Recently, Hart High School surveyed students and staff to gauge support of the Hart Indian mascot in response to accusations of racial insensitivity. The survey found that more than half of participants wanted to keep the mascot, but the (William S. Hart Union High School District) board has not made any decisions based on these findings.
Ultimately, the voices of students and staff matter very little in this debate. Instead, the board should base their decision on indigenous opinions and social science.
Hart High’s population is 49% Hispanic, 40% white, 9% Asian, 2% Black and less than 1% indigenous. The stereotyping and dehumanization will not directly harm the majority of Hart’s student body. But the Hart mascot and the headdresses and war cries it inspires risk desensitizing students to racist portrayals and perpetuating racial stereotypes that students may bring with them into adulthood.
The harmful effects of racial mascots have been well documented. According to two separate studies published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, perceived discrimination, including through mascots, is associated with depression in indigenous adults and early substance abuse in indigenous children. A 2011 study published in The Journal of Social Psychology found that stereotypical representations of indigenous people produced associations with negative stereotypes in non-indigenous university students.
Not only do mascots like Hart’s negatively impact indigenous mental health through prolonged exposure to dehumanizing stereotypes, they also put indigenous people at risk of enduring further discrimination as other populations develop biases based on mascots’ representations. Research suggests that mascots produce a compounded negative effect on indigenous communities.
But the community most affected by this decision was not well represented in the student population surveyed. The Hart school district has a responsibility to produce open-minded and empathetic students who can cooperate with diverse individuals. The Hart mascot threatens this goal by introducing stereotypical images of indigenous populations in our community.
Activists are not demanding unreasonable change. In the wake of 2020’s racial reckoning, schools and sports teams across the nation have clamored to update mascots deemed racially insensitive. In the NFL, the Washington football team shed their team name, and in Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians agreed to eventually follow suite.
Beyond preserving a problematic tradition, the Hart Indian mascot contributes little more than a harmful stereotype to our community. The Hart school board should prioritize the general well-being of indigenous populations over the opinions of predominantly non-indigenous high school students and staff. Our community should seek change for the well-being of our indigenous population.