Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Dialogue over insensitive school mascot names shouldn't require a signature threshold

Race-based mascot names should be discussed openly, whether 1,000 or just 1 believes so

Acts of racism and discrimination don’t require anyone’s approval for them to be racist and discriminatory.

Yet, the Republican-led State Senate just passed a law that would require signatures totaling 10 percent of a school’s enrollment to begin the process of determining whether a mascot name is offensive.

The original law, passed during the last year of the Doyle administration, required the attention of the Department of Public Instruction at any point if a student or member of the community filed a complaint that alleged a school mascot name was incendiary.

The Mukwonago Indian's mascot has been challenged as offensive
But the new bill changes those rules, requiring the 10 percent threshold to hold hearings.

In Wisconsin, several school districts could be affected by the law, having mascots that depict Native Americans in questionable ways.

Living in the 21st century, it’s a wonder to have to ask: who can honestly defend race-based mascots anymore? The crazed belief that these people’s heritage should serve as some sort of rallying cry at a high school football game both flabbergasts and sickens several within the state’s boundaries and beyond.

And yet, these mascot names still exist -- in local communities as well as national sports leagues. From the cartoonish grin of the Cleveland Indians to the mind-boggling name of the Washington Redskins, it’s apparent that these mascot names are part of the culture of these cities, so well ingrained in the psyche of the populace that they become nearly impossible to fight against.

But that doesn’t mean the names aren’t worth trying to change.

Thomas Paine once quipped, “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.” Paine was discussing the tyranny of the British monarchy, but that same sentiment is true in many other debates, including the issue of race-based mascot names.

Keeping traditions alive in local communities is an important thing. Nobody’s arguing against that point. What matters, however, is balancing our traditions with what we know to be insensitive depictions of peoples, and inappropriate usage of their names to promote our sports teams.

Requiring a threshold of people to determine whether they agree a mascot name is insensitive -- whether it’s one, five, or ten percent of the population -- makes about as much sense as asking for ten signatures at a restaurant that denies people service based on race whether its actions are discriminatory.

If a mascot name is offensive, it’s offensive, and no number of opinions should be required to begin the dialogue on whether a name change is needed.

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