The Racism of Trees? Portland School Presses Pause on a Proposed Mascot Due to Its Terrible Ties

(Joerg Carstensen/dpa via AP)

Is cancellation all bark and no bite? In Oregon, it seems, bark is what’s biting.

The Portland Tribune reports Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School has a big decision to make.

The school’s mascot — the Trojan — was set to get axed. 

The sprouting symbol of school spirit set to replace it: the Evergreen.

Per a resolution, the thinking went thusly:

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.

Additionally:

They provide shelter and sustenance. They have histories that preclude us and will continue in perpetuity after we are no more.

Sound good? No matter — the idea may soon get the “Timber!” treatment.

Per the Tribune, Portland Public Schools Board of Education Director Michelle DePass shared community concerns just before the mascot-making March 30th vote.

Ida B. Wells — in case you weren’t aware — was a noted black activist.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Ida documented and fought against the evil of lynching.

Hence, a potential problem: The murderous crimes typically involved a tree, and that’s what an evergreen is.

At last Tuesday’s meeting, Michelle posed to the renaming and mascot committee a towering question:

“I’m wondering if there was any concern with the imagery there, in using a tree…as our mascot?”

She went out on a limb:

“I think everyone comes with blind spots, and I think that might’ve been a really big blind spot.”

Principal Filip Hristic was sympathetic:

“We take this seriously, and I definitely want to follow that commitment to protect, preserve and promote the legacy of Ida B. Wells.”

He added that the school hadn’t discussed the evergreen issue with Ida’s family.

To be clear, hanging wasn’t what anyone had had in mind. As it turns out, they were just thinking there are a lot of trees around:

“The focus and opportunity was really to marry this sentiment that we heard from a lot of our stakeholders during our naming process, which was the desire for a local connection.”

And maybe Ida was kind of like a trunked perennial plant:

“Ida B. Wells was somebody who stood strong and stood proud against what Woodrow Wilson and many others promoted.”

The Tribune laid out the selection process:

In February, a mascot survey was sent to students and staff. They submitted 420 different nominations, said Ellen Whatmore, a teacher at Ida B. Wells who served on the committee to find a new name and mascot. The massive list of potential mascots was narrowed down to just five, with the evergreen tree being the frontrunner.

But don’t misunderstand — the committee had considered the connection:

“We did talk about it, but we were looking at the symbolism more as a tree of life, than a tree of death,” [Martin Osborne], who is African American, told the school board. “You could certainly take it either way, depending upon your position.”

Osborne said the committee’s idea of the evergreen “had nothing to do with the horrible history of lynching in the United States.”

Martin pointed out that the vile southern slayings typically employed trees with low-hanging branches.

“Lynching trees typically are not evergreens.”

Still, Michelle expressed alarm:

“Lynching is a really difficult topic to talk about, and as a sole black board member, I invite you, beg you, implore you to join me in disrupting the situations, practices, that are racist. I can’t do this by myself.”

Hence, the board delayed the vote. 

Until the next meeting, that is.

In an effort to affirm the Evergreen, will the Trojans fail? If so, hopefully, they’ll conceive of something else.

Here’s wishing for an emblematic idea that would elate Ida.

-ALEX

 

See more pieces from me:

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