To the Lancaster School Board:
I am a research analyst, mother, and current renter in the City of Buffalo. My family moved to Western New York a year ago, and are now looking into buying a home. We are seeking a community that fits our family – seeking an area that combines our love of parks, walkable spaces, interesting culture, and our desire to have our children in a solid, stable school district. Lancaster appeared to be one of the better fits.
The current controversy surrounding the “Redskins” moniker has given me pause. I am also an anti-racist activist of European extraction. While I do not have any blood of racial or ethnic minority groups, I advocate for an anti-racist society because it is the right thing to do. It is important to me to teach my children the importance of creating and maintaining a just society in which every single person’s dignity is respected, regardless of their heritage. In my day-to-day work, I am more accustomed to trying to explain the nuanced elements of racism: how society is structured in ways to privilege certain groups, how this privilege relies upon taken-for-granted ideas on how things should be, how events in history inform a racially disparate construction of society, and so forth. These are concepts that even college students struggle with, because they are tricky, hard to wrap one’s mind around, and require questioning everything that one considers true.
The part that almost no one struggles with? It’s not OK to use ethnic slurs.
As a parent considering your school district, it alarms me that alumni of your high school seem to be attached to using an ethnic slur as the school mascot. It seems so obvious to me that an ethnic slur is unacceptable. Denying that “Redskin” is an ethnic slur requires quite a bit of ignorance of history – isn’t the school district in the business of teaching history? Native Americans have not been a venerated group in our society. We have tried to kill them and destroy their culture. Redskin is a derogatory term. Indeed – we teach small children not to call names and not to use bad words with relative success. Why don’t the graduates of your high school understand this?
There are explicit and implicit lessons that a school can teach. The explicit lessons are those which show up on the exams at the end of the year. The implicit lessons are the ones taught by the school’s culture. By maintaining a mascot of “Redskin”, an implicit lesson that the school district teaches is that anti-Native American rhetoric is not only acceptable, but should be celebrated. This does not have to be the case. My own high school in Liverpool, NY changed its mascot to be more respectful of Native Americans, ceasing to use an Onondaga Warrior in favor of a Spartan Warrior (unlike Native American culture, the Spartan culture is a facet of history). The City of Buffalo is changing the name of Squaw Island (which is near my current home) to Deyowenoguhdoh Island in an effort to be respectful of our region’s Seneca heritage. These are positive changes. I was relieved not to have to explain to my kids that while the park is named “Squaw”, that’s actually a term they should never use, and that shouldn’t be there except that white people often have no problem disregarding the dignity of those who are not white. I will still need to explain this, especially with Redskins, teaching her lessons that our local educational bodies seem unwilling to do on their own.
I urge you to change the mascot to something respectful of human dignity.