Puttin' Out the Bone

Maybe Someone Will 'Conquer' Anderson With a Lawsuit

Apr 30, 2003 at 2:06 pm

Asking Anderson High School to objectively evaluate the wisdom of calling their sports teams "Redskins" would be like asking Pete Rose to give an impersonal review of whether he has a gambling problem.

Anderson recently formed a diversity committee that met during this school year and — not surprisingly — voted to keep the school's nickname. Several years ago, the conservative Forest Hills School Board and other school officials bristled at the suggestion of a group of Native Americans that they drop "Redskins," a term they view as racist.

Of course, the diversity committee didn't give a vote to those Native Americans. Nor did they consult an Ojibwa woman, a professional journalist in Anderson Township who once told the school board she dreaded the day her infant daughter would grow up and ask how she was supposed to cheer for a word her family holds as racist.

No, only a group of people associated with the school were involved in the study and got to vote. From the beginning there seemed as little chance the committee would rule against the racist mascot as there is Mike Brown would turn the Bengals over to a football man.

It didn't matter that Redskins is defined in Anderson High School's own prominent library dictionary, Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, as "an American Indian, usually taken to be offensive." So what that the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the group that accredits Anderson, is asking schools to drop Native American nicknames. Never mind that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights also says schools shouldn't use such mascots. And to hell with the Oklahoma woman from the Miami tribe who passionately asked the committee to drop Redskins — as Miami University had done earlier.

None of that mattered because the majority that ruled the Anderson High School committee was a group of suburbanites hell-bent on protecting "their tradition." Get it? It's not about the feelings of others. It's not about respecting fellow Americans who make a simple plea to stop stereotypes. It's about them, their mascot, their tradition, their disdain for "political correctness."

The committee chairman was the principal of the school, who led the defense of the nickname several years ago when the controversy first erupted. The saddest moment in the process was at the end, when the principal made a public statement explaining why Redskins would live on. He said that, while the committee agreed Redskins is offensive to some, when you put Anderson High School in front of it, the meaning changed: The word then had an honorable meaning.

I'm serious. He actually said that. Go ahead. Pick an ugly word, one that would humiliate some group of people, one that would be seen as a racial slur to some. Then put, say, Woodward High School in front of it or Amelia High School and see if the ugly concept changes into something like a crowned prince.

If that's the level of critical thinking taught at Anderson High School, they've got problems larger than their racist school mascot.

It's worse. Also on the committee was a social studies teacher who also publicly defended Redskins to the school board several years ago. When a group of Native Americans groaned at one of his insensitive comments during a school board meeting, he turned to them and said, "For a conquered people, you are treated well." That's scary.

It doesn't have to be this way. Colleges, grade schools and high schools across America are dropping Native American nicknames. Gone is not only the most repugnant word, "redskins," but also "chiefs," "braves" and "warriors." While studies show that not every indigenous person wants them gone, a sizable group does, and enlightened schools have honored them by switching to something else.

In the Cincinnati Public Schools, Hughes Center dropped its Native American mascot upon request from the same people who were later rebuffed by Anderson High School. Hughes' tradition was just as rich. Their kids, parents and staff cared just as much about their sports programs and traditions. But maybe because the school population included lots of African-American and Appalachian kids, that change came easily. Maybe those families who have felt the sting of stereotypes are quicker to get it than comfortable suburbanites living with a "me and my" mentality.

So will it change yet? Oh, sure. It will just take longer out here in the 'burbs. Maybe it's when the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights puts some financial teeth behind its position. You know, change "Redskins" or lose federal funding.

Or maybe some group will do to Anderson High School what others have done to some districts around the country: run a lawsuit on them. The process goes like this. An aggrieved person or group drags the district into court over the issue. At first the radical-right board members put up a good front: "No outsider is going to tell us what names our proud teams can use!"

But as time drags on, the bills pile up. The school board that stretches to pay teacher salaries, buy books and make buses run now has to cough up thousands of dollars for expensive downtown lawyers and court fees. It ends with a name change and tearful speeches at a school board meeting: "Our kids sweat blood for that name. Heck, some of us even did when we were kids here. But the scarce resources of this excellent district must go to education, not lawyers. Reluctantly we now become the Red Hawks, and the suit has been formally dropped."

So a bunch of us who live in Anderson Township patiently wait for another piece of social change. But it's disappointing that when it comes, it will be an external force rather than our own leaders' values, conscience and spirituality.