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8.13.2005

Using ethnic names and caricatures as nicknames and mascots 

As you've no doubt heard by now, the NCAA has banned Native American nicknames and mascots from all NCAA postseason events, most notably the NCAA basketball tournament.

Now I think the NCAA is a bunch of pompous, incompetent bureaucrats. I also generally oppose laws and other measures that differentiate between ethnic groups (especially affirmative action measures in college admissions). I think that 'Oriental' and 'Asian' are descriptive terms that mean the same thing, and that there's no need to differentiate between them just because Edward Said said so. And I enjoy tasteless ethnic jokes as much as the next person. But consider this:

There are few complaints about the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Iona Gaels, Penn Quakers, Mississippi Rebels, Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns, Oklahoma State Cowboys and their mascots. This is because these names refer to ethnic groups that are either not minorities or have generally been well-integrated into American society. The same certainly cannot be said of Native American groups.

Now imagine that there's a team in South Korea called the "Whites". Or a team in Israel called the "Arabs". If you were a member of either of these groups living in that country, you'd probably feel really uncomfortable being treated as a novelty in this manner. Heck, for that matter, imagine that there's a team in America called the "Fighting Negroes". That definitely wouldn't go over so well.

Some Native Americans don't mind the nicknames. Fine. But if enough people complain about them, nicknames and caricatures that refer to ethnic groups should be scrapped.

The point is this: these names, logos and mascots call attention to the fact that these groups are somehow distinct from mainstream society. If we believe that it's an important goal to create an integrated society, then these names are antithetical to that goal.

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