Tim Whyte | Begrudgingly, They Have a Point

Tim Whyte

When I first heard the William S. Hart Union High School District was thinking about changing the mascot of the Hart High School Indians, my initial reaction was, “Cripes. Here we go again.”

The indignant and self-righteous “woke” crowd strikes once more, imposing upon everyone else their right to be offended — and their self-appointed right to be offended on behalf of everyone they THINK should be offended.

How much some people seem offended by just about every damn thing is… well, offensive. On the whole, I really wish people would lighten up. The excessive pearl-clutching of today’s society, particularly from the left, often sends me running for the nearest bottle of Pepto Bismol.  

However, after the initial, involuntary jerking of my knee, I thought about it some more, and I came to two conclusions:

1) As much as the overly woke crowd makes me throw up a little in my mouth every time I hear of one of these movements, it would also be arrogant of me to tell anyone who can draw their familial lines back to the people mistakenly dubbed “Indians” centuries ago that they should NOT be offended by the Indian moniker. I have not walked a mile in their shoes, nor were my ancestors oppressed, killed and kicked off their land, as theirs were. So who am I to tell them they shouldn’t be offended by the Indian mascot? It’s not my place, really.

2) The Hart district is stuck. Now that they’ve opened the discussion, it’s inevitable: The mascot will change, because if it doesn’t, the cancel culture will hit the school board with full force and they will forever be branded as insensitive racists. That’s how these movements roll.

Opinions are sharply divided in the community — even among those who claim Native American heritage. (I actually prefer the Canadian term, “First Nations.” I think it’s more precise. After all, who’s really “native” to America? All of our ancestors migrated here from somewhere else.)

Regardless, the issue sparks heated debate even among those with First Nation credentials. On more than one social media thread, I’ve seen people who identify as having Native American heritage (I’m taking their word for it; no DNA tests were produced) arguing with EACH OTHER over whether the Indians name is inherently offensive. Paraphrasing:

The lady who’s half-Cherokee says: Get a life, it’s not offensive. It’s a connection to local history and the namesake of Hart High School, William S. Hart, who was known to have great respect for the Native American people.

The guy who’s half-Sioux says: It’s racist, period, end of story. And if you disagree with removing it, YOU’RE a racist.

The “progressive” white guy and the conservative white lady — neither of whom really has any skin in the game — each back their respective sides based on the opinions they already had before the argument started. 

Not much room for compromise between the two sides. Is there?

I thought about suggesting they change it to the Hart Tataviam — as a symbol of respect for the Native Americans who came to this area first — but I suspect that wouldn’t satisfy the critics, and it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, either.

Nor does my high school mascot, by the way. I never really got too excited about “Centurions” as the Saugus High School mascot. As a kid who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, I connected “Centurion” more with the Cylon robots in “Battlestar Galactica” than Roman warriors.

But, I digress. 

I thought about parallels, and are there any mascots or sports team names that should offend me? My family is Canadian, and neither the Montreal Canadiens nor the Vancouver Canucks offend me. (“Canuck” is often used as a derogatory term for a Canadian — but it doesn’t seem to bother all the Canucks who live in Vancouver. They’re more concerned about the fact that their hockey team has a steady historical record of sucking. And having ugly uniforms.)

I’m not Irish — before Canada, my roots go back to Scotland — but if I were Irish, would the Notre Dame Fighting Irish offend me? What if it were the Fighting Scots?  

Nah. Neither one would bug me, really. But a quick Internet search reveals this: You might think no one is objecting to the Fighting Irish name, but yes, there are those who do, and Notre Dame’s fighting leprechaun logo has caused a stir of its own.

So, you can find someone who is offended by just about anything. You’d think with all these snowflakes melting around us, we’d never have to worry about a drought. 

But again, I keep circling back to this: 

Who am I to tell someone with First Nation ancestry that the Hart Indians shouldn’t offend them? It’s all too easy for me to say it shouldn’t, because I don’t share their history. And as much as these kinds of movements seem trivial, petulant and irksome to me, and as much as I hate suggesting the hyper-offended among us should “win” any such battles, if I honestly look beyond that, I have to acknowledge that they have a point.

I’d defend the right of a private business to use whatever name it wants, and let the market decide whether it’s offensive. But this is a public school district, and that comes with an extra layer of obligation to take such sensitivities into account. They’re stuck. It’s 2021, not 1951, and this change is coming. 

Please pass the Pepto.

Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal.

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