Monday, April 28, 2008

Changing mascot is good idea

Change is hard. A mascot is, after all, a symbol designed to bring good luck. Over time, such symbols take on almost superstitious powers, inferring even that scoring more points on a football field, or successfully coaching a debate team, is somehow connected to the icon chosen.

The Carpinteria Unified School District voted last week to remove the Indian symbol from its High School out of respect for an offended attendee, leaving the ‘unified’ part in jeopardy.
The history of banned Indian mascots began as far back as 1969, when Dartmouth College’s Board of Trustees decided to change from the Indians to Big Green. Here, in California, Stanford followed in 1972, replacing their beloved Indian moniker, Prince Lightfoot, for that of the Cardinals. Years later, San Diego State dismissed their Monty Montezuma mascot as well.
As a note, all three institutions of higher learning indeed survived, as did over 75 other schools and colleges who surrendered their usually red-painted Caucasian male ‘mascot’ wearing an Indian headdress, in favor of some other symbol.
Twenty years ago, a Federal Judge in Los Angeles upheld the ban of Indian mascots at all schools in the district. As an alternative, the Westlake Village High School, continued with the ‘warrior’ theme, but changed from an Indian symbol years ago, to a ‘W’ with a snappy Roman soldier. Of course, they also discovered that the school was built on a former Chumash village site.
The typical image of a Native American as a ‘warrior’ may be offensive to some, but it is far less offensive than the travesty made of the Chumash heritage in implying they had an aggressive, rather than an agrarian, nature.
In fact, the closest the Chumash ever came to acting as ‘warriors’ was in 1824, when they burned the Mission to the ground and fled to the hills. Of course, this was after withstanding years of subjugation, exploitation, and oppression at the hands of the Franciscan padres and having the Spanish ‘royalty’ order their Achilles tendons severed, in order to reduce the chance of their escape.
In researching this column, I found a Jay Rosenstein documentary entitled, “In Their Honor” shown on the PBS series, Point Of View, in 1997. In it, the filmmaker examines racism, stereotypes and the powerful effects of mass-media imagery on our mistaken, though lingering concept of Indians.
I also read a graduate paper on the use of mascots which argued that, “many who oppose the elimination of the mascot feel attacked because the movement challenges a particular version of American masculine identity that is founded on Western mythology.”
I remain intrigued by the Carpinteria Unified School District’s apparent preference in removing the symbol of the Indian, while having no apparent problem with the implication of ‘war’ as positive, wholesome and necessary. What if they kept the Indian symbol, but became the “Peacemakers,’ getting away from the subliminal Hollywood message of savages somehow ‘massacring their opponents’ on the sports fields.
The theme of ‘killing’ the enemy is a strong one, and might just explain Dr. Laura’s stunning solution to the mascot issue by replacing an Indian’s head with that of a soldier’s. I’m certain she intended to use a ‘white’ soldier as the new good-luck charm, as an Arab-America, African-American or even Hispanic-American service member might prove a bit controversial.
Perhaps there is a ‘teachable’ moment here, if we can reduce the resistance, inject some objectivity, and accept that changing mascots will not emasculate every athlete ever to graduate from CHS. Have conversations in classrooms and offices alike about how the First People were actually treated, and how the generalization and stereotype of an Indian as a ‘killer’ may not be one we wish to continue.
I feel certain that the sense of pride that emits from Carpinteria High School has more to do with academic success, community caring, athletic prowess, and inspiring activities, than with the image of a ‘red-man’ in feathers, buckskin and beads.


Anonymous said...

You don't understand sports at all.

Lisa said...

Finally, someone who gets it! Thanks for articulating so clearly why correcting these racial images is so important to the entire community.

Anonymous said...

Very well said. I think the school board made a great compromise. Keep the name and get rid of the image. Might does not mean right (look at the Bush policy for an example of that!). Carpinterians need to become more aware of the history of the Chumash and what a warrior really means. I can tell you its not about football!

Becki Norton said...

Retaining the "Warrior" name (which does not exclusively connote Native American warriors) may have been a sort of compromise on the part of the Board. Warrior spirit will never die -- it will just get a new image.

Marian Shapiro said...

Loretta, you rock! Thanks for getting people to think about the effects of stereotyping and prejudice!!!

jqb said...

You don't understand sports at all.

Brilliant argument you've got there, and a truly profound capacity to grasp Ms. Redd's points.