Shelf Life clothing has a T-shirt that mocks the Chief Wahoo logo of the Cleveland Indians. Instead of Chief Wahoo, with the word “Indians” emblazoned above him, Shelf Life’s creation has a blond-haired white guy in his place, a dollar sign where Wahoo’s feather would normally be, and “Caucasians” written in the same script as Indians.
The shirts have existed in relative obscurity for years, but were brought into the spotlight recently. Ian Campeau, a DJ for a group called “A Tribe Called Red,” which includes three Ojibwa Indians, and just as importantly, an activist who filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission to get a Canadian high school to change their team name from “Redskins” to “Eagles,” started getting called a racist and a hypocrite for wearing the shirt in publicity photos.
Campeau’s publicity stunt paid off huge for Shelf Life, literally. In a very short time, they felt the impact of shirt sales. The Toronto Star reports:
A hot fashion item this summer on Ontario First Nations’ reserves is a T-shirt with the lettering “Caucasians” and the grinning logo of Chief Wahoo, the much-derided mascot of the Cleveland Indians major league baseball team . . . T-shirt maker Brian Kirby of Shelf Life Clothing in Cleveland said the “Caucasians” shirt has been his most popular seller since he began making them in 2007, but interest “skyrocketed” after the Deejay NDN (Ian Campeau) controversy, especially after the story hit Reddit and Facebook.
The success of the shirt has of course been well-received by other activists in the media, who have had their social justice fancy tickled by Chief White-oo. In closing his own article on the subject, Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra greeted news of the T-shirt’s success with sarcastic glee: “I’ve been told by so many people that, in reality, no one cares about Chief Wahoo, most Indians feel ‘honored’ by their images and iconography being appropriated by sports teams and that the politics of race and sports mascots is purely a function of liberal white guilt and pinkos like me wishing to push our agenda. Hmm. Guess not.”
That would be a really hot take from Calcaterra, if it had anything to do with the actual issue at hand. But, of course, it doesn’t. First of all, reporting that there are “Caucasians” T-shirts flying off the shelves is one thing, figuring out why those tees are flying off the shelves is quite another. Okay, there are a lot of tribal members in Ontario who wear the shirt because they want to make a political statement. That’s fine. But it’s just as likely that there are a high number of people buying it because they think it’s hilarious as well.
I’m white and I think it’s hilarious. I’ve had credit card in hand and almost used my greedy, imperialistic, treaty-breaking capitalist gains to order one about six different times since first learning of their existence. One of these days I’ll pull the trigger on that. But point being it’s a bit presumptuous to assume that all Indians who buy these shirts are doing so because they’re activists.
Secondly, we didn’t need the “Caucasians” T-shirt to prove that there are Native Americans angry about the Indians name, or the Redskins, or any other team with a Native American mascot. We already know that some are upset, even if they’re a significant minority.
The whole point of the “Caucasians” T-shirt is to put the proverbial racial shoe on the other foot, and make white people feel the “sting” of having their race used by a sports team as a mascot, to see how white people like being used as a caricature pawn on a T-shirt.
And you know what? After more than seven years of the shirt’s existence with a publicity stunt or two thrown in along the way, it appears that white people couldn’t care less! There’s no palpable outrage on the part of white people at this T-shirt and what it says. There’s no white equivalent of the Oneida tribe, the group that’s leading the fight against the Redskins.
In fact, this shirt proves the exact opposite of the point it was intended to make. Instead of offending white people to the point of demanding the boycott and trademark revocation of the shirt–the way some Native American’s are demanding the boycott of the Redskins and the Cleveland Indians–there’s actually a “due to high demand” 2-3 week wait for shipping advisory on the Shelf Life website–with many palefaces’s no doubt contributing to that “high demand.”
The shirt is insanely popular and the “outrage” is insanely small-to-non-existent because there is still a segment of the population that has a life, a sense of humor, and better things to do than obsess over team nicknames.
You know, maybe Daniel Snyder’s been running his defense of the “Redskins” team name all wrong. Maybe instead of using Smithsonian linguists to prove the Redskins aren’t offensive, all he needs are some “Whiteskins” T-shirts.