The Orphans got their unique nickname during the early 1900s, when the boys basketball team made it to the state tournament. The school was low on funds at the time, and the team was forced to pick its uniforms from a pile of non-matching red uniforms. The team made it to the state tournament, where an announcer commented that the team looked like a bunch of orphans on the court. The name stuck.So what do you think? Where does this one rank among offensive sports teams' names (assuming it makes the list at all)? Consider this article, The Dark Side Of Sports Symbols - racism and sexism of names, symbols, gestures, and mascots:
A school's nickname is much more than a tag or a label. It conveys, symbolically, the characteristics and attributes that define the institution. In an important way, the symbols represent the institution's self-concept. Schools may have names that signify their ethnic heritage (e.g., the Bethany College Swedes), state history (University of Oklahoma Sooners), religion (Oklahoma Baptist College Prophets), or founder (Whittier College Poets). Most, though, utilize symbols of aggression and ferocity for their athletic teams--birds such as hawks, animals such as bulldogs, human categories such as pirates, and even the otherworldly such as devils.Reactions? Sure, I can make a "positive" argument for the name, a kind of "we're all orphans" argument. (I'm a lawyer, I can make a pretty good argument for just about anything!) But given the origin of the name and the Little Orphan Annie (how about a two-fer there, sexist and offensive to adoptees?) reference, the stronger argument is that the name reinforces all kinds of stereotypes about poor, helpless, unwanted orphans that perpetuate the whole "be grateful" meme that adoptees suffer under.
Although school names and other symbols evoke strong emotions of solidarity among followers, there is also a potential dark side to their use. The names, mascots, logos, and flags chosen may be derogatory to some group. The symbols may dismiss, differentiate, demean, and trivialize marginalized groups such as African-Americans, Native Americans, and women. Thus, they serve to maintain the dominant status of powerful groups and subordinate those categorized as "others." That may not have been the intent of those who decided on the names and mascots for a particular school, but their use diminishes these "others," retaining the racial and gender inequities found in the larger society. School symbols as used in sports, then, have power not only to maintain in-group solidarity, but to separate the in-group from the out-group and perpetuate the hierarchy between them.
No, it's not the most serious offense against adoptees I've ever seen, but does it have to be before we remark upon it? Again, consider this argument from the article about racist and sexist team names:
Many see the naming issue as trivial. It is not trivial, though, to the group being demeaned, degraded, and trivialized. Some progressives argue that there are more important issues to address than changing racist or sexist names of athletic teams. This illustrates the contradiction that the naming of teams is at once trivial and important. For African-Americans, whether the University of Mississippi fans sing "Dixie" and wave the Confederate flag is not as important as ending discrimination and obtaining good jobs. Similarly, for Native Americans, the derogatory use of their heritage surrounding athletic contests is relatively unimportant compared to raising their standard of living. For women, the sexist naming of athletic teams is not as significant as pay equity, breaking the "glass ceiling," or achieving equity with men in athletic departments in resources, scholarships, and media attention.And if team names are so trivial, then it shouldn't be any problem to change them, right?! And look how upset people get when you suggest that the Washington Redskins should change their name. Or when a Southern school is asked to stop waving that Confederate flag around. Suddenly it doesn't look so trivial then, does it?
Faced with a choice among these options, the naming issue would be secondary, but this sets up a false choice. We can work to remove all manifestations of racism and sexism on college campuses.
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Symbols are extremely compelling in the messages they convey. Their importance is understood when rebellious groups demean or defame symbols of the powerful, such as the flag. Names and other symbols have the power to elevate or put down a group. If racist or sexist, they reinforce and, therefore, maintain the secondary status of African-Americans, Native Americans, or women through stereotyping, caricature, derogation, trivialization, diminution, or making them invisible. Most of us, however, fail to see the problem with symbols that demean or defame the powerless because these symbols support the existing power arrangements in society. Despite their apparent triviality, the symbols surrounding sports teams are important because they can--and often do--contribute to patterns of social dominance.
So, any adoptees, birth parents, or adoptive parents from Centralia High School out there? What do you think? Who wants to start a petition to change the name?!