Have you ever been at the center of a media storm?
February 22, 2001 6:58 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever been at the center of a media storm? It's not pleasant. The link is to just one of many local and city newspaper articles about the tiny rural high school where I work, plus we've had t.v. camera crews trying to sneak into the building and students being pulled out of class to be interviewed for local radio stations. I welcome your comments.
posted by Lynsey (35 comments total)
1. the media infobeast is an insatiable cannibal, and i feel for you.

2. "braves" is probably okay if there's not a cartoon "indian" as the visual symbol. "braves" could be reconceptualized as something that's not derogatory - like maybe a scout?

3. "indians" or "redskins" or "chiefs" are all out, in my book. just as "niggers" or "orientals" would be unacceptable as a team mascot.

4. those high school kids are not informed protesters, i would guess. they don't get why the mascot might be offensive. school spirit is all well and good, but, eh. can you give them some perspective? as a thoughtful member of the community?
posted by acridrabbit at 7:28 PM on February 22, 2001

I'm surprised it was the students pushing to retain this sort of outdated mascot. I'm not Indian (just a regular ol' white boy), but I find the mascot insulting / demeaning / ridiculous. The sort of stuff you shake your head at and wonder how it even started. (OK, OK, I know why this class of mascot started, and that's worse.)
posted by fleener at 7:30 PM on February 22, 2001

When my wife attended Pekin [Illinois] High School in the early '80s, many students from her class fought a decision to change the mascot name to the Dragons.

For at least 20 years before that, they were known as the Pekin Chinks.
posted by rcade at 7:34 PM on February 22, 2001

Good for the trustees. Stand their ground. I think a lot of people today think, "Oh, what's the big deal," on issues like this. It will obviously upset some people and alumni ( getting used to associating with a different mascot, etc.) but I think changes have to start somewhere. As a Kansas City native, I don't see the Chiefs moving toward changes any time soon.

If you don't understand why some Native Americans are offended by this, please read this statement before you pass judgment.

The parents of the protesting teenagers should tell their kids to get back in school, and sit down and talk with their children about racism, and stereotypes. There's plenty of great mascots out there that aren't demeaning or offensive to people.

(Rcade's example excluded.) :>
posted by gramcracker at 7:36 PM on February 22, 2001

(Yeesh, that's one badly-written article. How did that paper win a Pulitzer with such stilted prose?)

I'm interpreting Lynsey's post as requesting comments on the press invasion more than the merits of the name change, so I'll stick mostly to that.

If TV crews are sneaking into the building, and your school has a no-unauthorized-visitors policy (as practically all schools do these days), call the cops and have them arrested. If you are approached, keep repeating the same mantra no matter what questions they throw at you: "Why are you in here illegally, threatening our children? How do we know you're really from Channel so-and-so?" Make sure every statement you make puts the reporter on the defensive. Treat them like as much of a threat as if some nutcase was running through the halls with an AK-47. Media arrogance should not be tolerated, period.

But if kids are being pulled out of class for interviews, well, what are the teachers and principals doing about it? Tell your students that if they want to talk to the press, they can do it after school.

The media have a right to cover the story, but they do not have the right to disrupt normal school operations in order to do so. And if your schools allows them to do so, it's your school's own fault as much as it is the media's.

As for the controversy itself, I find it rather creepy that some here, who would usually be celebrating student activism, are instead calling for ::cough:: "gentle persuasion" to get them to shut up since they're not agitating for the PC side. If the students are organizing to make a point, and not themselves disrupting daily educational activities in the process, they should be encouraged, no matter which view they're supporting. I would hope that a good teacher would find a way to make this entire conflict into an educational experience for his/her students. Talk about the effect of the news media on the situation, and how the students can influence it. Bring up the history of student activism; especially find examples of high-schoolers taking stands in the past and what resulted from their actions, etc.

The scariest thing about this whole brouhaha, however, is buried in the final sentence of that story. It not-so-subtly hints that some students want to force the entire school off to the auditorium to be "re-educated."

ObTrivia: There's a small town in West Virginia called Poca. I'll give you all one guess as to the name of the Poca High School team.
posted by aaron at 8:05 PM on February 22, 2001


posted by rodii at 8:21 PM on February 22, 2001

Aaron, as former students at Poca High School, my two kids are very proud to be Dots.
posted by netbros at 8:21 PM on February 22, 2001

You mean it's not Hontases?
posted by rodii at 8:49 PM on February 22, 2001

This week trustee Love confirmed his conviction on the issue. "I hope people understand that this is a global issue," he said. "As an educational institution," he said, "it’s okay to act locally but you have to think globally."

Can somebody interpret this quote for me? My "nonsense-speak" is getting a bit rusty. ;-p
posted by locombia at 8:57 PM on February 22, 2001

Nope, not Hontases; and amazingly enough, the other high school here in Nitro, WV isn't the Glycerins. They're the Wildcats, but we did send Lew Burdette to the Milwaukee Braves. How was that for a segue back on topic?
posted by netbros at 9:02 PM on February 22, 2001

This is obviously a sensitive issue with Native Americans and I can't understand why it would pain some students to adopt a new mascot. (As Tyler Derden would say: "You are not your f*****g jersey.") I saw the word "traditional" and I'm sure that tradition is a main, if not only, point in the argument for keeping the Brave as their mascot. They obviously fail to consider America's "tradition" of exploitation in regards to Native Americans.
As for the media attention, the tv coverage is not likely to damage the student body. Since when do kids hate to be pulled from class and given an interview? I used to skip class on my own accord just to read all the magazines in the library.
posted by xtrmntr at 9:12 PM on February 22, 2001

What exactly is wrong with "Chiefs"? How is that inherently more offensive than "Generals"? Now I can see where some portrayal of Native Americans that went along with "Chiefs" might be offensive, but that's a separate issue.

Speaking of offending Native Americans, and this belongs in the Grammys thread, but since I'm lazy: did anyone notice that the guys who won the Grammy for Best Native American music recording placed special emphasis on thanking the "greatest warrior" or something, "our savior Jesus Christ"? I find that really odd. The guys were wearing totally European-style clothing too, unlike the other nominees. Wacky.
posted by daveadams at 10:06 PM on February 22, 2001

It's quite a stretch to try to equate "Chiefs" with "Niggers." The latter has practically no positive or neutral meanings. The former does. Once you get beyond the basic, clear-cut epithets, the offensiveness of a given term is sometimes determined more by the affected ethnic group's own feelings of persecution than the majority's actual intent. (Or, worse, the ethnic group's self-appointed political "leaders.") The word "squaw" is a good example of how a neutral/positive term was, over time, morphed into a supposed racial insult by Native American activists themselves. "Chiefs" seems to have largely been likewise "reinterpreted" in the last couple decades.

Sidenote: If your feel like your current mental library of racial epithets is getting worn out and overused, why not try The Racial Slur Database? You're sure to pick up dozens of fresh, never-before-used xenophobic appellations!
posted by aaron at 10:46 PM on February 22, 2001

What exactly is wrong with "Chiefs"? How is that inherently more offensive than "Generals"?'

"Generals" is a term created by the very people who used it (as a signifier of rank) They controlled the meaning of the word and it's application(s).

"Braves" is a word created by the same dominant social structure to categorize a people they did (at that time) not even pretend to try and understand. They needed a few quick stereotypes to make the injustices they were imposing on them more palatable both to themselves and the rest of the (dominant) society.

It comes with a lot of baggage, which is often painful to Native Americans. They are trying to fight stereotypes and empower themselves and change the (limiting) ways in which they are still perceived by some people. They don't want to see a corny label like "The Braves" a label that reminds them of everything that historically has been imposed on them. They want a label that they too can be a part of and feel proud of, not something that sounds like it was taken from a b-grade "cowboys and injuns" movie from the 50's.

Any word that defines also limits particularly if you don't have control over it's meaning and applications.

I know there are a lot of assumptions made here, because I’m not a Native American. Actually I’m not even American. Just trying to imagine what I might feel like in their place.

There are certainly similarities in the way we treated indigenous Australians. Except our term was “Nobel Savages” and our “generals” sent letters back home to the motherland England, stating unequivocally that Aborigines were "child-like people of the land," who were rapt in the idea of having every decision made for them, their lands taken away from them. A few miscreants to spoil the fun naturally (what can you expect from children?) but they are (were) easily dealt with.
posted by lucien at 1:49 AM on February 23, 2001

I grew up in East Texas. There were lots of "Native Americans" there since we were so close to the Oklahoma border. (Of course, I posit that I'm as much of a native american as anyone else born in this hemisphere. Indians just got here sooner than my ancestors. I digress.) At any rate, those guys referred to themselves as Cherokees, Choctaws, etc. and not native americans, indians, etc.

However, then I hear the word "braves" or "indians" in connection with a sporting team, I think that the intent was to portray the team as fierce, possesing warrior-like qualities exhibited by that particular group. This is hardly, in my opinion, derogatory. On the contrary, it seems that this would be a sign of respect for these people. "Niggers" is wholly without such connotations and is therefore a different matter.

If a team wanted to name itself the Krauts, Diablos Tejanos or some other name applied to my particular ethnic background, I would not be offended. On the contrary, I would be proud that my ancestors were thought of as warriors and a strong people. I mean, you never hear of the Fighting Frenchies.

posted by CRS at 6:23 AM on February 23, 2001

the offensiveness of a given term is sometimes determined more by the affected ethnic group's own feelings of persecution than the majority's actual intent

Which is exactly as it should be -- how else would you determine whether something is offensive?
posted by sudama at 6:34 AM on February 23, 2001

I never understood (or cared, really) why the Marquette Warriors changed their name. OK, they had had an Indian mascot. But why not change the mascot to a Roman warrior or something?

Better than being a "Sajoac." Eesh. I'd rather be a dot. Or a "Lady Pope".....
posted by mimi at 6:51 AM on February 23, 2001

I'm in the same boat mimi....Golden Eagles is so original today. A local H.S that is going to be built sometime this decade here was named after an Indian tribe as are the three other "sister" schools. Senaca Golden Eagles. That's all the BOE could come up with. As the other three are Shawnee Renegades, Lenape Indians, and Cherokee Chiefs.
posted by brent at 7:06 AM on February 23, 2001

One thing that's important to remember about seemingly complimentary nicknames like "Braves" and "Indians" is that many of these teams have used insulting caricatures in conjunction with those names, such as Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians, a deeply racist depiction.

The word "Pope" isn't insulting, but if a team called itself the "Popes" and had a mascot with long robes and a papal hat who pretended to bless players and led cheers in Latin, do you think Catholics would be offended?
posted by rcade at 7:48 AM on February 23, 2001

Well, I'm Catholic and I think the Pope idea is hilarious! I'm not offended at all.
posted by locombia at 7:54 AM on February 23, 2001

I have very strong feelings on this issue - it is totally inappropriate to use any ethnic label as a "mascot". I'm a unitarian, and it just so happens that my minister gave a sermon on this subject a few weeks ago. If you're interested in a non-preachy exploration of the issue, you can read it at http://www.unitarian.org/fus/sermons0001/021101.html
posted by uptowngrrrl at 8:37 AM on February 23, 2001

Oh, yes! Latin cheers please! Must hie over to translation site and come up with something.

The "Lady Popes," btw, is the name of the girls' basketball team at Pius V High School in Milwaukee. MUST buy a sweatshirt. "Sajoac" was the completely lame team we had -- "SAint JOseph ACademy." Get it? Ugh. We had a small movement to change the team to the Amazons but we got nowhere.
posted by mimi at 8:43 AM on February 23, 2001

When are they gonna get some real tough names? Like 'The Dahmers' or the 'Albert Fishes'?
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:45 AM on February 23, 2001

Okay, well, thanks for your ideas, lucien. I actually asked about the term "Chief," not "Brave" but your point is similar. I don't see how a team called the "chiefs" could possibly be inherently offensive, especially since the word 'chief' is of European origin and could have other meanings than just Native American tribal leaders.

Now, the Native American imagery that goes along with such a team, say the Kansas City Chiefs may be offensive, but the name itself isn't.
posted by daveadams at 9:13 AM on February 23, 2001

I think people of Scandinavian ancestry should be up in arms about this caricatured portrayal of them .
All Americans should react with horror to this trivialization of our noble history .
posted by Octaviuz at 9:34 AM on February 23, 2001

I grew up in rural Idaho, a dinky-ass little town called Grangeville, and we regularly played high school sports with another team from up north in another backwater burg called Orofino. Their teams were called the "Maniacs."

Orofino is the home of the state mental institution. As far as I know, that's still their mascot.
posted by Skot at 9:41 AM on February 23, 2001

At my old high school, they usually are concerned with guns and drugs, so I'd say this isn't as bad as it seems. Then again, anytime the media descends from its perch to feed, it's a bad deal. Having the school board ask the local judge for an order preventing the media from talking to the kids might help. There's a line between harassment and "the people's right to be misinformed, or know, or whatever it is those bastards say."

I'd have loved it if my school had been the "Chinks" or "Gooks" or "Niggaz"

Kick ass.
posted by Capn_Stuby at 10:52 AM on February 23, 2001

As the world's biggest Washington Redskins fan, I would have to recuse myself from the debate...
posted by owillis at 11:03 AM on February 23, 2001

After seeing their names, faces and comments splattered, edited and replicated all over the place, students here are in a reflective mood, and one (who was called out of class for a radio interview) told me this morning that she wishes it would all die down now. Well, maybe for students, it will. But now the teachers have sort of "caught on" and were busily copying all the press and letters to the editor this morning. LOL! One English teacher showed his classes "In Whose Honor," the video that started the whole thing. Student response generally was along the lines of, "Whatever, we're not like that." Other teachers are opining at large, letting off huge clouds of hot air, while, the secretaries are going nuts answering mail and phone calls. As usual, MeFi readers have weighed in with great wit, wisdom and opinions. I thank you. :)
posted by Lynsey at 1:56 PM on February 23, 2001

Do you think any Irish folks are offended by Notre Dame's mascot, a drunken little pugnacious Irishman?
posted by Dr. Boom at 8:02 PM on February 24, 2001

George Carlin:

Being Irish, I guess I should resent the Notre Dame nickname, "The Fighting Irish." After all, how long do you think nicknames like "The Bargaining Jews" or "The Murdering Italians" would last? Only the ironic Irish could be so naively honest. I get the feeling that Notre Dame came real close to naming itself "The Fuckin' Drunken, Thick-skulled, Brawling, Short-dicked Irish."
posted by aaron at 11:39 AM on February 25, 2001

Here's a question for you. I graduated from Medicine Hat High School (located in the city of the same name in Alberta). The men's sports teams were called the Mohawks (even though the Mohawk nation was/is located thousands of miles to the East. Don't ask me why this name was chosen. Our mascot was a large beagle. Once again, don't ask me why.). The women's teams were called the Kwahommies (that's 'Mohawk' spelled backwards and suffixed). If Hat High (as it is known) ever decided to get culturally correct, would the women's teams have to be renamed?
posted by iceberg273 at 10:33 AM on February 26, 2001

Of course the woman's teams would have to be renamed. Of course, they virtually cry out to be renamed right now because they're so stupid.
posted by kindall at 12:10 PM on February 26, 2001

Ouch! I will restrain my rabid school pride in the interests of MetaFilter togetherness. Who needs rhetorical questions? Can't we all just get along?
posted by iceberg273 at 4:18 PM on February 26, 2001

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