In yesterday's Washington Post, a story appeared about Chief Zee, the African-American Redskins fan who has been the team's semi-official mascot for 35 years. The profile was written by Mike Wise, a clear advocate of changing the Washington team's name and a thorn in the side of the fans who are dead-set against the change.
The profile wasn't kind to Chief Zee, whose real name is Zema Williams. Here are some of the zingers from Wise:
• "[Chief Zee's] one-man, self-anointed tribe is nearing extinction."
• "In some ways, it’s as if Archie Bunker or Amos and Andy were hurled forward in time, not sure what to make of all these hypersensitive, politically correct folk who want them gone."
• "Trying to enlighten him is like trying to enlighten your half-cocked, old-head uncle who uses racial epithets at Thanksgiving dinner. At some point, you either let him eat or kick him out."
• "Chief Zee is dying ... Zema Williams just doesn’t know it."
• "[Redskins owner Dan] Snyder and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have grandfathered in Chief Zee, tone-deaf to the caricaturing of an ethnic minority."
It's that last one (we've listed them out of order) that brings up a touchy issue. Wise's story is rife with remarks that could be taken as playing on stereotypes of black Americans. On the ever-lively Washington Post comments section below the story, Zee's defenders are calling the article a racially-charged hit piece on a "sick old man" (Williams is undergoing cataract surgery) whose intention has always been to "make people smile." Zee's critics counter that one ethnic minority parodying another (Zee freely uses the word Injun) is old-timey minstrelsy times two.
We recommend reading the entire piece ("Chief Zee, the Redskins, and the Setting Sun"), which is well-written -- is Wise cruelly mocking a 72-year-old man and even playing the race card? Or should Zema Williams know better than to put on the redface because he is black, and is his treatment by Wise turnabout and fair play?