Friday, June 20, 2014

Corinthia College

The current war of a word over the name of the Washington Redskins reminds me of when many colleges and high schools were going through the same debate back in the 1980's.

Two colleges in my area had teams known as the Redmen and the Warriors. The Carthage Red Men were originally named as the counterpart to a sister school's Blue Men, but the college flag showing a letter "C" sporting Native American warrior feathers left no doubt what the name had come to mean. The Marquette Warriors could just as easily have had a blue-faced kilt-wearing Pict wielding a claymore for their mascot, but in their case, Warrior meant "Willie Wampum."

To their credit, these colleges ultimately yielded to public pressure to change their team names (now Big Red and the Golden Eagles), but not without a good deal of rancor and resistance.

Drawing a comic strip about higher education for a student newspaper on a campus whose sports teams offended no ethnic sensitivity, I was inspired to introduce a sports department to my fictional campus. You may want to click on this image to embiggen:
The catch, as far as this gag goes, was that I had to come up with a team name that was ridiculous yet truly offensive. Most cartoons attempting this topic imagine insulting depictions of white people -- crackers, honkies, palefaces, trailer trash, etc. They're demeaning terms, but they demean the dominant majority culture, so it's okay, the theory goes. As a result, they annoy, but don't wound.

My next installment in the series was the last on this topic. I think you'll quickly see why.
I imagine that Corinthia College's sainted coach Elpirt Yalp would have been considered quite liberal in his day for his admiration of Negro Culture, to use the terminology of the time. But popular sensibility had risen above his lofty ideals by the 1980's. The Theater Department would have ceased performing darkie songs in blackface in the 1970's -- although there might still have been a fraternity forcing their pledges to do it.

In the end, one can claim that appropriating someone else's heritage for a sports logo, however well-intentioned it may have been once upon a time, never remains benign for long. A tomahawk chop becomes popular. The cartoonist designing your logo produces a racist caricature.

If you want an ethnic mascot, you might just have to look to your own background. The Minnesota Vikings and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are free to celebrate their own heritage in a way that the Coachella Valley High School Arabs cannot.

Better yet, choose a feisty or majestic animal, or a respected profession. (Sorry, but "The Packers" is already taken.)

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