered offensive, and will be searching for a new logo.
In the 1990s, fans of the Atlanta Braves adopted a hand gesture called the “tomahawk chop” and began using foam representations to wave about during matches. Native Americans said this was disrespectful to their culture, but their concerns were dismissed by the sports team. When the criticism intensified especially last year, the sports team began consultations with Native American leaders, but they did not result in any changes.
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Over the last ten years, the Washington Redskins have particularly faced criticism for the team name, logo and mascot. In 2014, the US cancelled six trademarks held by the team on grounds that it was disparaging to Native Americans. Many US news organisations have also refused to use the term “Redskins” while reporting on the team because of its offensive and racist connotations.
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