The Ethics Mess That Is US Race Relations, Chapter I: The Killingly Redmen Fiasco

In Killingly, Connecticut, the local high school’s mascot has long been  a Plains Indian, and its athletic teams have been called the Redmen. Then, in 2019, the Nipmuc Tribal Council across the state border in Massachusetts complained that the name and mascott were offensive. [There’s an interesting discussion of the association of the color red with Native Americans here.]  Once the complaint was made, other Native American groups decided, “Yeah! We’re offended too!” along with usual gang of offended-by -proxy political correctness zealots. (Does this all sound familiar? It should.)

As typically happens in such situations, the people in charge decided to take the path of least resistance—this is how political correctness and expression suppression take hold, as you know–and in July, the Killingly  school board voted to eliminate  “Redmen” and the mascot and change it to “Redhawks.” It’s just a name, right?

Well, not this time. The uproar was so great that restoring “Redmen” became an election issue. Supporters of the old name and mascot took  control of the school board in the November 2019 election. However, while the new members had enough votes to eliminate the “Redhawks” name, they couldn’t muster enough to restore “Redmen.” “There is no mascot at this point,” said Craig Hanford, the new Republican board chairman, and he sent the dispute to a committee.

Fans of the football team, it was reported, shouted “Go Redmen!” during games during the rest of the season, wore Redmen jerseys and hats, and told anyone who asked that there was nothing racist about the name. One fan wore the grammatically perplexing sweatshirt, “Born a Redmen, Raised a Redmen, Will Die a Redmen.

Louis Cicarelli, whose daughter Olivia is one of two girls on the Killingly football team—that’s progressive!—told a reporter, “I think of it as a statement of the pride we have, in our school and our kids and the town. Redmen to us is a term of endearment.”

Sometimes, when I consider these Native American political correctness controversies, I’m tempted to use the Clarence the Guardian Angel  tactic and say to activists: “Ok, you’re offended by any reference to Native American history or culture apparently, and are determined to use the issue to sow discord and anger, grandstand, build political power, and separate yourself from American society. So let’s just erase all traces of your people’s presence and influence on US history, literature and culture: no Thanksgiving, no team names, no town, river, state and landmark names, no presence in movies, literature or language, nothing at all, because it’s all so offensive to you.  You’d rather your history and legacy be invisible than have it misappropriated, is that your idea? Fine. Poof! It’s gone. Happy now?”

As with the Washington Redskins, I refuse to believe that anyone, Native American or not, spends much time or emotional energy being actively offended by a team name of longstanding. It is, and has always been, a power play. Such names are obviously not intended to be slurs, because they are the names given to teams people passionately support.  This is Cognitive Dissonance Scale for Dummies stuff: if you name something you have a high opinion of after something else, that’s a compliment, not an insult, and it benefits the thing, person or name evoked by the name.

On the other hand, however, I find  the impulse to be defiant when a team name really is a racial slur, no matter how long it has been used in a benign fashion, to evoke the Second Niggardly Principle:

“When an individual or group can accomplish its legitimate objectives without engaging in speech or conduct that will offend individuals whose basis for the supposed offense is emotional, mistaken or ignorant, but is not malicious and is based on well-established impulses of human nature, it is unethical to intentionally engage in such speech or conduct.”

On the other hand, said the three-armed man, what if the supposed offense is contrived, and part of a larger cultural assault?  Then the Third Niggardly Principle applies:

When, however, suppressing speech and conduct based on an individual’s or a group’s sincere claim that such speech or conduct is offensive, however understandable and reasonable this claim may be, creates or threatens to create a powerful precedent that will undermine freedom of speech, expression or political opinion elsewhere, calls to suppress the speech or conduct must be opposed and rejected.”

Therein lies an ethics impasse. If either party exerciser Golden Rule principles, there would be no problem. It resembles the Christian bakery cases, where the Ethics Alarms verdict is that both adversaries are being jerks, with the significant difference that changing a traditional team name is a lot more burdensome than baking a single cake.

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8 thoughts on “The Ethics Mess That Is US Race Relations, Chapter I: The Killingly Redmen Fiasco

  1. I have a dear friend, a retired businessman, who is a Cherokee. He rejects the terms “Native American,” “Indigenous Person,” etc. and prefers “American Indian,” which he usually pronounces “Injun.” He is proud of his ancestry but laughs at those who take offense at the use of Native American” names, symbols and cultural references.We live in what were the last remnants of the Cherokee nation before the removal. Cherokee place names are evident everywhere. He subscribes to your theory that the unintended consequence to all this offense-taking will be to erase all references to his people.

  2. This is old news now, but I think this relevant story is as stupid as it can possibly be:
    https://www.thenewsguard.com/news/tribe-slams-mascot-ban/article_fb2a21dc-aa6c-11e1-8084-0019bb2963f4.html

    I don’t see how this story could ever be topped.

    The Oregon Department of education decided that any Indian mascot must go, no exceptions. The problem is that there are multiple reservation schools and a federal bureau of indian affairs boarding school in the state. In the reservation schools, non-indian students are measured in the single digit percentages. At the bureau of indian affairs school you will not find a single non-indian student as an entrance requirement is being a recognized member of a tribe. Yet the state told them that they can’t use mascots like Siletz’s “The warriors” featuring a profile head wearing a native headdress.

    Among the non-woke this story didn’t play well, and eventually the board of education relented and the Indian schools were permitted to keep their mascots. It just demonstrates the sheer stupidity of modern progressivism, the “I know better than you about what your opinion should be” and the anti-liberty danger they represent. It should have been settled without the noise and public backlash. I can forgive an oversight where they made the rules and didn’t think of those few schools, but they dug their heels in once the issue popped up. It’s just that the board of education member’s brains are so scrambled by progressivism that they couldn’t see for themselves how stupid they were.

  3. This “sensitivity” has pervaded all aspects of society. Many states share library summer reading themes. I heard from a librarian friend that beautiful artwork for this summer was scrapped because it included Native American images. Because these are from sacred stories. Yet, Christians have routinely seen symbols of our faith become nothing but trinkets and jewelry.

    Here’s one letter of apology. http://lists.njstatelib.org/cgi-bin/dada/mail.cgi/archive/njyac/20191121123510/

  4. I know I’ve said this before but “native Americans” (American Indians, pronounced Induns) are no more Native to this continent than white people are. It’s time they got over that.

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