Wednesday, November 14, 2018

McGill agonizes over the Redmen name for its sports teams

We are currently going through another of those debates that happen increasingly often these days, where an indigenous activist (or it could be a black or a Muslim or a woman) is questioning the orthodoxy or the status quo. I understand that it's a process that must be gone through, and you have to give these people credit for their balls and their perseverence. Sometimes, though, the nitpickiness and pedantry rankles a bit.
The latest such issue is the controversy over Montreal's McGill University's use of the nickname The Redmen for it's sports teams. As apologists point out, the name has been in use since 1922, and it refers to the red team colours (and/or possibly the Irish red hair of some of its early team members). It is undeniable that some indigenous connotations were attached to the name from about the 1940s until the 1990s when all indigenous-related logos were finally expunged. But it seems that such an expungement only goes so far, and that once a connotation has been established it remains ineradicably forever.
Is it right that such a name be changed regardless of different parts of its history, regardless even of the fact that some indigenous sportsmen are actually quite OK with the name, and some are even proud to be ex-Redmen. Is it fair that "playing the indigenous card" automatically trumps any other arguments? Well, maybe. After all, a hasty poll suggests that 79% of McGill students are on board with changing the name. But it just seems to me that there is perhaps something not quite right about the process.
The young man who is causing the fuss is an indigenous varsity rower, and he argues that the name should be changed as much as anything as a gesture towards the reconciliation process. He asserts, "We stand in opposition to the type of damage the Redman name can inflict on Indigenous students", and, "The origin and intention of the Redmen name doesn't matter. What matters is that Indigenous students are hurting and that should be the only priority for the university. I don't know. I'd be surprised frankly if any students were actually "hurting" or "damaged" specifically due to the use of a team name that may or may be construed as a racial slur, albeit unintentional. I would also question the contention that sports teams are in some way stealing the names and symbols of North American First Nations. But I also understand that I am courting a social media backlash by even questioning such a thing. It has become such a hot button issue that the mere mention of the word "racist" or "residential school" is enough to shut the whole conversation down. The state of Israel does something very similar with its use of word "holocaust", which it brings into debates on which the holocaust has absolutely no bearing, just because it is impossible to argue against such a terrible event, and no-one wants to be seen trying.
So, should McGill change the name of its sports teams? Probably, in the interests of goodwill, and to guard against charges of "white settler mentality", and also because the nickname of a sports team is really not that important in the scheme of things. Is the earnest young man who is bringing the motion going about it in the best way? Less certain.

No comments: