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Monday, January 23, 2017

Melrose "Dreamcatcher" and Other "Mascot" Issues

Massachusetts Mascots

Melrose Dreamcatcher

Claudia Fox Tree, a board member for the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness, said that if Melrose does choose to keep its Red Raiders name, the city should do what it can to weed out culturally appropriative imagery entirely.

Yesterday, Miranda Davis at the Greenfield Recorder picked up the story of Massachusetts bill SD.1119, An Act to Prohibit the Use of Native American Mascots by Public Schools in the Commonwealth. The introduction of this bill directly impacts the local debate in Turners Falls about the effects of continued use of the “Indians” mascot/logo.

Excerpt: The bill, introduced Thursday, was filed “by request” by Sen. Barbara L’Italian, a Democrat representing the 2nd Essex and Middlesex district. According to L’Italian’s spokeswoman Emma Friend, the bill was requested by a resident of Tewksbury, where the high school’s mascot is the Redmen. If passed, the bill would affect the ongoing debate in Montague over whether Turners Falls High School should keep its current mascot, the Indians.
Another story on the same topic was published by NECN, an NBC affiliate out of Boston, MA.
Excerpt:  The Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness said change is long overdue. “Mascots keep us trapped in a false narrative and don’t show context or how we have evolved over 500 years,” said Claudia Fox Tree. “The problem is that we aren’t able to share our own story in our own voices.”

CBS local affiliate WBZ Channel 4 in Boston also carried the announcement. From that report:
A Tewksbury resident wants state lawmakers to ban the use of Native American symbols and logos at public schools. After losing a battle to change Tewksbury High School’s mascot from the Redmen, Linda Thomas is now hoping legislators will vote to get rid of Native American logos at all public schools for good. Last year, the Tewksbury School Committee voted 4-1 to keep their mascot, which some say pays tribute to the town’s Native American heritage. “This is really not a town issue, this is a state issue,” Thomas said.

Names that offend in the age of the Internet
The effort to enact a state law grew out of an unsuccessful campaign last year to change the Redman nickname used by Tewksbury Memorial High School. "If the Tewksbury School Committee refuses to consider the implications of a race-based mascot, then perhaps the Legislature will," bill supporter Laura Harrington told the Globe.  Three legislators representing the local towns affected by the bill say they are against forcing a change, staff writer Jim Hand reported in his Feb. 8 story.  State Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield, who also represents Foxboro, said no one in Foxboro had said to him that the Warrior nickname was offensive, and in any case this was an issue that should be decided locally, not at the state level.  State Sen. Richard Ross, R-Wrentham, also said such decisions should be left to school committees. State Rep. Steven Hewitt, R-Seekonk, said the Warrior name is fine with him since his town is named after a Native American word for geese.  There has been at least one case in Massachusetts in which a Native American mascot name was dropped. That was the Natick Redmen, with the decision coming in 2008 after a community debate, the Globe said.

Should We Be Able to Reclaim a Racist Insult — as a Registered Trademark?
Can a marginalized group can take a slur back. And this agency must do so by applying a provision of the law that has long outlived its context. The Lanham Act was passed in 1946, and its very language — “immoral,” “scandalous,” “disparage” — flags Section 2(a) as a product of another time. Since its passage, American law and society itself have undergone a revolution, from the 1971 case that declared a jacket reading “[Expletive] the Draft” was protected speech to 1992’s R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, in which Justice Antonin Scalia articulated the idea that prohibitions against racist hate speech were constitutionally impermissible “viewpoint discrimination.” You might be tempted to think that if the Lanham Act had been passed in 1996 rather than 1946, Section 2(a) would have long been toast.

Long before Tam had even dreamed up the name “the Slants,” Native American activists were gunning for the Washington Redskins’ trademarks. In 1992, they petitioned the patent office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to cancel the Redskins’ marks under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act. Ever since then, they’ve been mired in an endless slog of litigation both inside and outside the agency. The board has canceled the Redskins’ trademarks twice now: once in 1999 and once more in 2014. This time, it seems it might stick: When the Redskins appealed out to a federal district court in 2014, they lost.

From this perspective, the government is impermissibly punishing Dykes on Bikes with an unending hell of paperwork and legal fees and putting them at a disadvantage in any potential dispute, all because they want to call themselves dykes. Framed this way, it does sound like a violation of free speech, and Section 2(a) sounds like a bad idea. But Dykes on Bikes and the Slants aren’t the only people caught in the cross hairs of Section 2(a) — they’re just the more sympathetic ones. Even as Tam’s case was trickling through the legal system, another Section 2(a) case was making very loud and ugly headlines.

Tam, who sees antiracism as a big part of what the Slants do, does not care for the Redskins or the team’s owner, Dan Snyder. “‘Redskin’ has a long history of oppression, the football team treats the people as mascots,” Tam wrote on his website in 2016. He concedes that there is “overlap” between his case and the Redskins’, but insists that they are not equivalent. For many people, there’s a fundamental difference between an Asian-American dance-rock band called “the Slants” and a football team owned by a white man, featuring no Native American players, called “the Redskins.”

Whatever the Supreme Court might think of this question, it doesn’t want to deal with the Redskins right now. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to the Slants, but has declined to hear the Redskins’ case. What that means for the Slants is anyone’s guess. But for all intents and purposes, it looks as if the Supreme Court, just like Tam, would rather have the two cases detached from each other.

The caption of the case they’re considering, “Lee v. Tam,” feels strangely apt for a case about reappropriating a slur against Asians. The naming conventions of the legal system mean that Simon Shiao Tam is being pitted against Michelle Lee, the first Asian-American director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. This is, of course, a bit of a legal fiction: Lee will not be arguing the case at the Supreme Court, and she was, presumably, not in the room when the office’s examining attorney first rejected Tam’s application on the basis that it disparaged Asians. On Jan. 18, Tam’s lawyers will be facing down Lee’s lawyers before eight justices, none of whom are Asian, to decide the fate of the Slants and whether trademark law can accommodate “taking a word back.”