In the hope of putting my mouth where my money is, I wrote a letter to the editor this week. The thinking should be familiar to those of you who have read my blog for in recent weeks. I pray it is sound thinking.


Dear Editor

As sporting events reopen, I expect many people will struggle with the National Anthem. In my opinion AND will be a better solution than OR. Officials, administrators, coaches, players and fans will be better served if a time is allowed for people to kneel if possible or bow (especially if they are as old as I am) in respect for the problems of social injustice and then rise in the hope that our nation will unite to overcome the issues. Making it an either-or situation will not make it easier to find solutions but create more division and exacerbate the problem. Having both creates the opportunity for the unity needed for the solutions craved by so many of us.

My father was instrumental in the selection of this Blackbear Bosin mural for his bank.

The responses to last week’s blog were the most I have received. The responses were thoughtful. I deeply appreciated and enjoyed hearing from so many.

My personal struggle with the nickname “Redskin” was shared by another classmate. He is married to a second classmate who happens to be a Native American. He shared my same concern: How do we respectfully honor the Native American community and honor our school at the same time?

Both of us wish for an acceptable term of respect.

One thoughtful response by an opponent to the term made the excellent point, he thought “redskin” to be a name whites developed and not a term Native Americans called themselves. To his credit, his subsequent research led him to believe Native Americans did give the name to themselves, but should still be avoided because some whites used the term in a derogatory manner. He also pointed out some people have even dropped the term Native American in favor of First Peoples.

My reading on the topic has not made a solution any easier. The current favored terminology seems to be First Nations. Most reject a monolithic description of all tribes and prefer to be known by their nation – Shawnee, Cherokee, Comanche, etc. I could not find a unifying term. Florida State avoids the issue (and possibly creates others) by calling themselves the Seminoles.

As odd and unlikely as it may sound. Possibly the best answer would be to get permission to adopt a nation’s name for the high school. In that way, First Nation heritage could be maintained and honored without even the appearance of cultural misappropriation.

I am still thinking long and hard about the problem. Simply doing away with the term Redskin does not solve all issues.

As an aside, I do not have to worry about our university alma mater — Washburn University. They are known as the “Ichabods” after their founder, Ichabod Washburn. At 6’ 6” and 170 pounds dripping wet, looking very much like Ichabod Crane, I am probably one of the few who were distressed by the nickname.

With regard to cultural appropriation, one person began a good dialog by disagreeing with my approach, He argued it would be inappropriate if he borrowed my van or stayed at my house without my permission. I agree but the problem for me is ownership. I own the van. I own the house.  Borrowing without permission would be inappropriate for something that is owned.  

I do not think cultures own values and activities in the same way I own my house or van. Importantly, I believe when cultures claim ownership serious issues are raised. For example, it is generally accepted that baseball and basketball were invented by white men; I do not want those games to be the exclusive property of the white male culture. That occurred in the past and was a big problem in social justice.

I do not want a return to the days before Jackie Robinson. Controlling something in your culture to the extent other cultures can not share it has a sordid history. One of the lesson I learned from history is — not welcoming other cultures to participate in your culture is often discriminatory.

If it is wrong for one culture to exclude other cultures from a sport or cultural activity they invented, then I think such divisive thinking is wrong for all cultures. In my opinion, we should spend more time looking for the highest positive values we can share across all cultures and less time worrying about appropriation.

Having said all this, some aspects of a culture, such as the name of a nation may be owned in a sense that is not legal ownership. To use a nation’s name without permission would be cultural misappropriation. I think of that as arrogance, as elitist, but not necessarily as a racist behavior.

I also believe claiming to be a member of another culture when you are not a member of the culture is incorrect.  Although unintended, Elizabeth Warren’s claim of First Nation heritage was a cultural misappropriation, but again I do not find it to be racist.

Just for fun, I wondered if Notre Dame got permission from the Irish to be called the Fighting Irish and whether any Irish are offended? I checked the history — they did not ask permission. Interestingly, major support for the nickname came from a brawl students had with the KKK. The prejudice against Roman Catholics was stronger in the past than today. By most accounts, Irish are proud of the implication they are gritty and tough.

In our area, one of our Sun Belt Conference rivals is the Ragin Cajuns of Louisiana in Lafayette. As near as I can tell Cajun people did not give permission, but they take pride in the nickname.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Peace,

Jerry


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