It’s Not About The Mascot

vikingWhen I began writing this post Monday, it was a VERY different post.

I’d read the news that some students and a professor at Western Washington University (WWU, Western), my place of employment for the past 15 years, were calling for a change of the university’s mascot, the Vikings, claiming it conflicts with Western’s commitment to diversity.

And so, I was going to write a casual exploration of the topic, reflecting on the fact that the mascot at the junior high school I attended was also the Vikings, half joking about how the current graphic of the Viking, included here, whether or not you believe it a barrier to creating an inclusive community for people of color on campus, is so freaking scary he looks like he very badly wants to pillage my village, rape my women, and impale me on his horns, and then, maybe, I’d lightly touch on the topic of political correctness vs. free speech.

But Tuesday morning, before having any time to complete this post, an email was sent to the entire Western Washington University community by WWU President Bruce Shepard, announcing that classes had been cancelled for the day in response to hate speech on social media, directed at students of color at Western because of their opposition of the mascot.

So, I needed to take a break from writing and regroup, I needed to read the coverage in the media, and I even masochistically subjected myself to reading the reader comments on the article in the Bellingham Herald and on Western’s Facebook Page.

Then, shortly thereafter, I read the news that five Black Lives Matter protesters were shot in Minneapolis.

And what became abundantly clear to me was:

It’s not about the mascot.

It’s about racism.

What kind of country do we live in where this happens?

  • A handful of students of color state publicly that they oppose a university mascot because they feel alienated by it, and they are met with hate speech and threats, AND…
  • This same handful are told, with derision and anger, that they shouldn’t be offended and scared, that they are “cry babies” and “pussies”, and that this is just political correctness run amok, AND…
  • The president of the university is attacked for cancelling classes, which he did because he understands that students of color might be scared, given that racism and violence on college campuses is a national epidemic, and that the whole university needs time to process the awareness that racist threats were made to our students.

In April 2014, President Shepard, in a convocation speech, said:

“ … if in decades ahead, we are as white as we are today, we will have failed as a university.”

…and he swiftly came under fire for those comments.

I suspect that many who found fault with what he said then are likely the same people angrily criticizing the opposition to the mascot and the decision to cancel classes.

Racists have a glaringly obvious tell: Even hint about taking away a symbol of white power — a maniacal Viking, or, let’s say, the Confederate flag — and they doth protest too much.

Listen, I’ll take a politically correct overreaction over a racist overreaction any frickin’ day!