Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Honor, not ridicule

Anderson High: Mascot controversy

An Anderson Township student's bid to preserve her high school's mascot has added a novel twist to a familiar debate. Stacey Stahl, 16, wants to be the Anderson High Redskins' costumed mascot this year, although the principal eliminated it this year in response to a diversity committee's suggestions. Many feel that such names and mascots on high school, college and pro levels reinforce negative stereotypes and are demeaning to Native Americans.

But here's the twist: Stahl herself is an Inca whose parents were born in Ecuador, and she doesn't consider the mascot demeaning. In fact, she's been eager to portray Anderson's Redskins mascot as a way to honor her heritage and educate her community about the Native Americans who once dominated this area. She says she was promised she could do so this year - a claim school officials dispute - and is asking the school board to reinstate the role. The board voted unanimously in 1999 to keep the name and mascot.

Caricature, slurs, mockery or stereotypes can demean any ethnic group. The sports world provides examples that are truly offensive - and not just to the Native Americans on whom they are based.

But the quest to eliminate offense can be taken to the extremes of p.c. absurdity, and not every reference to Native Americans is per se demeaning. Many usages are clearly about school identity and spirit, creating a positive image and tradition around which to rally. Besides, it is hard to believe Stahl would countenance a portrayal offensive to her family.

The district should find a way to work this out and turn a conflict into an opportunity. Board member Winnie Clayton told the Enquirer she'd support the mascot's reinstatement if it "would be acting in a respectful and dignified manner... and would not be ridiculing Indian dances or showing disrespect in any way..."

That sounds fair. We might suggest a further step: The district could make a point of celebrating a "valedictory season" for the Redskins mascot, with events that honor Native American culture - perhaps, as Stahl wishes, raising funds to install historic markers at area Native American settlement sites. Then it could host a traditional ceremony to "retire" the mascot - with honor.

Fix what failed
Honor, not ridicule
Getting together as family
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