JUN 6, 2013, 5:05 AM
BY DAWUD WALID
The U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) decision to affirm the right of public schools to have offensive Native American mascots sends the wrong message to children, who should be learning about ethnic sensitivity.
The Michigan Department of Civil Rights in February filed a complaint with DOE citing 35 schools in our state that use racially offensive names and images of Native Americans as mascots. Moreover, the complaint also stated that such mascots negatively affect both Native American students’ self-esteem as well as non-Natives who see stereotypes reinforced.
I’m not in favor of professional teams using such mascots as the Washington Redskins, either. However, private teams are businesses – unlike taxpayer-funded public schools.
Would you cringe if you heard a school mascot being called the Darkies with a teenager in black-face? I would hope so. Names like the Redskins are no different to Native Americans.
It’s a reductionist argument to dismiss Native Americans’ concerns regarding racist mascots by saying that public schools across the country have mascots such as the Cavaliers or Pirates that depict white males. That the societal status quo has no problem with these mascots is not a valid reason to ignore the sensitivities of a minority. Moreover, Native Americans, who have suffered ethnic cleansing and discrimination since the founding of America, have the moral right to complain about humiliating imagery.
The history of race in our nation and its contemporary effects are still the most difficult conversations in America.
I suggest that those 35 schools heed the concerns of the Native American community, the NAACP, the American Psychological Association and others by voluntarily changing their mascots even though DOE is not forcing them to do so. It would be a good lesson for our children that, even though we as a nation commit wrongs, we can have the courage to admit them and move forward in more positive directions.