America has been trying to eradicate racist sports mascots for decades now. It’s not exactly news that names such as the “Redskins” and the “Stanford Indian” rely on regressive tropes lifted straight from a Colonial-era playbook, using language that downplays the plights of Native Americans.
This pretty standard cultural sensitivity has permeated the mainstream a bit more in recent years, but it hasn't quite reached everywhere—certainly not one ice cream joint in Michigan.
Last week, the Hillsdale Collegian reported on Thursday, the Udder Side chose "Red Indian" as its Flavor of the Week. Located in the Hillsdale County city of Jonesville, the Udder Side has been in operation since 1952, and it’s been serving this particular cinnamon variety under the name Red Indian for nearly half a century without incident, according to MLive.
This year was different, though. Hillsdale County resident Natasha Crall raised concerns that the name was racist on the ice cream shop’s now-deleted Facebook post advertising the flavor, and she took to a community Facebook group last Sunday and voiced her disapproval of the "racially insensitive" name.
The matter struck a particular nerve for Crall because she herself claimed to have "documented Cherokee blood just a couple generations back." Irrespective of her own family’s history, though, she argued the name was tone-deaf considering the county’s own history with the displacement of the Potawatomi.
“The National Coalition for American Indians has said that the term red skin [sic] is inappropriate,” Crall, who could not be reached for comment from MUNCHIES on Monday, told the Collegian. “Red Indian: It refers to red skin. It’s bigoted and offensive.” (Perhaps Crall meant the National Congress of American Indians, a nonprofit and advocacy group that has firmly renounced the term “redskin” as a racial pejorative in the past. MUNCHIES has reached out to the group for comment but has not yet received a response.)
Naturally, the vast majority of the 248 responses to Crall’s Facebook post mocked her. Some of these critics deployed the preferred language of right-wing trolls to decry her hypersensitivity: “Easy there social justice warrior,” one wrote. Another just posted a snowflake emoji.
The Udder Side’s current owners, husband and wife duo Dave and Julie Bauer, echoed these sentiments, claiming Crall was just needlessly kvetching about a non-controversy. The couple argued that the name referred to the subcontinental origin of cinnamon within South Asia rather than to Native Americans, rendering Krall's concerns moot. “I have nothing to say,” Julie told the Collegian. “I have never seen anything like that as putting someone down. It’s what it’s called. It’s a flavor of ice cream.”
Dave was also dismissive, arguing that it’s “just” ice cream.
"Just get over it. It's just ice cream," he told MLive. "I'm tired of it. I don't think it is a controversy." Dave attempted to compare the name to Irish Cream or Black Cherry in his confusion over how anyone could possibly find the name "Red Indian" disparaging. He vowed not to change the name, saying that it would remain Red Indian until he retired.
The Bauers, who did not respond to request for comment from MUNCHIES on Monday, claimed to the Collegian that they weren’t even the ones to come up with the name "Red Indian." The name may have originated with a company that was once known as National Products, which changed its name to National Flavors a decade back, according to the Collegian. (National Flavors did not respond to immediate request for comment regarding if it did, in fact, once sell a Red Indian flavor, how widespread its use was, and whether it did change that name.)
The Collegian did point out that a nearby pizza joint, Bobbye's Pizza Place & Dairyland in Hudson, Michigan also sells a "Red Indian" ice cream flavor. Bobbye’s owner, Bobbye Sanford, told MUNCHIES over the phone on Monday that patrons have occasionally complained about the name to her workers, though never directly to her. She doesn’t plan on changing the name.
“I’ve done it for 34 years,” she told MUNCHIES. “Why should I change it now?”
The Udder Side's Facebook page has since been saturated with one-star reviews decrying its refusal to change the flavor's name, but there's a chance its owners won't listen to and act on those concerns. The Udder Side’s promotion is over now, after all, and its Flavor of the Week has now rotated to the considerably less charged Blue Raspberry.