Redskins, Rebels and Lingering Racial Injustice

October 24, 2013

Rebecca Harkless is a second year AmeriCorps member serving in the YWCA Central Alabama’s Social Justice Department. In her service, Rebecca co-facilitates Heritage Panel trainings in area high schools and middle schools. She has also been on staff for Anytown Alabama.
 
Sunday night. Sunday night football. Washington Redskins versus the Dallas Cowboys. The stage was set, and with millions of people watching, NBC Sports anchor Bob Costas took halftime as an opportunity to take a stand. In reference to the Washington team nickname, Costas encouraged viewers to truly consider how the term “Redskins” differs from other teams nicknames based on Native American images. He boldly stated, “Ask yourself what the equivalent would be, if directed at African Americans, Hispanics, Asians or members of any other ethnic group. When considered that way, ‘Redskins’ can’t possibly honor a heritage, or a noble trait, nor could it possibly be considered a neutral term.” Costa concluded by stating, “It is an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present-day intent.”
 
Hearing his words, I instantly began reminiscing about the four years I spent as a Vestavia Hills Rebel; four uncomfortable years of hiding the feelings of being disrespected by my own school. It wasn’t so much the team name, Rebels, that offended me those four years, but the use of the Rebel, or Confederate, Flag as our unofficial “official” school flag. Considering Costas words, could ‘Rebels’ or the Confederate Flag honor a heritage, noble trait or be considered a neutral term?
 
The Confederate flag has a deep rooted history. The flag doesn’t just represent what happened in the Civil War, it represents the hatred of those who used it as their symbol so many years after. Rebels or rebellion doesn’t quite speak to a noble trait. And there’s nothing neutral about rebels or the Confederate flag. I was offended, but as a student I never shared those sentiments.
 
Whether you agree or disagree, be it the ‘Redskins’ team nickname or use of the confederate flag, there are signs of lingering racial injustice all around us. I applaud Costas for using his platform to take a stand. He created conversations about racial justice in homes across America. I believe those conversations are a critical first step to our advancement as a society. It’s important that we take a stand on the things that are important to us. 
 
Conversations create change. Simply taking note from my most recent alma mater, the University of Alabama, and the controversy surrounding the integration of sororities on campus, reminds me that we have the power to create change. The students saw an injustice, spoke up, created conversations and made a difference in a system with a legacy of discrimination. We have the power to create a better society by speaking out. I didn’t speak out as a high school student, but this year as an AmeriCorps member, I am empowering today’s students to use their voices to create change and make their schools more inclusive. 
 
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