Most of the big racist symbolism stories these days have to do with slavery (see: Flag, Confederate) and have pushed the Native American racism stories off the front page. Before the most recent arguments, though, the Washington Redskins, the Atlanta Braves and various college teams had been the center of controversy for their depictions of members of native tribes. While cartoon images of that sort were clearly offensive to some, others argued that they were actually a reminder of something more noble. But even if you accept that argument in the case of the football franchise, this one might be a bit much.
Just for background (and a bit of a disclaimer) this is not the Great Seal of some major governmental entity or sports franchise. Whitesboro is a small village in upstate New York and one I’m rather familiar with. (When I say “familiar” I mean my high school competed against them in football and wrestling, and I had relatives in Whitesboro.) If you don’t know the background story behind the symbol, let’s just admit it… it looks like a picture of a white settler choking a Native American. But the village elders insist that it’s nothing of the sort.
A small village near the Mohawk River in Oneida County, Whitesboro, along with the larger municipality of Whitestown, was founded in the late 1700s by settler Hugh White. According to the village’s website, the seal depicts White grappling with a Native American during a “friendly wrestling match.” But the way the image is framed — with White’s hands close to his opponent’s neck, the Native American being forced toward the ground in apparent submission — has some calling the emblem offensive and racist…
“I am aware that people are upset about it,” says Whitesboro Mayor Patrick O’Connor. “Some have reached out directly to me through my village email. And if they looked at the seal and went with an opinion based solely on what they’re looking at, I could understand why people would have concern about it. But, [as with] everything else, I think you have to take all the facts into consideration. And if people take the time to do that and they reach out to us, or they do the research themselves, it’s actually a very accurate depiction of friendly wrestling matches that took place back in those days.”
This isn’t the first time that questions have arisen. The local paper records a previous challenge in the 1970’s which led the village to alter the image so that White’s hands were further away from the Chief’s neck and more on his shoulders. The mayor seems to be uninterested in making any further changes.
“It’s equally as big a deal to the people that have called Whitesboro home over the course of the last 200 years,” O’Connor says. “I would argue that you will find supporters to change the seal and you will find supporters to keep the seal. It absolutely is not meant as a sign of disrespect, and, as you look at the seal in totality, with the story that the seal represents, I don’t believe that it’s offensive.”
You won’t need to look very far to find liberal outlets getting their outrage on and declaring it to be a racist depiction of a white man strangling a Native American. As far as the mayor’s position… I get it. Sure, maybe it dates back a couple of centuries and was based on some oral tradition of a wrestling match. But by the same token, this is 2015. Is this really a hill worth dying on? I’m probably one of the most sympathetic observers you’re going to find when it comes to pushing back against crazy, overly sensitive attacks in the political correctness arena, but even I’m going to admit that this looks like one guy choking another guy to death if you’re not an expert on obscure colonial folklore.