What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of an evergreen tree?
Perhaps the smell of pine. Or a wooded trail by a babbling brook. Or maybe even Christmas.
However, for one member of the Board of Education in Portland, Oregon, the first thing that comes to mind is racism.
And that’s why Portland’s school board was unable to approve the evergreen tree as its new high school mascot earlier this month.
The fight for social justice is nothing new for this particular school. It used to be named Woodrow Wilson High School, after the 20th century US president.
But after last summer’s mostly peaceful protests, the school changed its name to Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School, after a black journalist from the early 1900s who wrote extensively about civil rights, racial violence, and women’s suffrage.
Now that the school name has changed, the high school decided it should also update its mascot— from a Trojan warrior to something more fitting.
The student and staff committee chose an evergreen tree, because, as one teacher described it:
“Evergreens are characterized by the life-giving force of their foliage, the strength of their massive trunk, and the depth of their roots—in an individual tree and as a forest of trees. They provide shelter and sustenance. They have histories that preclude us and will continue in perpetuity after we are no more.”
But one member of the Board of Education disagreed, finding racism in the evergreen tree.
Her reasoning is that, because trees were used to hang black people during lynchings, then the tree itself may be a symbol of racism.
Sure, the point is valid. But if this is the logical standard by which all mascots should be judged, then someone who is dedicated to being offended will be able to find fault in any suggestion.
For example— perhaps the Board might suggest using a bald eagle as the school mascot. This is the national bird of the United States and is found in the Oregon wild.
But wait. The bald eagle is a ‘predatory bird’. So it might conjure offensive imagery of sexual assault. Not to mention the bird may ‘body shame’ anyone who is actually bald.
Perhaps a wild stallion would be more fitting: untamed and majestic. Actually, no, scratch that. Stallions are horses, and horses were ridden by 19th century cavalrymen in the United States, who subjugated Native Americans.
What about a cute little baby piglet? Wait, that’s a bad idea too. It may be offensive to Muslims.
Perhaps a musical instrument… something like a drum? Nope, wrong again. Drums historically originated in Africa and East Asia, so that would be cultural appropriation and highly offensive. They also contain leather and would offend animal rights activists.
Maybe a plant really is the right way to go. Obviously no trees. Perhaps a flower would be best. But nothing with white flowers, which could clearly be associated with evil white people.
But black-eyed Susans (yes, that’s really a flower) promote violence against women. Pansies could be considered a homophobic slur.
Most of all, NO ROSES. Woodrow Wilson’s wife planted roses where the White House rose garden still stands today.
And since Wilson must be erased from history, anything that his wife planted should also be stricken from mascot options.
(For that matter, if we truly want to be anti-racist and eradicate the evil legacy of Woodrow Wilson, then we should cancel all legislation that he signed into law… including the income tax.)
Anyhow, you can see it’s pretty much impossible to come up with a mascot name that isn’t offensive.
But I’ve taken a crack at the task and would humbly suggest the following idea to the school board:
How about the Portland High School Peaceful Protestors?
I can’t wait for their big game against their cross-town rivals, the East Side Victims.