Be True to Your School

So back in the 1960s, even before I was born, the Beach Boys oozed out of speakers everywhere extolling the virtues of hot rods, surfing, and high school. I don’t know if high school was actually cool back then, or if the Beach Boys were just an early incarnation of Gretchen Weiner, and “high school” was just their “fetch.”

But hey…Rah Rah, and all that crap.

Coincidentally, my high school was also born in the early 1960s, and someone somewhere decided our team would be “The Rebels,” and our mascot would be Johnny Reb. Rebel flags were all the rage. I believe the school was at the very least, 99% white at the time. The school was more diverse by the time I became a sophomore, but whites were still the majority, and I even admit to having a Rebel flag. At the time, to me, it was just a flag. I had absolutely no frame of reference for it having any alternate symbolic meaning.

johnreb

Nothing says “sports victory” like a menacing soldier with a gun.

No, seriously. This was our mascot, Johnny Reb, until he was stolen as a prank by our own students, who remain largely unknown. He was missing for a year or two, and then reappeared mysteriously in the school’s front hallway one day. We had a live mascot my senior year. By saying we had a live Johnny Reb, I don’t mean we conducted a dark ceremony to bring a Confederate soldier back to life to wander up and down sidelines at football games. We just dressed a guy up. But I digress. Whatever.

Symbols are funny things. Different people see them differently. What some see as historical and innocuous, others see as shocking, offensive, or intimidating. Confederate flags, for example, are fairly benign to, say, white people in the South who are not racist, but are proud of being Southern. However, hate groups use the flags as symbols while they demonstrate, and while they perpetrate acts of violence. As a result, a number of minorities, even those proud of being Southern, view the flags in a much different light. I get that now. I remember being at work one day, and one of my coworkers walked up to my desk and plunked down a lapel pin with a swastika on it. I literally gasped, my eyes wide open, just staring at this symbol I perceived as hatred in wearable accessory form. My coworker was proud he’d acquired something of historical value and was really puzzled by my reaction.

He smiled as he said, “This is an authentic WWII German officer’s lapel pin!”

My eyes were so wide, Little Orphan Annie thought I was a long lost cousin. “You know I’m Jewish, right?”

“Yeah, that’s why I thought you’d appreciate this.”

“What is wrong with you? Is there some alternate definition of ‘appreciate’ I’m not aware of?”

“It’s history!”

One man’s history is another woman’s extreme shock. Perspective matters.

Earlier this week, my home school district met to address some of the local team names that might be offensive to certain groups, namely African Americans and Native Americans. My high school was on the list. Through the magic of a Facebook group set up for “early year” alums for my school, I learned that a number of, shall we say, pale alums from my high school’s early whitebread period were outraged.

“I graduated a Rebel, and I’ll always be a Rebel!” Dude, you graduated a Rebel in 1972, when it was still considered OK to pat strange girls on the butt, because you’re “just telling her she’s pretty, and she likes it.” Today, that’d get you a kick in the crotch and a face full of pepper spray.

“I never heard anyone complain about it when I was in school.” Just because a minority doesn’t complain to the majority about unintended racial issues, doesn’t mean mean they’re happy or accepting of it. Did you ever ask?

“People are way too sensitive and PC. This is dumb.” To you? Sure. Then again, I don’t think anyone carrying particular flags have come marching down your street to yell at you, scream at you, or intend to do harm to you or your property. Your demographic has likely never been on the receiving end of organized virulent, violent hate hiding behind certain ideals and symbols that others feel are just history. Mile. Walking. Someone else’s shoes. Just saying.

What I’ve really found interesting about this outrage is that I’d be willing to bet that an overwhelming majority of those screaming loudest haven’t even stepped foot in the school’s hallways since they’ve graduated, nor would they have given the place a second thought if the Facebook group didn’t exist, or if this issue hadn’t come up. But now, someone’s going to change something they were a part of 30 – 40 years ago, and they’re all

Really? This upsets you? Things change, people. Our time at that school is long over. Yeah, we were Rebels, and a new mascot won’t change that or affect our memories. This change is not about us. We’re gone. We’re out of there. Most of us never looked back. While we were out living our lives with no thought at all to our alma mater, the neighborhood changed. Society changed. The school demographic changed.  Maybe some of those students want to be able to cheer for, or play for, their team without feeling conflicted. I can’t imagine what it would be like for a person of color to be on the field, pouring out sweat and blood, for a crowd waving Confederate flags. Forget sports, how difficult is it for a student of color to even feel pride in attending a school that shoves in their faces symbols that have never given them warm fuzzies? So, why is our antiquated rah rah sis boom bah seemingly more important than that of current students — you know…the people for whom the school exists? Why are people so angry over a topic that is neither about them, nor affects them?

The bottom line is kids and their families should feel pride in their school. They shouldn’t feel alienated. They shouldn’t feel intimidated. Those who do, finally spoke up and did something about it. This is not a bad thing. Unless the new team name is something that can be eaten by, or get the shit beaten out of by, a cardinal.

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2 Responses to Be True to Your School

  1. Chris Szopa says:

    Great post and great points Rhonda! Nothing like reading thoughtful commentary that provides for a couple of morning coffee spit-takes, too.

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