|Smoky Mountain News (Waynesville, NC) Feb. 27, 2002|
|A battle not worth winning|
By Scott McLeod
really shouldn’t be any debate about whether a school should be able
to retain as its symbol a mascot that a certain group of people
finds inappropriate and offensive. The more fundamental question,
really, is why “tradition” is allowed to carry more weight than
A small, simple exhibit is currently on view at
Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library, but it’s one that
packs a powerful message. It is about the Native American mascot
issue, revealing that in many cases terms such as “Braves” and
“Redskins” are totally inappropriate. Many of the words used as
mascots evoke sacred names or are derogatory in nature.
Unfortunate-ly, many schools (Erwin in Buncombe County, for one)
refuse to rid themselves of the mascots. Indeed, many schools fight
long, drawn-out battles to retain them.
That same exhibit
prompted Annie McCord, the eighth-grade Student Government
Association president at Cullowhee Valley School, to write a letter
to the editor of The Sylva Herald. She is appalled that her school
uses a Confederate symbol as a mascot and calls its teams the
“It is time to shed this unfortunate image of the
past and to select a new mascot with positive imagery and
associations,” said McCord’s letter.
We wholeheartedly agree
with McCord. And though we can hear the accusations coming, that
another newspaper is trying to be “politically correct” and take
away an important part of Southern heritage, we don’t care. It’s an
important issue, and those who will hide behind accusations and
rhetoric are skirting the issue.
If the NFL franchise
Washington Redskins wants to keep a Native American symbol as their
mascot, we would argue that they have a right to do so. It is a
private business, and though we might not like it, we don’t have to
watch them, root for them or buy their products. Same for the
Atlanta Braves and others.
When schools use these symbols,
though, it is altogether a different story. For one, everything that
goes on at a school is part of the larger curriculum.
African-Americans were enslaved under the culture of the old South.
They surely find the Rebel offensive. Others, like McCord, (who, by
the way, is a white Southerner, and whose parents are Southerners, )
also see it as a degrading symbol and not one that every student at
the school should have to associate with. Just what are we teaching
There are ongoing debates about the
appropriate way to honor and remember Southern history without
offending African-Americans and whites who don’t want to be around a
symbol of one of the last cultures on earth that condoned slavery
and promoted its expansion. A recent news story described how two
workers were sent home from the construction site of a public
building because they wore shirts that depicted the Confederate
flag. That, I would argue, is taking it too far. Someone else
suggested that if we are going to remove the Rebel from Cullowhee
Valley, perhaps we should also go through the parking lot at Smoky
Mountain High and send those students home whose cars and trucks
sport Confederate flags. Again, that is excessive.
There is a
clear difference between the private display of these symbols and
the government support of them, which is what occurs when a school
uses the Rebel as its mascot. What happens when teams with
African-Americans visit Cullowhee Valley? Just because very few
African-Americans attend the school does not do away with the
offensiveness of the symbol.
I remember when this battle was
fought on the other side of the state, in Fayetteville. The Rebel
was the mascot for Pine Forest High School. A new, bigger school was
built, and when the move was going on many in the community asked
that the Rebel mascot be put in its grave. Tensions were high at the
time, and there were some fights between whites and blacks.
Eventually, the name was changed to the Trojans.
more than a quarter of a century ago, and I was in middle school
(junior high, in those days). Integration battles were being fought
throughout the South, and the last vestiges of those old Rebels were
done away with in most places because they were too provocative and
too divisive. The mountains have been spared much of that civil
unrest, but that does not absolve local governments of doing what is
The argument is a simple one — racism is wrong,
slavery is evil, and rubbing the remnants of this era in the face of
anyone is just rude. Time to be done with it.
(Scott McLeod can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)