Photo courtesy Associated Press
Chief Illiniwek of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. School anti-discrimination and anti-bullying policies should include anti-racial mascots, writes citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation Martie Simmons.

Simmons: Racist Mascots Negate Your School’s Anti-Bullying, Anti-Harassment Policies

Martie Simmons

As a human resource professional, my job is to listen to my clients and consult with them on issues that are occurring within their business. When issues arise, our first question is always: What does your policy state? HR professionals are known to the outside world as the policy pushers. We work with our clients to strengthen the policy and consult on how to enforce the rules within their organization. Defunct policies can cost corporations millions. It’s best practice to have an employee handbook as this gives the employee a guideline to follow and reiterate the company’s values.

Many schools adhere to these same standards; their handbooks include attendance policies, clothing, grade point averages and rules against plagiarism. Because of teen suicide and bullying, schools across the country have adopted anti-discrimination/anti-bullying policies to hold perpetrators accountable for inflicting harm on another student. But what happens when the anti-bullying policy is negated by your racially based mascot?

Bullying is when a person uses their superiority or strength to intimidate someone. An article states bullying is often based on perceived differences, such as ethnicity, sex or disability. When your school has a racial mascot, you are committing the same injustice you use to protect your students. We have people in power, using their superiority to affect someone based on their perceived differences.

Students are asked not to wear t-shirts with political messages or provocative clothing, but you allow your entire student body to wear stereotypical images of Native Americans? When it gets to this caliber, and an entire student body is partaking in these types of bullying, it’s called mobbing. It should be common knowledge that thousands of students, Indigenous and ally, speak out against these mascots. Across the country, schools are changing their mascots because of the harm they cause. No child should have to bear the brunt of stereotyping because the people in power (i.e., the administration) cannot see what they are doing to their students.

Native American mascots fall under the category of passive racism, which is considered “socially acceptable.” This depends on who is asked, but it’s even worse when it’s sanctioned by adults on the school board, the administration and the parents. Racial mascots are not just a school issue; it’s an entire community that is broadcasting these stereotypical behaviors. This mob mentality affects more than just the students they stereotype; it also affects the students who come to school to learn.

Dr. Michael Friedman published a piece in Psychology Today tying disparaging Native American mascots to the practice of bullying. “By using the R-word despite the repeated public protests by the Native American community,” Friedman writes, “the Washington team and NFL are bullying Native Americans and getting away with it.” This also incorporates colleges, high schools, middle schools and elementary schools that have stereotypical Native American mascots.

Take for instance, Keller Independent Schools District in Keller, Texas, a town that has 0.5 percent Native Americans. Their middle school is named the Comanche’s; the high school is the Indians. The dance team is called the Indianettes, in which they wear skimpy buckskin style dresses with fringe. There are many issues this creates – the over-sexualization of Native American women, for example, but that is a topic for another conversation. The harassment policy of Keller ISD states that they prohibit harassment of a student is defined as physical, verbal or nonverbal conduct based on the student’s race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability or any other basis prohibited by law that is so severe, persistent or pervasive that the conduct:1. Affects a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program or activity, or creates an intimidating, threatening, hostile or offensive educational environment; 2. Has the purpose or effect of substantially or unreasonably interfering with the student’s academic performance; or 3. Otherwise adversely affects the student’s educational opportunities.

To dissect the policy, their nonverbal conduct would include wearing stereotypical images of Native Americans. This is considered harassment because it is discrimination based on race. It also states that Keller ISD is committed to holding their employees, volunteers and parents to these same standards. Sadly, they are ignoring the blatant stereotypical images that their own mascot creates.

This is true with any educational institution that has a racial mascot. Their own policies do not reflect the school’s values or standards in which adherence is expected. Local resident and citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Yolanda Blue Horse, stated in her letter to Keller ISD, “I ask this, what are you teaching the future leaders of our community or our state about the importance of respecting another race of people? Would it be appropriate to rename the school’s cheerleading team the ‘Muslimnettes’ and to half-imitate the cultural or religious dress of their people? No, it would not be appropriate.”

In the emailed response from Amanda Bigbee of Keller ISD, “The KHS school organization, Operation Beautiful, is engaging the school community in an initiative, Operation Respect, in an effort to become a ‘No Place for Hate’ campus, as determined by the Anti-Defamation League. This is an exciting opportunity for the students and staff of KHS to be intentional with its efforts to stop discrimination and hate.”

Anyone else see the irony in that statement?

Native Americans are a small percentage [two percent] of the population. Our history and the genocide against our people are swept under the proverbial rug. Regardless, we should have a voice in matters that concern our youth. The effects of lowered self-esteem can lead to serious problems in their lives. Low self-esteem leads to risky sexual behavior, drug and alcohol use and suicide. A school’s policies are used to protect students from added harm. An educational institution is supposed to take a stance against any issues detrimental to their students, yet fail to see the surmounting evidence against racially based mascots.

Not only are these mascots affecting our students, when they get into the corporate world, we have to retrain them on what an anti-discrimination policy means. Unless an amendment is added to the policies that include: “unless we are discriminating or stereotyping Native Americans,” their policies are void. Then, who do the policies protect?

Martie Simmons is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, a combat veteran, a certified HR Professional. She has her Bachelors in Business Administration, and is a mother of two. She currently resides in El Paso, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @msimmons444.

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