Editorial: Time for Belmont’s Red Raiders to go

Last modified: 5/13/2014 2:37:26 PM
There are approximately 4,000 New Hampshire residents who identify themselves as Native American or Alaska native, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Few if any of them have red skins, or raid anything but the occasional refrigerator.

We don’t know if any of them are offended by the nickname Belmont High School has long used for its sports teams, the Red Raiders. We do know that names based on race and racial stereotypes are demeaning and can be hurtful. That’s why, following an April 16 forum hosted by the student council to discuss the matter, the school and its students should settle on a new name. So should the two dozen other New Hampshire schools that use names or images based on race.

Dartmouth College changed its mascot from Indians to the Big Green in 1974. The perpetuation of race-based names and images in this day and age is a sign of insensitivity or ignorance.

The New Hampshire schools that named their sports teams after Native American tribes like the Mohawks or Apaches are not honoring those peoples or their heritage by doing so. Stealing a people’s name or reducing its members to a stereotype shows not respect but disrespect.

For decades there has been a national push to purge the nation of race-based team names. One effort, Change the Mascot, led by the Oneida Indian Nation, has sponsored research into the effect the stereotypes used in team names and mascots have on Native American children, a population that starts life at risk. Researchers found that being confronted with such mascots decreases the self-esteem of Native American youth and depresses the mood of a population already suffering poverty and an increased risk of suicide.

For traditionalists who believe that changing names like Indians or Redskins is giving in to the forces of political correctness, we say consider the response of retired Merrimack Valley art teacher Dan Dalphonse to Monitor columnist Ray Duckler. A decade ago, Dalphonse was a leader in that school’s campaign to change MV’s team name from the Indians to the Pride.

“What other races are used as a mascot? I wouldn’t want to be the Merrimack Valley Negroes or the Merrimack Valley Jews,” he said.

The first thing a viewer encounters on the Belmont school’s website is a stylized Native American. Now imagine if that image were of a bearded Hassidic Jew, a Mexican in a sombrero or an African with a spear.

The owners of professional sports teams like the Cleveland Indians, whose Chief Wahoo logo is the caricature equivalent of Little Black Sambo, or the Washington Redskins refuse to change their names for reasons of tradition and because big marketing money is at stake. The latter, however, could be forced to change because court decisions that have repeatedly found “redskins” to be a slur, and thus not capable of trademark protection.

Maintaining a race-based sports name or mascot speaks ill of the school and its community. Having so many race-based team names in New Hampshire speaks ill of the state, a state whose mountains, rivers and communities are named for real Native Americans long ago displaced.

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