Rep. Shawn Bordeaux (D-26A/Mission) has a good idea: ban racist school team names!
House Bill 1147, introduced Thursday by Senator Bordeaux and four other Democratic colleagues from heavily Indian districts, would empower the South Dakota High School Activities Association to act on complaints about racially offensive school mascots and nicknames, like the “Redmen” from Sisseston and Woonsocket. HB 1147 says the SDHSAA must consult with tribal officials, and if tribal officials say the name is offensive, it’s gone. The bill specifies no penalty, and it even cuts schools some slack by letting them continue to use uniforms, signs, and other materials they’ve already purchased with the offensive names or symbols, as long as they buy no more such offensive materials after the SDHSAA’s ruling.
HB 1147 predicates this ban on the following findings:
- The use of racially derogatory or discriminatory school or athletic team names, mascots, or nicknames in public schools in South Dakota is antithetical to the Legislature’s constitutional duty to provide a uniform system of public schools that is equally open to all;
- Certain athletic team names, mascots, and nicknames that have been used and remain in use by other teams, including school teams, in other parts of the nation are discriminatory in singling out the Native American community for the derision to which mascots or nicknames are often subjected;
- Many individuals and organizations interested and experienced in human relations, including the United States Commission on Civil Rights, have concluded that the use of Native American images and names in school sports is a barrier to equality and understanding, and that all residents of the United States would benefit from the discontinuance of their use; and
- No individual or school has a cognizable interest in retaining a racially derogatory or discriminatory school or athletic team name, mascot, or nickname [Section 1, House Bill 1147, introduced 2016.01.28].
The above statements are all moral, logical, and rooted in the same sociological research that is motivating the SDHSAA to consider a resolution merely encouraging its schools to do away with racist team names. There is a 90% chance the Republican majority will reject those statements and the policy action of House Bill 1147, for two main reasons
- Lee Schoenbeck’s Republican caucus can’t stand the state Board on Geographic Names discussing culturally offensive place names without the Legislature’s okey-dokey (see HB 1060). They don’t want any more discussion of names that offend Indians.
- The Republicans hate the SDHSAA. They don’t like SDHSAA being considerate to transgender students; they’re in no mood to give SDHSAA more power to be considerate to Indians.
Maybe the Republicans will surprise us and admit that labeling sports teams with outdated, insensitive, racially charged languages is all harm with no benefit. But when this bill goes to House Education, expect at least nine nays from Republicans who don’t want to bring South Dakota into the 21st century.