Carolyn Kaster / AP

California bill to ban ‘Redskins’ in public schools on governor's desk

The bill does not address names offensive to other racial and ethnic groups.

LOS ANGELES — Tulare High School, about three hours north of here in California’s Central Valley, has been rooting for its Redskins team for more than 90 years. But this tradition may soon end if Gov. Jerry Brown signs a bill that would ban the “R” word for public school mascots.

The California Racial Mascots Act would make California the first state in the country to restrict the use of “Redskins” in public schools.

Native Americans call the term a racial epithet and have been fighting in court to force the Washington Redskins National Football League team to change its name, part of a nationwide Change the Mascot campaign.

Earlier this year, a school district in western New York changed its team name from the Redskins to the Legends. Last year, four schools in the Houston Independent School District replaced Redskins, Indians, Rebels and Warriors mascots with less controversial Texans, Huskies, and Wolf Pack because of complaints that the previous names were racially and culturally insensitive.

California’s statewide legislation received overwhelming support in the legislature.

The mascot of the Tulare Union High School Redskins.

“This is very offensive to children at school,” said Michelle Reyes, spokeswoman for Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who authored the bill.

Less than 1 percent of California’s 38 million people are Native Americans, according to the Census Bureau, but in the counties Alejo represents, their share of the population ranges from 1.8 percent (Santa Clara) to 3.1 percent (Benito).

The term, Redskins, was once used to describe Native American scalps sold for a bounty.

“It’s mind-boggling at this point that schools continue to use this as a mascot,” Reyes said.

But even if the bill is signed into law, it would not ban mascots that are considered racially insensitive to other racial and ethnic groups.

In 2013, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) protested Coachella Valley High School’s Arabs mascot, that featured a stereotypical hooknose, long beard and menacing look. School murals portrayed harem girls and magic carpets, all part of the region’s fascination with Arabian fantasy themes borne out of its success as the nation’s top producer of dates.

A year later, after several negotiations, the school board voted to change the “Arabs” to the “Mighty Arabs” and redesign the mascot to make it look less barbaric and more distinguished.

But there are still California schools with politically-incorrect names: Indio High School has a Sikh as its mascot and calls its team the Rajahs. Hollywood High School is home of the Sheiks.

So why not ban all racially and ethnically offensive names?

“There have been previous attempts but they were vetoed because they were so broad,” Reyes said. “We wanted to start here.”

The ban would affect only four schools that now use the Redskins name — Calaveras High School and Gustine High School in northern California and Chowchilla High School and Tulare Union High School in the central part of the state.

“It’s certainly good news,” said Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director at the ADC. “It would’ve been great if they had included other names that may be deemed offensive.”

But he welcomed the conversation and said that “the momentum is building.”

Sarah Koligian, superintendent of the Tulare Joint Union High School District, said in an e-mailed statement that the school “depicts and honors the Redskins mascot with pride and respect.”

Because of broad community support, she said the school has advocated keeping the mascot and that it should be up to the community to decide.

“However, if the governor signs AB 30 (the bill) and it becomes law, we will adhere to the law,” Koligian said. “The cost of changing the mascot could be anywhere from $700,000 to $1 million to change the names and logos on such things as our buildings, images throughout the school, uniforms, letterhead, just to name a few examples.”

The bill would not require an immediate change to all logos. It would allow schools to use uniforms and other supplies that bear the Redskins name if they were bought before Jan. 1, 2017, when the law would take effect. But that’s only if the school changes the name and all future purchases bear the new name. 

“As the state with the largest Native American population in the country, we should not continue to allow a racial slur to be used by our public schools,” Alejo said in a statement. “It’s time for California to do the right thing and phase out the use of this dictionary-defined racial slur.”

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