With the US economy still in a slump, many New York basketball fans are turning to minor league games as an alternative to pricey Knicks or Nets tickets. However, the rising popularity of one local team, the Harlem White Devils of upper Manhattan, has some critics accusing the franchise’s mascot of promoting harmful racial stereotypes.
The White Devil, or “Honky,” as he is affectionately nicknamed, is a pink-faced demon dressed in a red turtleneck and corduroy slacks. He regularly appears on-court prior to the start of games at the Devils’ home stadium, Farrakhan Arena, and is known for drawing laughter and jeers from the crowd with his trademark dance, an exaggeratedly awkward and rhythm-less variation on the Robot. He also occasionally tosses packages of Saltines into the stands.
Even after Honky leaves the court and the actual game has gotten underway, spectators can often be heard shouting “Kill Whitey!”, a chant that confusingly seems to be used mostly by Devils fans themselves.
Jim Emmons, director of the National Association for the Advancement of White People*, argues that the Devils are reinforcing negative perceptions of European-Americans. “When you have a performance like this,” Mr. Emmons said, “being played out in front of a majority-black audience, on behalf of an all-black team, I think it’s clear what kind of message that sends. This is just one more example of American culture’s typically disrespectful attitude towards Caucasians.” When pressed to name other examples, Emmons stuttered for a moment before citing “you know, that one Wayans brothers movie.” Emmons could not recall the film’s title but confirmed that he was not thinking of 2006′s Little Man.
Devils manager Tyrone Jackson says critics are misinterpreting the mascot’s significance.
“We’re not being derogatory,” Jackson said in an interview Friday. “Our name and our mascot are respectful tributes to the Caucasian heritage. I want the team to play like the white man. I want them to emulate his strongest qualities: His shrewdness, his cunning. His ability to undermine and betray everyone around him for his own benefit. His tiny, tiny penis. I’m sorry, what was your question again?”
The Harlem brouhaha is reminiscent of a similar controversy that confronted Howard University, which recently abandoned its football team’s white mascot, Howie the Rapacious Imperialist.
Still, if accusations of insensitivity have cast a shadow on the Devils’ reputation, they’ve had no apparent effect on the team’s ticket sales. The bleachers were packed for last night’s game against the East Midwood Palestinians, and although the majority of the Harlem supporters in attendance were black, there were a few white fans as well, including Alan Czaplinski, 26, of 136th St. When asked about the controversy, Mr. Czaplinski seemed unconcerned.
“They’re four and one this season,” Mr. Czaplinski said before shrugging his shoulders and turning his attention back to the game.
*Yes, there really is an NAAWP. Google it yourselves, we’re not linking to it.