Monday, September 15, 2008

On Being Called "Chief"

(I worked on this long post for almost two hours, so you better read it all~!)

My good friend Don S. asked me in a recent LMC post's comment,
"... If I was to refer to you as 'Chief', would that offend you?" I have been wondering about it for sometime, but did not think it was appropriate to do so? I feel like it would be "friendly in nature, and not offensive, but I am not sure." How would you think about it."

I told Don by email, that his assumption is essentially correct, in my case, and as his friend.
From him or from anyone whom I know well, or are friends with, calling me 'Chief' does not bother me one bit.

Don's question does bring up the uncomfortable, yet interesting and essential question, among acquaintances and among strangers, about the usage of racially-specific terms.
That's what I'd like to address somewhat here.

Let's get this ugly matrix of language out into the open OK?

Overall, it seems to me that to be called a 'racial-specific' name like "Chief" or "Nigger" or "Homeboy" very deeply depends upon the level of friendship between the two or more persons involved. If a stranger were to call me "Chief", I'd become alert for any other language he/she used, and whether that other language was friendly or not. While my close friends of any race do not call me 'Chief', if they were to do so, I'd not let it go as a racial insult, unless that type of stuff continued, and became annoying to me. In rap music, some rappers use the other term mentioned above regularly to unknown fans, and I have heard that term used without insult among black friends, all who know each other well. However, that other term is generally used as a self-identifier, used to say "I'm cool, I'm down widdya", for acceptance within that racial group.
The very same way that the terms "Heyyah" and "Yahhay", within Indian circles are used- one of those is friendly, I'll just say.

That is the personal, the intimate viewpoint I have: On the personal, friendly, wannabe level.
On a somewhat larger scale, but still one which remains within one's own racial identity, some terms of racial identification are intended as direct terms of derision, merely to single out someone who is considered to be anti-social or unliked by the speaker, to influence others within that race to feel the same way: "The drunk Indian, the ho, that spic, just a Pollack, a typical Jew, etc." These identifiers are never heard by the person being referenced; they are a racial slur then, SIMPLY BY DRAWING A RACIAL EPITHET with these words, in describing another person.

On a grander, but still a general level, there are terms which are undeniably insulting to members of each race. Need I list some of them?
How about "Cracker"? How about "Whitebread"? How about "Blanketass"?
How about "Sambo"? How about "Chink"? How about "Wetback"?
How about "Tarbaby"? How about "Papoose"? How about "Towelhead"? How about "Camel jockey"? Ever been called any of those terms, yourself?

All offensive, and all wrong to be said by anyone who claims to have a shred of decency about themselves.

On that same level of the matrix of racism / identifiers, and as a Conservative American, I would add this-- It Is Wrong, It Is Divisive to categorize any group or any individual living here in our American Stew, as a HYPHENATED-AMERICAN. It is nothing more than another attempt to divide our people, and It Is Wrong.

I am friends with African-Americans who have never ever been to Africa, Jews who've never been to Israel, a German-American woman who has never even wanted to visit Germany~! - Not to mention all the Italian-Americans, the Brazilian-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Mexican-Americans,,,, who themselves DO NOT SELF IDENTIFY AS THAT,
yet must endure being categorized as that, by others. Or be catagorized as worse-.

This too, is wrong, is an attempt by someone somewhere to try and divide ALL OF US AMERICANS.

**I told Don in my email to him, that I hate the term "Native American"; and I do. What can be more separating, more divisive among real, red-blooded Americans than some group being better than other equals by being termed "Native"?!! Where were you born- in any American state or territory? Well, welcome to the world of being a "Native American". That is all that term should mean.

And again speaking personally, on the subject of all the uproar and the offense on sports teams being named after Indians, like the Cleveland Indians, the Florida State Univ. Seminoles, the Fighting Illini, the Chicago Blackhawks, (my gosh~!) the Atlanta Braves or the Kansas City Chiefs-- Why don't you people get a life, and cease being so easily bent-outta-shape??
None of those teams represent YOU - otherwise, they'd be called the Pathetic Washington Crybabies of the NFL. Instead, they represent the warrior, the aggressive, the fighting winner and strong spirit of us INDIANS, and essentially of Us All Americans, fools.

If you are a friend of mine, call me "Chief", and we will both smile, and have a good laugh... Together.


Jungle Mom said...

Very well written. I suppose I can relater a bit when called "gringo". If it is a friend, it feels fine, but a stranger saying it sounds presumptive and usually is a negative. The same with 'Yanki' in Venezuela this is a slur but here in Paraguay it is used commonly. I find my back straightening automatically when I hear it! I remain in guard waiting to see if I feel resentment from anything more that is said.

How do you feel about being called,"indian"? Our Yekwana friends always preferred 'indigena' over 'nativo' but did not like 'indio'.

The Localmalcontent said...

Umm, I am Indian, and the term is an honor, if used any way other than derogitorily. I suggest to all who have Indian friends, to either (1) call them by their tribal affiliation (...I have a Choctaw friend...) or say "Indian".

Unusual to learn that Yanki is not used as an insult in Paraguay-

Anonymous said...

You can call me paleface if you want. I don't get much sun anymore.

Don Smith said...

Nice post. I guess it takes a lot of different folks to make a world, but I am tired of being singled out, I am tired of all this "Political Correctness" say the "right thing" or don't say anything garbage.

We all like to think we are totally unique in this day and age, only to find out, that basically, we are all about the same.

My Mom was the "Archie Bunker" of our family, a racist, plain and simple I am not sure why. Might have been out of ignorance and nothing more, I don't really know if it was meant disparagingly or anything like that. I just know that I vowed that it could stop with me, and have tried hard to break the cycle.

Gringo as Jungle Mom put it is in fact a "racial slur against white people" and it should not be allowed under any circumstances. At least that is my take on it.

In the words of Rodney King ... "Can't we all just get along, can't we all just live together?"

Thanks for straightening me out on the Chief issue. I had been wondering about it for a long time, I am a big fan of the indigenous Indian People in America and I admire their culture and your heritage.

Plus, it pays to be on top of what is happening in the America, it is not often easy being an angry tax paying white guy!

About the only true minority left in America these days ... Most of the rest of it is special interest.

Take Care,

Don Smith

Father Gregori said...

You can call me anything, just don't call me late for dinner.

It all comes down to the fact that words have meaning, and very often we can discern a person's intent and meaning by how they say the words.

Anonymous said...

very often we can discern a person's intent and meaning by how they say the words.

True. Each of us is responsible for what we say. And each of us is responsible for how we react to what others say.

CGHill said...

My father was almost always called "Chief," but then he was a Chief: a Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy.

And the name stuck, even though he retired from the Navy in 1969 and he lived until 2006.

Not a bad title for a fellow of largely Scots-Irish descent, I think.