Nov 12 2013

More offensive team mascots and nicknames

CoachellaValley_custom-601985deb5e8d35e392dd8bea9d64dc571b52137-s40-c85I thought that the Cleveland Indians Chief Wahoo mascot was bad enough but take a look at the mascot of the Coachella Valley Unified School District in California, whose team is known as the Arabs, even though the area is 99% Latino. So how did they get that nickname and adopt that mascot? The region is home to date plantations because that area is supposedly the best for growing dates.

Arab-Americans are protesting it.

Abed Ayoub is the director of legal and policy affairs at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the group that came out against the mascot. “He looks very angry, very, very mean,” says Ayoub. “One mural has an Arab on a magic carpet with a woman next to him. You look at their halftime show, they have a belly dancer that comes out dancing for the Arab male.”

But of course, the mascot has its defenders and they give the usual reason: tradition. And of course that they do not mean anything disrespectful.

Meanwhile, the editorial board of one high school newspaper in Pennsylvania decided to take a stand and decided that their school’s nickname (‘Redskins’) was racist and voted to stop using it but they were overruled by administrators.

“The word ‘Redskin’ is racist, and very much so,” staff wrote in the editorial. “It is not a term of honor, but a term of hate.”

The editorial garnered a lot of media attention initially, but staff didn’t expect anything more to happen as a result of their decision, said Gillian McGoldrick, the Playwickian’s editor-in-chief.

Then, Rob McGee, the school’s principal, emailed the paper’s adviser with a “directive,” McGoldrick said. Adviser Tara Huber passed along the message to student editors because they are responsible for all editorial decisions, said Reed Hennessy, the paper’s sports editor.

“McGee said, ‘I don’t think you have the right to not use the word Redskins,’” Hennessy said, adding that the email said the paper had to continue to use the term at least until a hearing that McGee scheduled for Nov. 19 to discuss the issue.

Alumni have come out against the ban on the name arguing that it was (you guessed it) tradition.

If tradition is the best argument that you have for anything, then you’ve got nothing.



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  1. 1
    Reginald Selkirk

    “Tradition” is just about the only argument offered in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the current court case about prayer at city council meetings.

  2. 2

    Tradition is also the main reason why way too many Dutch want their Pete (the helping hand of Santa Claus, Bishop of Myra) to stay black. The tradition is just 150 years old.

  3. 3

    I don’t get how people can not see these mascots and names as offensive.

    Seriously, when can you use ‘redskin’ outside of talking about sports or potatoes, and not come across as a racist asshat?

    It seems to me people either get this right away (or maybe with a slight nudge, like comparing mascots to racist propaganda caricatures), or they just refuse to get it at all. I’m not sure it’s worth debating this with people.

  4. 4

    There was a Deadspin article about this with examples of past Arab mascots. http://deadspin.com/california-high-school-under-attack-for-its-arab-masc-1460479915

    It’s shocking, but not surprising. I’m sure there are a bunch of schools out there with offensive mascots flying under the radar. They all claim “Tradition”.

  5. 5

    Tradition is often “because I said so” for adults.

  6. 6

    Not all schools choose names of bellicose people or animals (e.g., UC Irvine Anteaters, UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs) but a lot of the idea behind a mascot and name IS because athletic competition is viewed as a substitute for combat. Nobody seems to object to Spartans or Tigers or Bulldogs or Knights or Trojans or Cavaliers or Pirates, all of which have a reputation as fierce fighters. “Warriors” or “Braves” are also famous fighters … is it possible to have such a mascot without being racist? (N.B. “warriors” need not be Native American wariors.) Or maybe people DO object to traditional mascots as much as Native American ones?

  7. 7

    And then there’s the Los Angeles Lakers, a hangover for then they were in Minneapolis 60 years ago. Even more wimpy then Anteaters.

  8. 8

    Or the Los Angeles Dodgers, another hangover from when they were in Brooklyn 60 years ago.

  9. 9

    There’s a similar controversy going on in Port Townsend, WA, a very liberal community on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington (state). The local high school nickname is “Redskins”, I guess because of the S’Klallam Indians who once lived there. The “tradition” argument is about all the “traditionalists” have got, despite the pleas of the modern S’Klallam to change the name.

  10. 10
    Matt G

    And apparently that “tradition” only goes back a handful of years. Before that they had a moment of silence.

  11. 11

    Tradition is the old corrupting the young to please the dead.

    That’s not mine, I read it somewhere.

  12. 12

    Genitalia jokes are common too. Look up Evergreen State College and their mascot, the geoduck.



  13. 13

    Two questions:

    1. Has that group of people been historically marginalized, had their icons/cultural traditions misappropriated, suffered unjustly, etc, by the majority group now using their identity to make money?

    2. Is that group of people being stereotyped by their martial nickname?

    If the mascot/name/logo fails either of these questions, then it’s, at the very least, arguably racist.

    Any native american tribal references are likely to fail the first. The only other obvious example I have for this are NZ rugby teams.
    Knights doesn’t fail the second, but warriors is likely to, due to the logo/mascot usually tying a specific ethnicity to savagery. Reducing an entire culture to a single attribute is definitely racist, especially when that attribute was witnessed in defense against invading colonists. Fighting Irish also fails the second one.

    Vikings and Spartans could be objected to on the grounds of cultural appropriation and misuse. Though without any obvious ongoing harm to Scandinavians or Greeks, most reasonable people wouldn’t care.

  14. 14
    Lassi Hippeläinen

    What’s wrong with WIMPs? A good physical name. Black Holes would be a bad choice, because the players would have to shave their heads bald.

  15. 15

    Useful metric, Suido, thank you.

  16. 16

    Indeed, that’s a pretty good test. I am having trouble coming up with any counter-examples that would defeat it.

  17. 17

    As for the traditionalists, it is disturbing to me how few people are capable of saying, “Yeah, we meant no offense, and to us it’s just a harmless tradition… but I see that, despite intentions, it is legitimately hurting other people. I am sad to see our tradition disappear, but it is worth it in order to avoid more hurt in the future.” I mean, how freaking hard is that?

    I think people have a very hard time accepting that they have caused harm, even (or perhaps especially) when their intentions were good. There is a certain DOES NOT COMPUTE that happens in most people’s heads when they have to simultaneously process the facts “my action X was done with good intentions and I don’t intuitively see any harm in it” and “my action X is very clearly causing hurt for other people”. People have a very hard time holding both facts in their head at the same time, so they have to reject one of them.

  18. 18
    Marcus Ranum

    I don’t get how people can not see these mascots and names as offensive

    They do. They just think that if they say they don’t see it, that it’ll go away.

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