Racist mascots, a Wisconsin epidemic

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And there just may be a vaccine in the state Assembly.

A gang of Assembly Democrats, from Milwaukee Rep. Fred Kessler to Madison Rep. Terese Berceau, are sponsoring legislation that seeks to end the existence of race-based mascots in Wisconsin schools. About 35 to 55 percent of you just rolled your eyes.

The issue was discussed at length several months ago but the discussion seems to have died lately because the bill was sent back to committee and has stayed there.

The bill allows any “resident of a school district to object to a school-board’s use of a race-based name, nick-name, logo or mascot by filing a complaint with the state superintendent of public instruction.”

Essentially, the bill provides the inevitable abolition of any race-based mascot that is challenged. Why? Because the burden of proof is on the school, which must prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that the mascot or team name is not race-based.

There are currently about 40 schools in the state with team names that refer to American Indian tribes – many of them will have to change. If this law is promoted in any sense that is. The only county in Wisconsin that is majority Native American, Menominee County, does not seem to have a mascot that refers to the tribe, unless “maroons” means something that I don’t know about.

Of course, a law is not a law without a penalty. Any school that is found in violation will have to pay $100 per day until the school hurriedly changes the mascot from the “redskins” to the “rednecks.” (That is culture, not race)

Despite the heavy dose of sarcasm from this blogger, there is something profoundly perverse about the way Indians have been portrayed in American entertainment, including sports mascots. The brand that is worth millions of dollars to the Cleveland Indians or the Washington Redskins will never change, but that does not mean that high schools can’t take the high road.

However, mascots and team names are not the same issue. A mascot, which is often a caricature of the tribe or people, is generally far more offensive than a team name, which can be a legitimate celebration of a culture. The Packers, the Brewers, the Sooners, the Cherokee – these are all names that merely refer to a group of people in the region. It is not inherently derogatory or even condescending – it’s unfortunate that this bill seems to bulldoze through that nuance. Hopefully it will eventually be amended so that it represents dignity rather than political correctness. Sean Kittridge, my replacement at the Herald, put it well back in March:

As Alice Cooper once noted, Wisconsin’s largest city, Milwaukee, is named after an Algonquin term for “the good land.” In the Midwest, many towns, and a number of our states, reflect the heritage of the people here before us. But as soon as that heritage gets stitched onto a basketball jersey, something happens. All of a sudden, a chief goes from a tribal leader to a symbol of oppression, and a warrior becomes a symbol of disrespect instead of honor.

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