Sparked in particular by savage murders earlier this summer, questions have risen anew about the appropriateness of symbols identified with the long-gone Confederate States of America serving as names of streets, buildings, monuments, and nicknames and/or mascots of public schools’ competitive teams. Bestowing such attention on these items in the public space risks conveying the impression that the less salutary aspects of the Confederacy continue to receive endorsement even to this day.
Of course, the idea that having some Confederate-associated label disgraces irredeemably the object is terribly oversimplified. The controversial monument celebrating the last Confederate national government located in Shreveport that (for now) sits proximate to the Caddo Parish Courthouse serves as a valued historic reminder, for example. Yet, at the same time, the historical record makes clear that, of the several reasons why the southern states rebelled, their governments’ desire to preserve slavery was paramount, lending evil to the treasonous enterprise, thus making invalid any argument that to fly before any other choice the (Third) Confederate (Battle) flag celebrates certain virtues, for the present American flag does the same without the baggage.
However, the situation becomes murkier to judge in the instance of public school mascots and nicknames. This explains why conversations have ensued in Caddo about North Caddo High School and in Ouachita Parish concerning West Monroe High School, with the scholastic and athletic teams of each carrying the moniker “rebels.”
Recently, North Caddo has started a process to change its nickname/mascot, having already removed a “rebel” image from its football helmets and Vivian where it is located having removed the symbol from its water tower. It looks to follow the path of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas by keeping the name partially, which in the 1980s adjusted its nickname to the “Runnin’ Rebels” and modified its mascot to a military figure less identifiable as Confederate.
In West Monroe, following somewhat the lead of the University of Mississippi, also the Rebels, almost two decades ago, the Confederate flag no longer will be permitted to be displayed on campus, although unlike Ole Miss the district will not prohibit its appearance on clothing nor the flag’s appearance at home athletic games. No plan seems in the offing to change the school’s nickname nor mascot, which resembles the mascot once at Ole Miss, which was replaced with a bear in recent years.
While the flag iconography seems particularly evocative of the Confederacy as a concept and justifies decisions to remove it from these public institutions, changing names or even mascots does not seem warranted. Certainly true, Confederate armed forces were termed the “rebels” and called as such across the continent, and mascots do represent a vague caricature of an officer of the forces attached to a government repressive on the basis of skin color.
But caricatures are just that, caricatures: deliberately distorting something away from its essential nature, and in this instance into something both genial and representing a fighting spirit many degrees removed from enforcing slavery. And not only has the term “rebel” been used in American history in contexts far removed from the Confederacy – after all, the in the Revolutionary War the British called breakaway colonists “rebels” – but also a number of other sports nicknames attached to public educational institutions utilize figures perhaps even more unsavory than those who supported white supremacy to the point of operating slavery: the Vikings particularly utilized butchery of civilian populations regardless of color, as did to more selective numbers bands of Pirates, and nobody seems upset about them (if my family lore is correct, I should be as one of my great-great-great-great-great-grandfathers was taken by a press gang during the French and Indian War).
Sensitivity to symbolism goes too far when it involves nicknames and mascots. People feeling offended by these kinds of issues perhaps have a bit too much time on their hands and blessedly few other worries in life.