Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Race-based mascots = government-endorsed discrimination

The Assembly Education Committee hearing today was really amazing. It was great to see the room packed with dozens of students from across Wisconsin who were there to show their visible support for Assembly Bill 35 which would allow for a process for communities to challenge the remaining racially insensitive mascots for their public schools. Thanks to Rep. Jim Soletski (statement - PDF) and Sen. Spencer Coggs for introducing this bill.

The testimonies today were overwhelmingly in support of the bill and showed the need of indigenous people to not have their communities, religion and culture caricatured by public school mascots. A special shout-out to the students from Prescott High School who not only gave well-researched statements, but who stole all of the best talking points before the ACLU got a chance to speak. They are right: mascots are better when they are animals and we should not treat people like mascots.

Why Oppose Racist Mascots:
Nearly 40 public school districts across Wisconsin continue to use nicknames, mascots and logos for their sports teams that are based on race or ethnicity. Nicknames, like Chiefs or Chieftains, Indians, Red Raiders, Redman, and Warhawks, and school-approved mascots and logos have been a common feature at sporting and pep events attended by generations of enthusiastic students.

However, the use of discriminatory mascots should be challenged. The ACLU of Wisconsin points out that:

1. All public schools in Wisconsin are required to provide all students with an adequate, nondiscriminatory education. Race-based nicknames, logos and mascots are inherently discriminatory and shouldn’t be endorsed by a public school.

2. There should be a fair and adequate process for the Department of Public Instruction to review complaints from community members about race-based mascots. As the use of race-based mascots is government speech (not individual speech), the First Amendment does not apply. The government is responsible for addressing discriminatory practices such as the use of race-based mascots and the Department of Public Instruction is the appropriate agency to mediate local conflict resolution.

3. Having schools with mascots that are not based in racial or ethnic stereotypes will not only end this particular discriminatory practice, but will be a positive step toward equality and an embrace of good sportsmanship, respect for others and fair play.

For these reasons the ACLU of Wisconsin supports AB 35 on race-based nicknames, mascots and logos and encourages the Assembly Education Committee to support this bill. Assembly Bill 35 won’t end discrimination in our public schools, but it is an important step forward.


1. Find out who your Wisconsin State Assembly Representative is:

2. Call or email about your support of AB 35.

3. If you live in a committee member's district (see below), be sure to say you want them to support the bill in the hearing on March 17th.

4. Tell Stacy that you contacted your legislator: sharbaugh@aclu-wi.org.

Assembly Education Committee members:
Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts (chair), D-Verona, 79th
(608) 266-3520
(888) 534-0079

Rep. Kristen Dexter (vice-chair), D-Eau Claire, 68th
(608) 266-9172

Rep. Steve Hilgenberg, D-Dodgeville, 51st
(608) 266-7502
(888) 534-0051

Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, 20th
(608) 266-8588
(888) 534-0020

Rep. Kim Hixon, D-Whitewater, 43rd
(608) 266-9650

Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, 93rd
(608) 266-0660

Rep. Peggy Krusick, D-Milwaukee, 7th
(608) 266-1733

Rep. Mark Radcliffe, D-Black River Falls, 92nd
(608) 266-7461
(888) 534-0092

Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, 80th
(608) 266-1192
(888) 534-0080

Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, 31st
(608) 266-5715
(888) 529-0031

Rep. John Townsend, R-Fond du Lac, 52nd
(608) 266-3156
(888) 529-0052

Rep. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, 14th
(608) 266-9180

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, 89th
(608) 266-2343