Escanaba’s school mascot

EDITOR:

Hello, Escanaba School Board Officers:

I’m writing in regards to the school’s choice of “mascot,” Mo the Eskymo. I attended last night’s basketball game between Escanaba and Boyne City, which is where I saw the mascot. Frankly, I was horrified at the caricature of a Native group that the mascot represented, and I am writing to make you aware that, in my opinion, the mascot should be reconsidered.

Let me start out by saying that I am not alleging that Escanaba is a racist town, or that the school is a racist organization. I am also aware that Mo has been the school’s mascot for around 40 years, and I know that many students have graduated in that time and probably think of the mascot fondly. However, not all traditions are meant to continue. In fact, we have many unsavory traditions in America that are, thankfully, no longer viewed as acceptable. One of these is the stereotyping of Native communities.

I’d like to suggest that you read an excellent analysis of Mo in particular, written in the context of Native mascots in general:

https://www.sfu.ca/ipinch/outputs/blog/appropriation-month-eskimo-our-imagination/

The author correctly presents stereotypical images of Eskimos drawn from advertisements for Eskimo Pies, Nanook of the North, and other historical depictions. You can clearly see that the slanted eyes, smile, and round face of Mo bear a strong resemblance. Mo is a caricature in the same way that other people of color were caricatured throughout low points in American history — Asians with slant eyes and buck teeth; African Americans with oversized lips and ill-fitting, patched clothing; Latinos with sombreros and bandoliers. Thankfully, these caricatures have fallen out of fashion, except in markedly fringe racist communities.

I do not think any ethnic group should be used as a mascot, although obviously this is a current topic of debate in our country. What should not be up for debate, though, is whether it’s right to continue using a stereotypical caricature of an ethnic group in school graphics, or whether a school should have some one dress up in a costume that embodies that stereotype.

Obviously, I don’t live in Escanaba, and I can see that it would be tempting to discount my opinion because I am not a local. However, I would hope that you wouldn’t. The decisions you make about your town, your school, and its mascot represent larger concerns; they are not limited to your community. They represent your values to those outside Escanaba.

Thank you for your time.

Mark Blaauw-Hara, PhD

Professor of English

North Central Michigan College