Opinion: There Aren't 'Two Sides' to Offensive Mascots

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Copyright 2017 Bangor Daily News

Bangor Daily News (Maine)


Kudos to the Wells Ogunquit Community School District for quickly convening a group to reconsider the district high school's warrior mascot and Indian head logo after complaints that they are insensitive to the state's Native American tribes.

It is worrisome, however, that the group, which plans to meet and deliberate for months, wants to consider "both sides of the issue." When it comes to offensive mascots and team names, there aren't two sides. When a group of people, or your neighbor or a relative, tells you that something you are doing is offensive or hurtful, you should stop doing it. Trying to convince them you mean no harm is beside the point. So is citing a long history of using the mascot.

The southern Maine high school is one of just three in the state, the others being Skowhegan and Nokomis, that have refused to change their mascot or team name after repeated requests from the state's Native American tribes. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Maine Indian Tribal State Commission, American Psychological Association, NCAA and others have discouraged the use of tribal mascots and nicknames.

Slowly, Maine schools have dropped offensive names and changed offensive mascots. In 2001, Scarborough High School dropped Redskins in favor of Red Storm, the first school to make such a change. The Husson Braves became the Husson Eagles. The Old Town Indians are now the Old Town Coyotes. Nearly 30 Maine schools, from elementary schools to colleges, have changed their mascots and team nicknames in recent years.

There was resistance in many communities, just as there is in Wells. But when town and school leaders heard repeatedly from tribal members that their nicknames and mascots were offensive, they made the changes.

Here, for example, is the standard set by one school board member in Wiscasset when her community discussed its Redskins mascot in 2011: "It's the Golden Rule," Kim Andersson, then an RSU 12 board member, said at that time. "Our neighbors have told us that this is offensive to them. It doesn't matter if we think so or not."

That's it, pure and simple.

Yet, some communities can't escape from being offensive.

The Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce issued an apology Sunday after promoting a "Hunt for the Indian" holiday promotion among local businesses. A wooden Indian would be hidden at a local business each day. The first person to find the trinket would get a discount, the initial post said.

People across Maine reacted with shock and horror to the "promotion," which prompted its quick cancellation. The community's school district voted in 2015, after several meetings, to continue with the Indians name and mascot at Skowhegan High School.

"It was never our intention to offend anyone, quite the opposite. It was our goal to honor our community icon, support local business and engage the people of greater Skowhegan," the chamber posted to its Facebook page on Sunday. "No apology can take away our lack of empathy and foresight in this decision."

The group will stop selling Indian figurines and Christmas ornaments and will hold a community discussion, which are welcome moves.

"Now we understand we've created a bigger problem of not seeing our actions from others' perspectives, given the local and national issues around mascots and racism," the post said.

There's that simple notion again — viewing your actions from others' perspectives and correcting your actions when you understand how they are perceived or felt by others, particularly minority groups.

Maine has made a lot of progress on the mascot and nickname front. But it's long past time for the remaining holdouts to stop being offensive and to change their mascots and team names as well.

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November 7, 2017


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