Guest post: An Open Letter to Berlin Schools: Teach Respect, Not Racism

Image: Wisconsin Indian Education Association
Barbara E. Munson, Chair of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association's “Indian” Mascot & Logo Taskforce, has written an open letter to the Berlin Area School District's board, asking them to consider what is lost by retaining the use of their controversial mascot, the "Indians." The Berlin board voted to retain the mascot after conducting a survey of area residents and students.

The open letter reminds us that this decision doesn't "end" the debate - it just prolongs the discussion and forces the district to address more pressing questions about how they're preparing students to be global citizens:
How will your school prepare the 2015 graduating class to be culturally competent? How
will you teach them that they are not the ‘Indians,’ that they have never been the ‘Indians’ and that there are real people whose identities are defined by being Indian living nearby? People who do not fit the stereotypes and myths that students in the Berlin Schools promote and have come to believe are true? People who are demeaned and disrespected by race- based ‘Indian’ team name branding and the playacting and pageantry that accompanies Indian mascots. When will you teach them? How will you prepare your sons and daughters to enter the larger community post high school?

The book about race-based Indian mascots in Wisconsin is not finished, but the most recent chapter, has certainly not been about the District opening hearts and minds by applying good educational practices, but rather about Berlin repeatedly avoiding educational engagement. Perhaps the next chapters will be about how the Berlin community learns to undo the damage perpetrated by years of tolerating race-based stereotyping wrapped up in high school athletics and justified by bits of local history and a claim to be honoring people whose children and cultures are harmed by the practice.

Keeping the “Indian” branding keeps controversy alive and brings a dubious reputation to the community.
Read the full letter here.

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