As much as we might like to ignore or obscure it, we can’t outrun our past. Many of the institutions we rely on were built, or at least conceived of, in a time when bigoted ideas were openly expressed and widely believed (unlike now, where they’re still widely believed but we at least have the decency to believe them a bit more quietly). Nowhere is this more evident than in landmarks that were named during the ‘less enlightened’ days of our civilization. Who could forget Rick Perry’s ranch at “Niggerhead” (or the more than 100 other places with the same name)?
Professional sports teams have also struggled with this issue. Coming from a time when casual racism against Native Americans was considered normal and healthy (so like… 6 years ago? 7? Less?), we get names like “Braves” and “Indians”, and perhaps the worst of all, the “Redskins” – although like landmarks, this is not the only thing to bear that name:
We have countless examples of things that are racist but shouldn’t be. We have comparatively few examples of organizations that have been forward-thinking and sensitive enough to change the racist elements of their identity. And, to my knowledge, we have only one example of something like this happening:
On February 13,we brought you this story about a school district in Cooperstown, New York that voted to change its nickname from ‘Redskins.’ As a gesture of thanks, the Oneida Indian Nation has offered to pay for new uniforms for the school, Cooperstown Central, after it chooses the new nickname.
From a letter from a representative of the Oneida Nation:
We understand that your courageous decision also comes with a financial consequence and, unfortunately, potential backlash from those who somehow claim that ethnic stereotyping is a victimless crime. We therefore wish to honor your courage and assist your transition to a new, more inclusive mascot. The Oneida Nation would like to lend its support and provide a donation to your school to help offset the necessary costs of changing mascots. We would be honored to help your athletic teams purchase new jerseys that reflect your new team name.
Now, to be sure, this should not be assumed to be the ‘right’ thing for the Oneida Nation to have done. This was the exceptional recognition of what should be a non-exceptional act. The fact that organizations are not doing this should be a cause for surprise. That being said, we still live in the world. The Oneida Nation chose to express a remarkable level of gratitude in acknowledgment of the school district doing what it should have done long ago (or, preferably, not have done in the first place).
Hurray for warm fuzzy feelings!
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