Staff Editorial: Freedom of expression should not justify racism

For students at University of Illinois, this week’s reversal of a ban of their mascot, Chief Illiniwek, brings in the question of whether there should be limits to freedom of expression. To exploit one’s race and cultural heritage as the mascot of a school is debasing and inferior, and should not be characterized as legitimate on the mere claim that it is our right to do so under the Constitution.

To advocate the use of an American Indian as a mascot at a non-American-Indian school is the argument many academics and activists are campaigning against. Though the right of freedom of expression is guaranteed to us under the Bill of Rights, there are of course restrictions that are sometimes considered a violation to our entitled rights. We cannot go around spitting vulgarities about our president in newspapers nor can we defame a race and expect it to be unanswered by the public. There will always be rules behind rules.

Because the American Indian mascot is itself demeaning to American Indians, there should be regulations as to what we are allowed to express in terms of racial discourse under freedom of speech. Imagine if Jesus were a mascot, many people would be upset for exploiting a religious figure for something as trivial as a mascot. Should the emblematic garb of American Indian not be considered in the same light then?

The National Collegiate Athletics Association in 2005 deemed the mascot an offensive use of American-Indian imagery and barred the University of Illinois from being a host of postseason events. But it wasn’t until February of this year that the university actually retired its mascot.

The reversal of policy, however, does not entirely annul NCAA’s February decision to ban the American-Indian mascot. UI Chancellor Richard Herman lifted the prohibition of the use of the Chief Illinwek logo for a homecoming parade last weekend. Many UI students are furious; their beloved 81-year-old mascot is no longer a symbol of their university.

But for a coalition of 90 university faculty members and human rights advocates, they believe they are justified in wanting to bring an end to the use of American-Indian symbols. According to a news article from The Harvard Crimson, University of Illinois professor Stephen J. Kaufman, who led the coalition, said he wanted to see an "end (to) the racial stereotyping that is inherent in using Native Americans as sports mascots."

If the point of having a mascot is to garner school spirit and bring "good luck" to the team, it would be fair then to keep NCAA’s request in banning UI’s Chief Illiniwek as a way of showing just how much spirit (in equality) a university has.

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