A Disposable Culture, or, They Took My High School Mascot Away

On Wednesday evening a vote took place at my old high school. The same vote had been held two years ago and the issue was soundly defeated. Not this time. My high school has voted to get rid of its team name of over 55 years. Students at my alma mater will no longer be called “Rebels.”

Since that decision, my entire newsfeed has erupted into chaos. Most of my old classmates are furious. The amount of fury I have seen over something that, let’s be honest, doesn’t really affect them is incredible. People I never hear from on social media have popped up in my feed, claiming that the world is a ruined and sad place thanks to the SJW snowflakes that dare to bend the minority to their will in a blatant attempt at grabbing power and getting attention. So let’s start there.

Dear friends, please drive to Bed, Bath, and Beyond this instant, walk over to the bathroom accessories alcove, and purchase yourself a mirror. Then proceed to look into it. I am not saying that you don’t have the right to be disappointed in the name change. I am saying that calling other people “snowflakes” for being upset about something you find unimportant, whilst at the same time being super upset about something pretty trivial is kind of ironic. Dontcha think? Can you just, for one second, realize that different people get upset about different things, and that this is okay? They can be upset about racist undertones in their mascot, and you can be upset when people glare at your confederate flag sticker. Everyone can be upset! Yay! But it does not somehow make them “weaker” or more “special” when they express upsetness about something, unless you are including yourself in that group as well. So be upset. Just lay off the insults about people being upset. Got it?

And let’s look at the actual history of the name. Because I have seen many comments implying that “Captain Rebel” (or Captain Reb as his friends called him) was a reference to the Green Mountain Boys. This is just not true. I can’t believe I have to even actually type this sentence, but my high school mascot in the great state of frickin’ Vermont, was a confederate soldier. In the earliest days, he flew a confederate flag. They used to play “Dixie” at our sporting events. Not joking. How this even happened in the first place I have no idea, but there it is. Old yearbooks have confederate flags all over them. Eventually they took his flag away, and they stopped using the actual mascot right around the time I started high school (although you could still find him everywhere as educators sought to use up old stashes of branded folders and pencils). But the name “Rebels” stuck.

And Rebels is a cool name. You know who was a Rebel? Luke Skywalker. There are plenty of cool Rebels in the world. Ethan Allen even. But Captain Reb (can I call you Captain Reb?) was not one of them. He was a confederate soldier, whose flag and demeanor had come to be equated with racism and inequality. That sucks for him, but it happened. And so when the minority students suggested that the name be changed, it wasn’t because everyone at the school was racist. I’m going to bet you that at least 97% of the current students had no idea why they were called “Rebels” in the first place, and that even back when I started high school, at least 75% of us didn’t either. No, it wasn’t the word “Rebels,” it was the history of the name that was stinking up the place.

And don’t tell me either that history doesn’t matter. I’m betting that history is the reason you are upset in the first place. You don’t go to that school anymore. You may never set foot on the property again. And yet you feel connected to the place. You feel connected to the name. You identified yourself with that name during some very formative years. So even though it has no bearing at all on your present day life, you still feel a loss. You feel the history, and it is important to you. History matters. Doesn’t it? Words matter, don’t they?

I have been trying hard to see both sides of this issue, and it has been hard for me I will admit. Because I never “got” the name. It was stupid to me from day one, to have this progressive-trending northern state use a confederate soldier as a mascot. I never felt like a “Rebel” in that way, but then again I never did sports. The math team was not called “The Rebels,” we were called “nerds” and punched in the hallway. So I had little to no attachment to the name. But what about other things that I do have strong attachments to? What if my college a cappella group, the GW Troubadours, decided to change the name. I will tell you right now, I would be upset.

The Troubadours weren’t just a part of my college experience, they pretty much were my college experience. And part of that was the name. When they reformed in nineteen eighty f***ing three, our fearless leader and adviser chose the name because of its history within the university. I still tell people about the times when we were the only a cappella group on campus. The name means something. Except, what if a terrorist group sprung up and began calling themselves “The Troubadours,” marching from city to city gunning down ethnic minorities? What if “The Troubadours” were in the news every night for their atrocities? That would suck. And I would still be sad about it, but I think I would understand the need for a name change. Times change. Words change meaning. Things that used to be okay, aren’t okay anymore. Nobody calls their kid “Dick” these days. It used to be okay, but it just means something different now.

The last thing I want to say to the angry people online, is that I have heard some of you say that Vermont is one of the whitest states in the country, and so its not like we have tons of African-American students to be upset by the name. That the majority should not bend to accommodate one or two people. And to that I say, we are not alone up here. Our words and actions do not only affect the people sitting directly next to us, but they ripple out to the whole culture. I would never join a men’s group calling themselves “The Ho-Slappin’ Bro Buddies,” even if there were no women in the group. Even if it was just a joke and all the guys in the group were totally cool. It doesn’t matter who is in the room when you speak unkindly, or without care for others. Your language matters.

We live in a disposable culture, where things are not built to last. Planned obsolescence is a real thing, and clothes I bought two years ago are wearing out before the clothes I still have from college. They just don’t make ’em like they used to. And that applies to almost everything. I understand the reaction against this, and the need to hold on to something stable. I feel, every day, the desire to build something that will last longer than I do. I also feel the terror that, in this disposable world, whatever I have done will be buried right alongside me as everyone moves on to what’s next. I am not a fan of progress for progress’ sake, but at the same time we need to look with a critical eye at what really is worth saving, and what no longer serves us as we stumble into the future together.

Find something of value, something old, and bring it to light. Share it. Nurture it. Help it to grow. Help it to weather the storms of this turbulent time in history. Tell people why it is worthwhile. And if necessary, help it to evolve. My high school is still standing.  Some of my old teachers are there in classrooms right now, doing what they’ve been doing for decades. The kids still play sports. It will be one of the top schools in the state, with or without the name. We who came before were still Rebels. This doesn’t change that. And in our hearts we might think of ourselves as Green Mountain Boys, or X-Wing Pilots, or even (though I again I must stress that we are in Vermont) Confederate Soldiers. And the children who come next will call themselves something else. But we are still connected, and they are still worth supporting. And our disposable culture is worth changing too. Let’s build something that will last. For all people. Together.

Just no seahorses, okay?

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Posted in High School, Politics, Race.

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