Doing the Right Thing: Dropping Racist Mascots

It is truly remarkable that our society has yet to fully evolve to a place where it is unthinkable that schools and sports teams even consider retaining racists mascots. Perhaps the most offensive mascot is that of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, which the team dubs, “Chief Wahoo.” It is important to note that there is no historical figure with such a name, so there simply can be no argument that this caricature honors anyone.

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While it has proven difficult to legislate prohibition of racists mascots in professional sports, fortunately slow progress is being made in the amateur arena.  The NCAA banned racist mascots as of 2006. The latest count shows that such racist mascots are now under 1000 nationally, though that is still nearly 1000 racist mascots too many.

In Wisconsin, the state adopted legislation in 2010, which allows citizens to file complaints against racist public school mascots with the Dept. of Public Instruction (DPI).  The most contentious case is in Mukwonago, where a high school student filed a complaint against the racist “Chief” mascot and DPI ruled that it must be changed due to its racist and offensive nature.  Sadly, the Mukwonago School District has persisted in fighting this order and maintains the offensive mascot despite a ruling against the mascot in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.  Although the district has told the media it will appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, as of this writing, there is no such filing that appears on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s web site.

Fortunately, the small northern Wisconsin town of Winter, recently agreed to retire its Native American logo by acting proactively to remove it rather than wait for a complaint and a ruling by DPI.  As District Administrator District Administrator Penny Boileau said,

“If we’re offending our students, neighbors, friends, it’s not appropriate, it’s time to change.”

The difference in attitudes between these two districts probably has something to do with the population in the districts.  Mukwonago is a suburban district which as of the latest data reported, only had 1 Native American student graduate from its high school in 2011-12.  This contrasts with the small Winter school district where in 2011-12, 5 of its 27 high school seniors were Native American.

One must wonder why our nation continues to permit so many racist Native American mascots and logos when the same would not be tolerated of other racial or ethnic groups.  Perhaps this picture says it all–an African-American fan dressed up as a “Redskin” to support his NFL football team.

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This is exactly why schools are the right place to teach our children that racist mascots just support continued tolerance of racism in society.  Congratulations to Winter, Wisconsin for agreeing to teach its children that such racism must end.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

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