Sensitivity for ethnic issues continues to evolve, as it should. When I attended college in the mid 1970s, our school’s way of representing the Miami University Redskins was given approval from a tribe in the Midwest plains. In fact, a member of our Paper Technology class was given a feather from the chieftain and instructed on at least one ritual dance. The young man also had a different tribe in his ancestry, which added a personal connection.
But what is considered to be proper changes and in the 1990s, we were requested to adopt a different team nickname. We complied in 1997 and the NFL’s Washington franchise should seriously consider doing the same now. However, the school decided to go to the extreme and leave out all reference to our American Indian1 heritage when it created a fictional name, “RedHawk.” We were assured that the tradition of the school and the memory of the area’s earliest people would not be abandoned. It didn’t work out that way. At least the university’s age-old color of red was kept.
A similar name change was appropriate for St. John’s University and its “Redmen” team name (changed to “Red Storm”), and possibly Marquette University and its “Warriors” nickname, now “Golden Eagles”… which brings to mind Notre Dame’s “Fighting Irish.” Should that be controversial?2
Regardless, whenever we are made aware that something is disrespectful, as inadvertent as it may be; we are morally bound to depart from the past.
Which brings us to the NAACP (National Association of for the Advancement of Colored People) formed in 1909. Just as the previously mentioned school names were adopted in a different time of our society, so was the NAACP’s. Over the course of Baby Boomers lifetimes, the name for those whose ancestors were from Africa has gone from insensitive “Negro” to the more preferred “Afro-American” to “black” to “African-American.” Understandably, this pre-eminent organization could not be expected to alter its official title every decade or so. Still, why has it remained stuck in a more discriminatory past?
Our societal climate suggests it would be awkward for a Caucasian to mention this. Thankfully, the obvious was stated clearly by ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith on an episode of “First Take” last Monday. That debate centered on the notorious comments made by Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, who was subsequently fined and banned from the NBA.3
During the discussion, a previous action of the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP was brought up. Mr. Smith took the opportunity to question the national organization’s name with, “’Colored people’ is kind of out-of-style. You might want to change it!” Point made.
1 – The attempt to correct a mistake from the past gave us the severely inaccurate term, “Native American.” A better one is needed. I was born in Cincinnati which in any language makes me a native American, too. In truth, we should remember that no peoples are indigenous to this continent. Modern advanced wordsmithing ought to be able to invent a logical term for those who were here when the Europeans arrived.
2 – Why was it also necessary to have Eastern Michigan’s “Hurons” replaced with “Eagles”?
3 – “Sterling Banned for Life; Fined $2.5 Million,” by Devon Taylor, http://www.sportsbreak.com/nba/sterling-banned-for-life-fined-2-5-million/?utm_source=google&utm_campaign=sportsbreak_news&utm_medium=cpc