By Monica Piga Wallace
It is time to end the “tradition” in Lancaster of using a team mascot that promotes offensive stereotypes and creates a hostile learning environment.
Dictionaries define “redskin” as “offensive,” “disparaging,” “pejorative” and “contemptuous.” From its genocidal origins to even Disney songs calling Native Americans “dirty redskin devils,” the term has a long history of disparaging use. News organizations around the country refuse to print the word, deeming it no less offensive than the N-word, and trademark protection was recently canceled for the NFL team bearing that name because law does not protect disparaging trademarks. To suggest that the term is not a racial slur is to deny its very meaning and origin. Even if the word is not offensive to all, it is certainly offensive to many.
In addition to being offensive, the mascot is harmful. Studies show that Native American team mascots perpetuate stereotypes and cause psychological harm to Native American people, particularly children. Team names like the “Redskins” establish an unwelcome and hostile learning environment, lower the self-esteem of Native American children and undermine the educational experiences for all students. More than 100 professional organizations, including civil rights groups, educational organizations, athletic organizations, Native American organizations and religious groups, have called for an end to the use of Native American mascots in sports. Schools across the nation have heeded this call, including 28 high schools that have specifically abandoned the “Redskin” mascot.
Those who support keeping the name cite tradition and claim it “honors” Native Americans. Native Americans do not feel honored. More than 23 Native American organizations representing over 1.2 million people have voiced their opposition to the NFL team name, stating that it “perpetuates a centuries-old stereotype of Native Americans as ‘blood-thirsty savages’ and ‘noble warriors.’ ” If the people whom we claim to honor say that it does not do so, how can we insist they are wrong?
As a public school district with a mission to provide a safe and welcoming learning environment, one that teaches respect and tolerance, Lancaster simply cannot continue to endorse this practice. More than 50 years ago, in its landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation ruling, the Supreme Court highlighted the important role that schools play in our democracy, declaring schools “the principal instrument in awakening a child to cultural values.” Where studies prove that Native American mascots perpetuate negative stereotypes, lower self-esteem and foster a hostile learning environment, how can we continue to condone this practice merely for the sake of school “tradition”?
Monica Piga Wallace of Lancaster is a member of the legal skills faculty at the University at Buffalo Law School.