As you may know and I mention it every blog, this page is not my speech and the simple reason is on stage, I represent both myself and the client hiring me so I am ultra sensitive to not being offensive but whether there or here, being offended is a moving target. In other words, if you don’t like what I have to write here, that is your choice but I choose my blog to rant about current events that have either piqued my interest or pissed me off and today, I am annoyed.
The Calgary Board of Education, who are not any different than any similar institution around the world, have a tough job. “Everyone” has an opinion on education and frankly, there is probably no “right” opinion but every now and then, a subject rears its ugly head and the clear majority seems obvious yet the minority wins the day. Obviously, I have addressed this topic before but the specific rant today is about the wisdom of Western Canada High School’s administration’s decision, on the heals of a similar lack of courage on the part of Bedford Road Collegiate’s leaders in Saskatoon to coincidentally dump their team names, “Redmen”. Clearly, this subject just keeps on whining its way into our lives and while not being completely absent of merit, it is highly annoying. DOES IT REALLY MATTER?
I find this observation not unique. In fact the more we hear about this, the more we hear that the huge majority of our culture, First Nations People included, DON’T CARE! Team names with aboriginal roots may suggest prejudice to the politically correct, but I categorically disagree. Aboriginal references for sports teams were NEVER conceived as an insult. Their creation going back as far as 200 years may have occurred in an ignorant and racist time but the intent was in reflecting the nature of sports…a battle. Whether we like it or not, some aboriginals were warriors in their history and the fact they aren’t now (although some of their protests would suggest otherwise) isn’t relevant. The fact that calling a First Nations Person a “Redman” to their face is completely unacceptable is relevant but having it on a jersey, jacket or gym floor is a completely different context.
The New York Times loves to trumpet it’s journalistic tune of left wing political correctness as if the whole world agrees with them yet every poll ever taken, which tend to pretty accurately reflect the world we live in, show the opposite. I know this opinion from me may surprise you and more importantly, may yet again suggest I have a problem with Aboriginals, which I know I don’t but therein lies the problem. We are using team names as a smoke screen to distract us from much more important issues. I know prejudice and racism still lives and as you may have heard from me before, I have faced it in my own life and not my prejudice to others, their prejudice to me for having no arms. I have made a personal choice of first ignoring it and then rising above it. Some who believe they have been victimized by race use it as an excuse for their failures and though that sounds judgmental, that is not my intention. It may not sound like it sometimes but I truly care about people who see themselves as underdogs…I was one! In fact, much of what drives me is encouraging every member of my audience to raise their own personal bar to achieve their true potential. Sadly, some never get there and while I feel empathy, I do not feel sympathy. People need to be accountable and when you put your failure on others, that’s just giving up and although I am far from perfect, giving up is not in my DNA. I have my parents to thank for that.
Instead of being spineless and giving into a name change, wouldn’t this be a great time to speak to tradition and pride? I had the honour recently of speaking at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe Springs, California, a suburb in East Los Angeles. The neighbourhood is just a few miles from where the Rodney King Race Riots took place in the mid ’90’s and following that unsettling event, this high school of 3,200 students created “Diversity Day” and I was the featured speaker for the 2014 event. I spoke to all the students in two assemblies in their very cool and preserved gymnasium built in 1959. Behind me on the stage was a hundred foot wide wall with a bright yellow background and twenty foot tall black letters spelling “WARRIORS” next to the logo depicting the head of an American Indian with a headdress similar to the one used by the Washington Red Skins NFL Football Team and also similar to the one used for over fifty years by Western Canada’s Redmen. This event was two weeks before the story of the Redmen name change broke so imagine the coincidence in my head. Being diversity day, I focussed my talk on the subject as I see it and rather profoundly was invited intentionally because I am white yet have experienced prejudice…weird huh? One of the major reasons they wanted my perspective is that their strong feelings about how their students see race is a key to the culture of their school, one that is 75% Hispanic, 15% white and the remaining a mix of black and other assorted races. Instead of seeing their race as a problem, their administration focus on tradition and pride and a big key is what they call “THE WARRIOR SPIRIT”. The essence of this spirit is not one of violence and confrontation but a never give up attitude…are we connecting some dots now? When I made a visual reference to that wall and the Warrior Spirit, I got a spontaneous standing ovation from both groups. I added a line…”Never let anyone tell you who you are or where you are from and fuel your success with tolerance and acceptance of yourself of course but more important, others”.
I believe these two schools and all others that have caved in to the Politically Correct Minority have missed a great opportunity to teach our youth that calling our team Warriors or Redmen is not racist but reflecting the passion and competitive nature of sports and a rallying cry for school pride and identity. Being “Politically Correct” is not in itself a bad thing. I used to tell some pretty blatant jokes about the handicapped, even from the stage, and I still cringe when I think about it. REAL prejudice and racism needs to be challenged. Maybe a better approach might be that a newly built school should avoid calling their team Redmen and have an Indian Headdress man as their logo but if you have used it for over fifty years, where is the harm? On a more practical note, the CBE is going to pay for the name change including new uniforms, patches for jackets and even replacing the gym floor that has the offensive logo painted in the center and endzones. Couldn’t that money be better spent on more important educational needs like hiring more teachers?
Just a thought!