Elon Musk Ignites Hate Storm Against Black Reporter; Here's What Really Went Down

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 29: Elon Musk speaks onstage during The New York Times Dealbook Summit 2023 at Jazz at Lincoln Center on November 29, 2023 in New York City.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 29: Elon Musk speaks onstage during The New York Times Dealbook Summit 2023 at Jazz at Lincoln Center on November 29, 2023 in New York City.
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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 29: Elon Musk speaks onstage during The New York Times Dealbook Summit 2023 at Jazz at Lincoln Center on November 29, 2023 in New York City.

“Carron Phillips is an unapologetic racist and a deceiver. Shame on him,” wrote Elon Musk to his hundreds of millions of followers on Thanksgiving.

Within minutes, the hate train had begun chugging. Thousands of people liked and commented on the post, and the inboxes of several journalists associated with his outlet were flooded with emails calling on Phillips to be fired.

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What Sparked The Backlash?

So what had Phillips, a Black reporter for the sports media outlet Deadspin, done to grab Musk’s attention? (The Root and Deadspin are both owned by G/O media)

Last Sunday, during a game at the Las Vegas Raiders, a nine-year-old Kansas City Chiefs fan showed up dressed in a Native American headdress and with his face painted red and black.

Phillips used a photo of the young fan from the CBS highlight to make a broader point about racism within the NFL. “It takes a lot to disrespect two groups of people at once,” he wrote. “But on Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas, a Kansas City Chiefs fan found a way to hate Black people and the Native Americans at the same time.”

In the photo, broadcasted by CBS and re-posted by Deadspin, only half of the child’s face was visible. The visible side was painted black. For those who don’t know, white Americans used to paint their faces black to mock Black people, which is why the image of wearing Black across one’s face is considered offensive.

Phillips laid the blame for the incident not on the child’s shoulders, but primarily on the NFL for not doing a better job to crack-down on racist imagery in their stadiums.

Most of the controversy came after it was revealed that the child in the photo was a nine-year old associated with the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. Others pointed out that the CBS image didn’t show that the other side of his face was painted red, which is one of the team’s colors. (It’s worth noting that while black appears in the team’s logo, it is not one of their official colors).

Many on social media argued that it was wrong to use a child’s image in the first place. And others argued that since the child was Native American, what he did wasn’t cultural appropriation.

“We never in any way, shape, or form meant to disrespect any Native Americans or any tribes. The tribe we’re from doesn’t even wear that type of headdress. This specific headdress is a novelty piece. It’s a costume piece,” The boy’s father, said on Fox News. “That’s exactly what we had purchased it for and wore it for—not in any disrespect towards any Native Americans at all.”

What Did The Tribe Have To Say?

The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians ultimately weighed in on the controversy, telling Front Office Sports that they do “not endorse wearing regalia as part of a costume or participating in any other type of cultural appropriation.”

Rhonda LeValdo, a member of the Acoma Pueblo tribe and an activist with Not In Our Honor, a group calling on the Kansas City Chiefs to change their name, says that now that his tribe has spoken, this should be settled.

“Now they’re trying to defend it, saying he’s native American, but the tribe has spoken out against it,” she said. “And the Chumash didn’t even wear headdresses like that. That’s a stereotype of Plains Indians’ headdresses. And that’s not even a real headdress. A headdress is something that is special and denotes honor... you’re not supposed to be using it as a prop or costume.”

To be clear, LeValdo says she does not “blame” the child for wearing the outfit or the face paint. This is really about the NFL and the Kansas City Chiefs, she says.

“They have like end racism in their end-zone, like how are you ending racism when you’re promoting cultural appropriation,” she says. “That doesn’t make sense.”

This is So Much Deeper!

Sadly, racist tropes and names surrounding the Indigenous community are commonplace in American sports. Multiple college and professional teams like the Florida State Seminoles, the Chicago Blackhawks and MLB’s former Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, feature offensive names and mascots.

For years, they’ve been able to hide behind the outrage directed toward the Washington Commanders’ former name. However, the Chiefs still have an offensive name and an even more offensive chant, yet they don’t discourage their fans from taking part in these tropes–which leads to incidents like this. Why would fans see a problem with any of this when the team seems OK with it?

If anything at all comes out of the hoopla surrounding this situation, it’s that the NFL, its venues, business partners, and, most of all, teams need to take the issue of racist names and mascots more seriously. It’s 2023, for crying out loud!

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