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‘Redskins’ reflects a history of violence and discrimination – a practice to be mourned, not promoted

Tradition of blatant racism needs to end


The celebration of racism can never be justified – not by tradition and certainly not by pride.

And yet, the Lancaster School District continues to use the term “Redskin” as its mascot, deeming the nickname to be a more pressing matter than the marginalization and stereotyping of an entire ethnic group.

Students at Lancaster are told to “Protect a tradition and leave a legacy.” They’re also told “Once a Redskin, always Redskin.”

Lancaster High School has a lot of pride – our editor in chief, who graduated from the school in 2011, can attest to that. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your school, but there is something unnerving about kindergarteners through 12th grade students sporting a racial slur on T-Shits, sweatpants and sports uniforms.

There is simply no justification for the continued use of this racist symbol. It’s not to say the people of Lancaster are ignorant bigots – but they’re too shrouded in their own “legacy” to realize their mascot is hurting and offending other people.

The Native American population in Lancaster is small – only .01 percent, according to Census data – white people dominate the Buffalo suburb, making up 94.6 percent.

Using any ethnic group – even if that group doesn’t have a predominant representation in the town – as a mascot is demeaning and insulting and encourages the promotion of stereotypes.

Cultural practices, manners of dress and ethnic traditions are reduced to objects of mimicry and reappropriation and generations of schoolchildren are exposed to sanctified racism at its worst.

Using an ethnic group as a mascot and team name is dehumanizing. This is not the sort of lesson that has a place in an educational setting – or any setting at all.

Many schools have realized this exceedingly obvious notion and changed their names – from Stanford University in 1972 who switched from “Indians” to “Cardinals” and Miami Ohio in 1997, who scrapped the name “Redskins” and became the “RedHawks.”

Teams that continue to employ ethnic groups as mascots, including the Florida State Seminoles, Central Michigan Chippewas and most notably the NFL’s Washington Redskins are under increasing scrutiny and pressure to end their promotion of racism.

Like the NFL, Lancaster’s dilemma is exacerbated by the use of a racially charged, degrading term as a team name, as it’s growing increasingly obvious “Redskin” is no longer an acceptable term in any context.

The slang term, used originally by European colonizers to describe Native Americans in terms of their skin color, became increasingly employed as a pejorative term, implying racial inferiority and often associated with the red, bloody scalps of Native Americans murdered by settlers.

So when individuals like Lancaster graduate Jim Everett argued in article published by The Buffalo News, “it’s a matter of context,” the truth is that there is no context that can supersede the term’s origins and the violence with which it’s associated.

Everett, who hung a sign reading “Keep Redskins” apparently misses the irony of his plea, since historically, American policies aimed to drive away Native American populations with policies like the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which resulted in what’s now known as the “Trail of Tears.”

Accordingly, catch phrases like “Once a Redskin, Always a Redskins – Keep the Tradition Alive,” the name of the Facebook group supporting Lancaster’s use of the term, are reflective of sheer disrespect of the suffering of this minority population.

This country’s government did all it could to ensure that the traditions of Native Americans were not kept alive, that their populations were reduced or extinguished, weakened by intentional exposure to disease and alcoholism.

And now, communities like Lancaster insist their “tradition” – their disrespectful, racist and essentially stolen tradition – be maintained.

The district has an opportunity to rectify the situation – it could make an effort to talk to Native Americans in Western New York. It could try to reach compromise, keeping tradition in tact in a way that honors, not offends. Potentially, the school could adopt a new nickname that shows Native Americans due respect.

Lancaster-Depew week, one of the longest running football rivals in the country, will be just as enjoyable for students even if they’re not waving “Redskin” flags.

The ‘R-word’ has to go – but the school’s spirit doesn’t.

Lancaster – which recently got national attention for being one of the first high schools allowed to perform Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” – shouldn’t be reduced a racial slur. It owes so much more to its students, who are not raised to realize the societal impact the nickname carries.

Native Americans were forced to give up their homes, their health and their lives when European settlers arrived in this country.

Lancaster’s unhappiness at the prospect of giving up their racist mascot pales in comparison. In fact, there is no comparison – or justification for the community’s resistance.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com


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