The fall football season may be tapering to a close, but the controversies are not going anywhere. This time, however, we get to journey away from the national stage and visit two rural communities in Ohio. On Friday, Oct. 28, Greenfield-McClain High School traveled to Hillsboro High to play them in a game of football, fairly normal stuff for a Friday evening. The Greenfield-McClain cheerleaders also brought a banner that read, “Hey Indians, Get Ready for a Trail of Tears Part 2.” The sign was a reference to both the Hillsboro High Indian mascot and to the forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans and African Americans during the Jackson presidency.
Following the game, the Greenfield-McClain principal reached out to both towns to apologize and to let the public know that more training would be put into place to educate more people about Native Americans and African Americans. He also expressed his deepest sympathy to all those communities who were hurt by the banner.
His message, however, is fairly empty. Nowhere during the making of this banner did anyone think this might be a bad idea. Multiple people would have helped in the assembly of this banner, yet nobody thought that maybe something like this should be avoided. The Trail of Tears is one of the greatest tragedies of American history, anyone who has taken any kind of basic American history class knows that.
For those out there who, for someone reason, aren’t aware of what the Trail of Tears was, it was the systematic relocation of thousands of Native Americans and African Americans from their homelands in the Southeastern United States to areas west of the Mississippi River. The order was given by the federal government through the passing of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The order resulted in the deaths of thousands of people as the journey exposed those people to disease, fatigue, weather and hunger. The people were forced from the land because the Americans wanted to settle and farm the land.
With that history lesson, it’s easy to see why this sign is a bigger deal than teenagers being teenagers. All of us who have been through high school know teenagers can be vicious. High school is full of clichés and high school sport rivalries are just as bad. Supporters yell nasty things at players and express their disgust in a variety of ways. However, signs like these have no place on a field. Players, supporters and cheerleaders are all representatives of their schools and communities. Banners and messages that attack a group of people are a horrible way to represent your own communities.
This display is also another example of white privilege. White privilege is a word that has been thrown around a lot over the last few years, with many people doubting its existence. According to the last census in 2010, Ohio was 82.7 percent white, 12.2 percent African-American and 0.2 percent Native American. In other words the people were most affected by the impact of the Trail of Tears are a small minority within the Ohio community. I would bet the cheerleaders who were making the banner had no desire to offend anyone. However, it is more than likely they have never had to deal with discrimination in any kind and have never been attacked for being themselves. Ohio is four-fifths white, you can almost guarantee that Greenfield-McClain High School has a similar demographic. If you have never been attacked before it is very easy to brush something off if it has no lasting impression on you.
That’s also why the principal’s words are hard to take seriously. If those responsible for the sign could not see the error in their plan during the sign making, it is likely because they have never had any reason to be scared or treated differently because of their heritage. A simple education on why what they did is wrong is going to do very little to actually change their ways. Instead, if this community wants to put this incident behind them, they are going to have to have a real conversation on what it means to be a minority in a society that is so different from you. Only then can real change actually occur.