O’Sullivan: Belmont should drop “Red Raiders” like Washington did “Redskins”

Monitor columnist
Published: 7/14/2020 5:56:12 PM

On Monday, the NFL franchise in Washington finally reacted to public pressure and announced the team would no longer be known as the “Redskins.”

It’s past time for Belmont High School to do the same with “Red Raiders.”

The school’s mascot is not a pirate wearing red, it’s a graphic representation of a Native American wearing a headdress. You can see it on the high school’s home page, bhs.sau80.org. That means the “Red” in “Red Raiders” refers to skin color, which also means it’s a racist slur like “Redskins,” just like Indigenous activists have been telling us for years.

The recent light cast on racial inequality in America and the news out of the NFL has prompted the Shaker Regional School Board, which oversees Belmont and Canterbury, to at least talk about the issue.

“It’s definitely been a topic in the back of people’s heads and it definitely has come back up recently, and I think it’s a discussion that should take place regardless of how things end up,” School Board member Sean Embree said. “I don’t think it’s something that should be ignored, so that’s why we as board at (Tuesday’s) meeting will discuss putting it on the agenda, but I’m sure we will, and it will be for the next meeting, which is in two weeks.”

This won’t be the first time the mascot has come before the school board. The issue was raised in 2014 by three members of the Belmont High student council who wanted to keep the name but change the Native American logo to a knight, bird or caped Revolutionary War character. After much debate in the school and town, the board voted to keep everything the same.

“I will tell you I was on the board six years ago, and we heard a lot of feedback from both sides, and it was a close vote to keep it the same,” said Embree, an elected official who said he does lean toward one of those sides but declined to say which.

Much of that feedback came in a town forum where a majority of people in attendance wanted to keep the logo. That’s despite the fact that in 2002 the New Hampshire Department of Education passed a resolution endorsing “the elimination of the use of Indian sports mascots and encourages all districts to examine this issue and to eliminate the use of sports mascots.” Despite that neighboring Merrimack Valley High changed from “Indians” to “Pride” that same year, and that Dartmouth College moved on from “Indians” way back in 1974.

The old arguments to keep offensive mascots didn’t hold up back then and they certainly don’t hold up now.

First and foremost, calling a Native American “Red” in any context is racist. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez made that clear in the statement he released on Monday:

“July 13, 2020 is now a historic day for Indigenous people around the world as the NFL Washington-based team officially announced the retirement of the racist and disparaging ‘Redskins’ team name and logo.”

Yes, whoever decided on the Belmont High mascot in the first place was trying to come up with something positive, but that doesn’t mean that it is now or ever was. Appropriating race is wrong. Even if Belmont dropped the “Red” but kept the “Raiders” and the Native American logo, it would still be disparaging.

Professional teams like the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks and Kansas City Chiefs have all used the argument that they are “honoring” Native Americans with their mascots. But Stephanie Fryberg, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and a member of the Tulalip nation in Washington State, was quoted in the July 10 New York Times as saying, “there is absolutely no evidence of that.” Fryberg published a recent study showing that around two-thirds of Native Americans who frequently engage in cultural practices are offended by the names and logos of those teams.

If the people of Belmont want to honor Native Americans they should make Indigenous history a bigger part of the curriculum and not just a stylized logo on the gym wall. What if the way we honored or remembered the American Revolution came from the side of the New England Patriots helmets?

And getting rid of a name isn’t going to ruin the school’s tradition or legacy. The recent Merrimack Valley boys’ basketball teams, for example, knew they carried the legacy of Dave Huckins, Scott Drapeau and Kevin O’Brien and the MV championship teams from 1989, ‘90 and ‘93, even though they had “Indians” on their jerseys and not “Pride.”

It can be the same for some future Belmont baseball players. They will win a championship and say it was for Doug Price, Cole Contigiani and Griffin Embree (who happens to be Sean’s oldest son) and the 2017 Belmont baseball team that lost the Division III final on the last play, even though that team was the “Red Raiders” and that future Belmont team will be named, hopefully, something else.

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