What is the ‘tomahawk chop’ performed by Atlanta Braves fans and is it racist?

‘Degrading rituals like the “tomahawk chop” that dehumanize and harm us have no place in American society,’ says the National Congress of American Indians

Nathan Place
New York
Wednesday 03 November 2021 18:52
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Atlanta Braves fans perform ‘Tomahawk chop’ at World Series

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As the Atlanta Braves won the World Series on Tuesday night, thousands of fans lit up Truist Park with their phone flashlights, bringing them up and down in a rhythmic motion set to an ominous beat. The gesture is called the “tomahawk chop.”

A video clip of the moment went viral on Twitter, where some praised it as a show of team solidarity. Others were outraged.

“Why is this ok?!” one wrote.

“That’s racist!” others commented via memes and GIFs.

The debate wasn’t just online. Earlier that week, former president Donald Trump performed the chop in person at Game 4 of the series, infuriating many observers who find the cheer offensive.

What is this gesture, and why is it so controversial? Fans have used the tomahawk chop since at least the 1980s to support many sports teams – not just the Braves – with names or mascots modelled off of Native American groups. The chopping motion mimics the swinging of a tomahawk, a battle axe native to many indigenous tribes, and the rhythmic cheer that goes with it is meant to resemble a Native American war chant.

Is this racist? Many think so. The National Congress of American Indians has specifically called out the tomahawk chop as harmful and dehumanising.

“Native people are not mascots, and degrading rituals like the ‘tomahawk chop’ that dehumanize and harm us have no place in American society,” NCAI president Fawn Sharp said in a statement about the Braves last week. “NCAI calls on the team to follow the example set by the Cleveland Guardians, and we call on Major League Baseball and the FOX Broadcasting Company to refrain from showing the ‘tomahawk chop’ when it is performed during the nationally televised World Series games in Atlanta.”

This directly contradicted Major League Baseball’s commissioner, Rob Manfred, who had told ESPN that the Native American community in Atlanta “is wholly supportive of the Braves program, including the chop.”

“For me, that’s the end of the story,” Mr Manfred said.

Mr Sharp begged to differ.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he responded. “The name ‘Braves,’ the tomahawk adorning the team’s uniform, and the ‘tomahawk chop’ that the team exhorts its fans to perform at home games are meant to depict and caricature not just one tribal community but all Native people, and that is certainly how baseball fans and Native people everywhere interpret them.”

Heather Whiteman Runs Him, director of the Tribal Justice Clinic at the University of Arizona, has objected to the chop as well.

“I think the team needs to condemn that behaviour,” she told ABC, “and to begin the process of educating and taking a lead in raising awareness about our actual identities, the actual complexities of our cultures, our present-day reality, as well as the many problems in our mutual history.”

The Independent has reached out to the Braves and the MLB for comment.

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