Wednesday, May 19, 1999

Anderson wrong to keep 'Redskins'




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Anderson High School Blockheads will not be budged. They are determined to hold their ground because progress is too painful. Inertia is always easier than change. Blockheads find comfort in consistency.

        You might object to the use of the term “Blockheads” here, but be assured that it is intended to honor the indomitable spirit and proud tradition of backward, racist morons in America. That tradition is reflected in Anderson's unwavering support of its Redskins, and particularly in its insistence on retaining that nickname in conflict with political correctness and common decency.

        The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word “redskin” as follows: “Offensive slang. Used as a disparaging term for Native Americans.” Webster's College Dictionary also concludes the term is offensive.

        Yet Michael Hall, Anderson's principal and self-appointed lexicographer, says the nickname is not offensive and, moreover, only one Anderson parent has complained.

        “There is no problem here,” Hall said Monday after the Forest Hills school board meeting. “These people want to make it a problem, but there's no problem here.”

        Herein lies a problem. A big problem. If school principals can be desensitized to terms that are patently offensive to some parts of the population, what sort of message are they sending? That racist terms are permissible if the target group is small? That cruelty is an acceptable alternative to consideration? That ignorance is preferable to enlightenment?

Flawed logic
        In the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, shouldn't our educators be more diligent about eliminating divisiveness? Shouldn't they strive to eliminate racist symbols as a means of teaching tolerance? Shouldn't the principal of Anderson High School be smart enough to understand that some members of his community might not share his tortured linguistic logic?

        “If I thought that the "Redskin' was a racial slur, I would personally lead the movement to get rid of it,” Hall wrote in a May 13 letter to Susan Hoffman of the American Indian Movement. “In fact, I believe it is the opposite. Our school has nothing but respect and admiration for the Redskin. It is not a term of disrespect but a term of respect.”

        Even by Blockhead standards, this is brainless. There was no specific tribe of Native Americans known as the Redskins. The term has been used as an ethnic slur for centuries, and is understood by many reasonable people to be as demeaning and derogatory as the notorious N-word. To invoke such language in the naming of athletic teams is unconscionable.

        Hundreds of schools throughout the country have recognized the wrong in perpetuating racial stereotypes and removed controversial nicknames in favor of something more innocuous. Miami University, after prolonged debate and maddening half-measures, changed its mascot from the Redskin to the RedHawk. Anderson can count on being confronted with this issue until a change is made.

        “Eventually, all of these names will topple,” Susan Hoffman said Tuesday. “But it appalls me as a parent that an educator would have been given as much information as we gave (Hall) and choose to be as close-minded on that issue.”

Principles, not polls
        Hall says the issue is a non-issue, that an alumni survey taken two years ago indicated zero support for a name change. This may well be the fact, but it makes for a pretty flimsy argument. If Anderson students held a referendum on the future of homework, would Hall be honor-bound to enforce it?

        Principals should stand on their principles, not on their polls. If the name “Redskins” is not inherently offensive, Michael Hall ought to be able to cite an objective source that differs with the dictionaries. If he can't, he should make good on his promise, and “personally lead the movement to get rid of it.”

        Until then, Anderson should be known as the Blockheads. With all due respect.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail at tsullivan@enquirer.com

Heritage, tradition clash in school nickname dispute

SULLIVAN ARCHIVE