The presenters of the award apparently don’t believe that legislators can keep more than a single ball in the air at once, saying HB 681 “directs scarce time and money away from serious issues and distracts already struggling schools away from their actual job of educating children.”
We agree that there are greater challenges facing legislators, specifically a budget shortfall that threatens to hobble this state’s educational system. But Graham’s bill, which would cost barely more than a dime and doesn’t require a substantial investment of time, simply creates a 12-person study commission to give the issue an examination.
Graham, as the only American Indian in the General Assembly, was the obvious pick to file the bill, doing so at the request of the state Commission of Indian Affairs.
According to Executive Director Greg Richardson, the Commission of Indian Affairs a few years back sent a resolution to the state Board of Education asking for the elimination of Indian mascots at all public schools, and since then the number of schools using such mascots has been reduced by half. But there remain about 30 public schools in the state with mascots that could offend 100,000 residents of this state.
Richardson acknowledged that the concern by American Indians about the use of these mascots may “look small,” but “symbolizes” a larger problem.
“In America we have to be more conscious and respectful of other cultures,” he said.
The panel presumably would look at public school mascots on a case-by-case basis. That exercise isn’t new locally: The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, which was established to educate American Indians, had to fight the NCAA on its use of “Braves” and a mascot, but in the end was able to make the case that their use honors American Indians, and doesn’t mock them.
But that is the exception: The most acclaimed offender is the Washington Redskins of the National Football League. An American Indian doesn’t have to be looking for an argument to be offended by the use of “redskin.”
Then there are trickier calls, such as the use of Braves by the Atlanta team in major league baseball.
Graham’s bill asks that the panel file a report to the General Assembly by May 1, 2012. At that time, legislation could be crafted that would eliminate the use of the mascots that ridicule a race of people, while also allowing appropriate exceptions at schools that could mount a case as compelling as UNCP’s.
In the interim, there is no reason that the General Assembly should be distracted from more pressing challenges that face our state. But the existence of bigger issues doesn’t vanquish smaller ones.
And if you are American Indian, the problem of mascots that deride your heritage isn’t necessarily small.