Who cares about a mascot?

Racism and Stereotyping Hurt All of Us.

In 2009, a student at Carpinteria high school petitioned to change the mascot.  The Carpinteria Warriors mascot was of a plains Indian with facial features that offend many Native Americans.  The mascot was armed with feathers and sacred “religious tools.”  The school board voted to approve her petition, after all the mascot was old and the precedent for changing a mascot is well documented.  However, the backlash that exploded in this small surf town, was so great that it reached the LA Times.

Residents of Carpinteria who had attended the high school as long ago as the 1950s petitioned the school board to repeal the change.  The resulting school board meeting is an interesting study in the way different people view interpretations of Native Americans in our society.

Many felt that the mascot represented the years of State Football victories for the town, and the removal of the mascot would mark the removal of the pride for the past sport victories.  However, as an African American man said, “being a Carpinteria Warrior had profound effects on my life, such as learning to persevere despite overwhelming odds and caring for fellow teammates, but I would feel terrible if I was a part of something that was considered racist by anyone.”[1]

Those who supported changing the mascot were driven by the argument that Native Americans are continually depicted in racist and stereotypical ways.  The poster above showing various stereotypes as mascots, reads “Racism and Stereotyping Hurt All of Us. Native Americans Know This.  Now You Do Too.”  One of the arguments that was heard multiple times was that the  Chumash (the American Indian tribe that spans most of Southern California’s coast) “are peaceful, not warriors.”[2]  At the root, the problem was the way that the stereotypical mascot not only represented a stereotype of a group of people long ago, but also represents the stereotypes held about those people today.

This argument was opposed by the people who supported the mascot because they felt the mascot represented them not the Chumash people of the area.  One woman of both Zuni and Mexican indigenous lineage, said that “as a Mexican Indian, I acknowledge my Indian roots—American Indians don’t. To be a warrior is a proud thing.”[3]  Chicano Indians in Southern California have strove for many years to be identified as American Indians in the same way as North American Indians.

In the end, the school removed what it deemed as “offensive material” such as the feathers and sacred religious tools.  Today the school is still called the warriors, but all of the images of a mascot have been removed.  What had begun as a clear cut case in the school board’s eyes turned into a fight over a symbol that meant many different things to many different people.  The night of the hearing, the adults fought inside the gym while the students gathered outside in front of a mural about Chicano history and identity on the school’s wall.  There they held signs and flew the “to all my relations Red White Black Yellow” Flag for peace among all groups of people.  Maybe, the parents could have learned something from their children.

RedWhiteYellowBlack Peace Flag

[1]  Murillo, Cathy. “The Santa Barbara Independent Carpinteria School Board to Decide Mascot Issue.” The Santa Barbara Independent. <http://www.independent.com/news/2009/mar/12/carpinteria-school-board-decide-mascot-issue/&gt;.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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