EDITORIAL: Identity crisis: Naming conventions come under scrutiny

Names, statues and other displays have been getting a hard look across the country in the wake of protests over perceived disparities in treatment of various ethnic groups. Monuments to Confederate leaders have been toppled and naming conventions are coming under fire.

The debates have reached as far as the Rio Grande Valley. The Brownsville City Commission recently removed a plaque memorializing Confederate States’ President Jefferson Davis, and growing numbers of people are calling for the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District to change the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School.

As a different but related matter, the Washington Redskins professional football team, after years of resisting public pressure, has announced that it will change the team name; the new identity has yet to be announced. Donna High School’s mascot also is the Redskins and it uses the same logo and colors as the NFL team. Donna ISD recently issued a statement contending that after consulting with native Americans living in the area, it has decided not to make any changes.

Given the growing sensitivities surrounding such issues, we encourage officials to review their own monuments, names and other commemorations and make the best decision for their own constituencies — both current and future.

Donna North High’s mascot is the Chiefs. McAllen Rowe carries the Warrior tradition. Some area middle schools and other institutions have similar mascots. Likewise, the NFL has the Kansas City Chiefs, the NBA has the Golden State Warriors, not to mention Utes, Seminoles and other specific tribes used by university teams and others.

While some advocates have included such mascots in their protests, many tribal representatives consider them benign; it’s akin to a team using the Charros or Vaqueros name. They see the Redskins’ name as pejorative.

Monuments to Confederate leaders is another matter. Supporters say they merely show part of our nation’s history. Most, however, see this argument as specious. In the proper context, displays of negative events in our history are justified — such as the Holocaust Museum in Washington or the memorial to John F. Kennedy at Dallas’ Dealey Plaza, where he was assassinated. Plaques and statues, however, lionize their subjects, paying tribute to them or the causes they represent. Such displays, therefore, seem inappropriate when the subject represents a mutinous act such as secession and war against our country, which generally is considered an act of treason.

In the Rio Grande Valley, it’s important to note that neither Jefferson Davis nor Robert E. Lee has any direction to the area. Neither lived here or had family here.

Relevance is important in such debates, as is the knowledge that some people will be offended and it could affect an area’s ability to attract new residents, businesses and investment.

Officials should not shy away from addressing any of these issues within their jurisdiction, and weigh the value of holding on to old traditions that might be negative or creating new traditions that reflect unity, tolerance and acceptance.