Rutland is finding itself stuck between a rock and a hard place. While we have come out previously in support of a name change, our concerns have shifted as the community-wide discussion has turned personal and is revealing a certain fragility that seems out of step with our times.
Let’s be honest about what’s happening:
Let’s admit that for the people who want to keep the name, this has nothing to do with the “Raiders” name. If RHS stops being the Raiders, none of the school’s championships will be erased from history; not a single one of RHS alums’ fond memories will cease to exist; and the city’s history and heritage remain intact regardless what nickname is used by its teams.
Let’s recognize that there are some very real racial issues in the city. And let’s also recognize that oppression of Indigenous Americans is the least of Rutland’s shortcomings in the 21st century.
Let’s admit that the Rutland School Board missed the moment to compromise. Retaining the “Raider” name while replacing the Indigenous imagery and connotations with something else, like a pirate or a Viking or a World War II Marine raider, might not have fully satisfied either side in this discussion, but it likely would have quieted them. In a generation, few would have remembered when the Raiders were anything else.
What’s left is a community tearing itself apart in a rather ugly fashion.
Those opposed to the change have alleged the School Board shut down discussion, keeping students and taxpayers opposed to the change from being heard. Perhaps the board could have provided more opportunities for input, but the result would have been the same: The Raider name and arrowhead symbol do not align with the district’s mission to “provide a safe and healthy environment that fosters mutual respect, and address the social and emotional needs of all students.”
These are not the sorts of questions that should be put to a vote anyway. Claims of harm voiced by a minority should not be subject to majority opinion — especially when that majority is predominantly white.
Arguments that the “Raider” name and arrowhead are harmful and insensitive have been brushed aside with ease by some members of the community who seem to think that if they don’t have a problem with it, there is no problem. This is the trap of white privilege. White people have centered themselves in this debate. They have chosen to ignore the damage these names and images do to Indigenous Americans. Instead, they are portraying themselves as the real victims whose traditions are under attack — another victim of the so-called “cancel culture.”
To truly understand why people feel so strongly about making this change, one must set that privilege aside and make a good-faith effort to see the issue from a different perspective. That’s not easy, but it’s necessary work if we ever want to achieve a more equitable community.
To be sure, there are some Indigenous people who say they are proud of the “Raider” name and arrowhead. That’s their right. However, time and again, Indigenous tribes and organizations have come out in favor of retiring such names and symbols. There has been a refusal to engage with the fact that the use of Indigenous mascots, nicknames and imagery is, indeed, harmful.
That fact has been deflected around town with arguments for preserving traditions and school pride. But we’re all mature enough to know that pride doesn’t come from what’s on a jersey or letter jacket; it comes from the sense of community created within the school, from the experiences and memories on the field, court or stage.
When our local leaders talk about racism and white supremacy, we can’t let ourselves crumble under the weight of our own white fragility. We cannot take it personally, and we cannot shut down or lash out when confronted with it. We need to sit with that uneasiness and examine how our systems and institutions and, by extension, we are complicit in perpetuating those concepts.
It is the only way to shatter the system.
As this debate has raged, the School Board has become a toxic battleground rife with posturing and pettiness. In the middle of an unprecedented pandemic that has taken a hefty toll on students, educators, staff and administrators alike, we can ill afford to continue to be mired in such a triviality.
Very difficult days are ahead. And the board needs to get back to work. Focus attention on students’ educational and social-emotional needs, on providing teachers with the resources they need, on delivering a sensible budget. Let responsibility be the legacy.
These may not be truths all of us want to recognize, but they are truths nonetheless.