In response to the front-page story in The Miami Student Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2title “Old mascot, new dilemma” and the editorial about the Miami University identity and ties to Native American history, my personal response follows.
“Time has little to do with Infinity and jelly doughnuts,” which is to say there is, in the case of the old mascot, which in addition to its offensiveness is actually nothing more than an antiquated symbol, no new dilemma. There are perhaps old attitudes and vestiges from a time and place that is or certainly should be the past, but this is not a new problem. It is as old as the deferred dream, as in “What happens to a dream deferred?” which has festered and fed poison into the souls of even decent people of good will. It harks back to the warning about the 20th century having to continue to deal with the “problem of color,” perhaps because the people of color themselves have been ignored. In the end, no matter the pronouncements of values like inclusion, respect, honor, understanding, compassion, equality and justice, our actions have spoken a different note and we sing, dance and play a tune that wounds us all and speaks to a darker character we see only in others.
This is about a new insensitivity that masks itself in past attitudes and beliefs and claims a right to go unchallenged as it claims to know what is or is not offensive to others, while intentionally avoiding holding the mirror to itself. It is a patriarchal arrogance to want to debate what it does and what it should. In this moment in time and history know is fundamentally wrong. There is no new dilemma in using a term that was in fact about bounty, the presentation of the scalps of children, women and men as proof of their deliberate execution, extermination and murder.
Would there be a dilemma if the signs, symbols and traditions of a favorite sorority or fraternity, or any organization with a long tradition and history, was used as a chant at football, basketball and ice hockey games by fans who misrepresented all of the principals of the organizations but claimed it was harmless and meant with respect? Do we really wish to suggest that in this century at this moment in time that slurs shouted at undergraduates on their way to an event, or members of one community or another marching and being heckled and shouted at, assaults on individuals who are different or burning crosses and hanging ropes are all just expressions of respect or done out of ignorance or artistic license? To be sure, there are first amendment issues that frankly are not even at stake — you can always shout fire in the proverbial theatre, but you also have to suffer consequences of the actions. When did we move from stupid and foolish behavior that offends and is insensitive to it becoming a sign of praise and honor instead of behavior that should cease?
No matter what the headlines of any medium might suggest, this is not new, as in new dilemma, it is old and it is in fact tiresome. Intelligence demands that we not repeat the same mistakes. Knowledge demands that we not be stagnant, but progress. New understanding means that what may have seemed to be one thing at a past moment in time and history can be seen in a new light and changed or abandoned with new understanding in contemporary times — the history of movements, especially civil rights movements in this country, demonstrate this principle of moving from the old exclusions and demeaning behaviors to some degree of respect and inclusion.
The struggle of African-Americans, Latino/as, Asian-Americans, First Nation/Native Peoples and of women in this nation (not to mention those who are different in terms of sexual orientation and physical and mental ability) has been to move from once accepted negative and exclusive practice to recognizing, then changing and correcting policies, practices and harmful perceptions and becoming more inclusive. We have understood and struggled to move away from what was once habit, practice or tradition and did great harm, not to mention in many cases being unconstitutional, and from a humane perspective, inconsistent with humanity and all of the values we claim sacred.
We are at this institution to learn. One of the things we should come to learn and understand is that time moves on, visions are altered, beliefs are modified and traditions stand, or they should be able to survive the test of time or die out. The Upham Arch, the turtles and the Miami seal are time-honored, and thus they endure and survive. They bring all of us together by allowing us to share a special part of Miami. These, and other traditions, do no harm, speak to all and do all of us proud.
On the other hand, mimicking Hollywood stereotypes (yelps, hollers, drum beats and chops) and claiming to be caught up in the musical soundtracks designed to suggest here “they” come and they’re not collecting for UNICEF, they’re attacking and mean to kill us, does not praise or honor — it demeans. Saying there is no intent to harm does not mean that those who have been characterized and negatively stereotyped throughout history feel honor, included or respected. In this case ,silence is not acceptance — asking the offended to tell us what we ought to know and understand as human beings is ethnic privilege at its worst.
We should be able to recognize that now is the time to move past old notions of an offensive tradition (racism, homophobia and sexism, et cetera) that does wound — IT DOES NOT HONOR — and change for no other reason than because it is right.
The sounds, music and behaviors associated with a people who never existed beyond a Hollywood movie or pieces of celluloid, in films that many have never seen yet accepted as testaments of some symbolic truth must be replaced by an honest investigation into a real people and culture that is part of the very legacy and history of this university. To do less cheapens our motto, love and honor.