The state Board of Education is strongly recommending that North Carolina public schools do away with their Indian sports mascots. The board can't force a change, but it is demonstrating sound and compassionate policy by encouraging reform. About 18,000 American Indian students in N.C. either attend a school with an Indian mascot or at some point in time come in contact with schools that claim this form of institutional bigotry as a "tradition."
Many Indian students go about their lives, trying to ignore the insults in the face of their whooping, tomahawking peers and teachers and the defiling of sacred native symbols. Some speak out loudly against the "offensive, demeaning and disrespectful" attitude toward their heritage. Yet somehow, at least 20 high schools in the state remain unrestrained by such considerations.
Having their cultural images and rituals used as stereotypical antagonism does not honor American Indians. Sports mascots of this type are no more flattering to Native Americans than any offensive labeling would be to any group, including the many Europeans who arrived on these shores later in American history. The school officials who contend that mascots are "a compliment" to Indians should consider the effect of seeing their own grandfather's likeness paraded around stadiums in full sanctified regalia as the butt of a joke. The inference is clear: Too many of us feel that American Indians do not deserve the same regard bestowed upon other Americans.
Originally, these mascots may have been created without mean-spirited intent. But education and experience have shown us that instead of honoring Indians they often cause divisiveness. Most of us are an enlightened people, forming a civil society that has evolved beyond so many issues that prevent us from living as members of one humanity.
It's time to consider some changes. We can make this situation right -- and we needn't challenge the limits of our intellect to do it.