Retire All of Toms River Regional School District’s Indigenous American Mascots
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It's time for Toms River Regional Schools to retire all racially insensitive mascots depicting indigenous Americans, including the Toms River High School South "Indians", Toms River Intermediate School South "Seminoles", and Washington Street Elementary School "Warriors".
After repeated community efforts over decades to change the original Toms River High School "Fighting Indians" mascot, officials at Toms River Regional have instead aggressively defended the name and even added two newer mascots with the same racial undertones - Toms River Intermediate School South "Seminoles" and Washington Street Elementary "Warriors." With many people awakening to racial injustice due to current events, now is the time to stand in solidarity, right the injustices in our own communities, and show our school pride and respect for indigenous Americans in a meaningful way that inspires future students.
Toms River, New Jersey has been sending the wrong message to students, staff, and the broader community for generations through the use of these misleading and insulting stereotypes. Our students deserve better than being subjected to rallying around normalized racism and white supremacy. It's time we admit that race is not a mascot, and that the glorified depiction of a “Fighting Indian” is a dangerous whitewashing of history. As major sponsors like FedEx, Nike, and PepsiCo put pressure on the Washington Redskins to change their name, let's join other school districts across the state (i.e., Pascack Valley Regional High School District, Parsippany Troy-Hills School District), colleges all over the country (i.e., Dartmouth College, St. John’s University), and states like Maine in evolving to prioritize racial equality over our own pride and tradition. Toms River and New Jersey are not exempt - history shows the indigenous Lenni Lenape tribes were brutally killed by early Americans who brought disease and forcibly relocated them out West. And in recent years, it was even recognized that Toms River Township was in fact named after white ferry operator Thomas Luker, and not the mythical "old Indian Tom" as the fight song for the Toms River High School South wrongfully proclaims.
Over 1,500 indigenous organizations and advocates have added their voices in support of ending this practice nationally. The American Psychological Association explains the use of Native American mascots are “undermining the educational experiences of members of all communities-especially those who have had little or no contact with indigenous peoples” because these symbols are teaching students that it is acceptable to appropriate cultures and perpetuate the spread of inaccurate and harmful stereotypes. The use of Native Americans as a mascot is so immensely immoral when considering the history of Natives. The National Congress of American Indians describes it best, saying that, “Indian mascots and stereotypes present a misleading image of Indian people and feed the historic myths that have been used to whitewash a history of oppression.”
As a community that’s appropriated indigenous American culture by so proudly calling ourselves Indians, Seminoles, Warriors, we must ask ourselves what we’ve actually done to demonstrate our love, admiration, and respect for these disenfranchised people. While school officials claim the mascot names are well-intended and a show of respect, the only truly respectable thing to do is to choose another that is better suited and does not offend a specific group of people. We could even take it one step further by converting the outpouring of love for “the Indian” by creating service programs and fundraising initiatives that support indigenous Americans who still desperately seek full racial equality and continue fighting to preserve their culture and way of life on stolen land.
By addressing the issues of our schools' mascots, we can take a huge step in eliminating racial prejudice in our schools and community. While school officials claim their intentions are good and that the namings are a sign of respect, tradition is no excuse for racism of any kind. The education we received at Toms River Regional has taught us this much, so let's stand together and right this wrong. Together, we can create the change that we want to see. We Are TR.
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