Change.org covers Wisconsin Mascot Bill
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Wisconsin Becomes the First State to Outlaw Indian Mascots
by Antonio Ramirez
May 24, 2010 12:04 PM (PT)
Topics: Ethnic Stereotypes, Multiculturalism, racism
Being a person of color in Wisconsin isn't easy. The state is known as the worst place to be blackin America, Milwaukee has been ranked the most segregated city in the country, and this year's Republican candidate for governor says that he, too, would have signed Arizona's new anti-immigrant law.
That's why I was shocked to learn that Wisconsin has become the first state in the nation to ban Indian mascots in its public schools. The new lawallows any school district resident to complain about a school's use of racist native imagery. Last week, the first official complaint was filed in the town of Osseo. The Mukwonago Chief (yes, that's a newspaper) also reports that a complaint is expected against Mukwonago High School's mascot, as well.
Home to more federally recognized American Indian tribes than any state east of the Mississippi River, Wisconsin has long been host to considerable associated cultural misunderstanding and conflict.
For example, in the 1980s and 90s, tensions came to a head during violent confrontations over Ojibwe spearfishing rights, leading to "Save a Fish — Spear an Indian" bumper stickers that can still be seen in parts of the state. (In the end, the tribes were victorious: they won recognition of treaty rights as well as a statewide law requiring students to learn about Wisconsin Indians and their sovereignty.)
Although tribes won a victory inside the classroom, racist imagery has been — and continues to be — a major part of school sporting events.
At one high school, for example, school authorities convinced Wisconsin Menominee activist Richie Plass to serve as his school's real-life Indian mascot, a situation that forced him to undergo the taunts and jeers of opposing teams' fans. Milwaukee's Marquette University also has a disturbing history of using white students in brownface and other racist caricatures of native people. And today, a whopping 36 communities still cheer for mascots like the Redmen, the Chieftains and the Indians.
Oneida activist Barb Munson tells me that Wisconsin tribes have opposed racist mascots for nearly two decades on the grounds that they harm the state's children. She and Plass are part of Changing Winds, a Native American advocacy organization whose exhibit Bittersweets Winds crisscrosses the nation teaching people about the historic and contemporary use of racist images of Native Americans. Munson points, for example, to studies that show Indian mascots to affect native students' self-esteem and encourage white children to stereotype other racial groups.
A group of white students from Prescott, Wisconsin agrees. As part of a social studies class, they organized anti-mascot protests at local sporting events, testified before state politicians and were present when the bill was signed into law.
"I have seen the best spirit of Wisconsin in action," Munson said at the signing. "People of all ages, races and ethnicities working together to make things better for all the children in our state."
Congratulations to Wisconsin. Now, let's hope other states also follow its lead.
Photo Credit: dbking
Antonio Ramirez directs outreach and leadership development at a transnational workers’ rights law center in Mexico.