Most schools in the Inland Empire have standard, unobjectionable mascots like blue jays, bobcats and cougars. Choosing one usually isn’t a brain-draining task, unless campuses go the creative route and pick bizarre mascots like banana slugs (UC Santa Cruz) or anteaters (UC Irvine). At Rosa Parks Elementary School in Eastvale, the staff thought they were selecting a nice, safe symbol—in this case, a knight—but in our hypersensitive society, that seemingly innocent mascot only brought cries of . . . racism?
Principal Philip Saxena and his 40-member staff were trying to honor the legacy of Rosa Parks by choosing the fighting knight. Clad in armor, wielding a giant pencil instead of a sword, and brandishing a book-cum-shield, the knight was supposed to represent the way in which knowledge helps people battle adversity. But in some eyes, the figure of a knight, armored in education, only conjures up images of the Ku Klux Klan, the notorious racist group whose full name is often referred to as the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. “[Rosa Parks’] name should not be linked to a symbol of racial hatred,” special ed teacher Avis Watts told the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
The school board has left the ultimate decision of whether to keep the mascot up to the Rosa Parks Elementary staff, and the school doesn’t seem to be bending to a handful of hyper-reactionaries.
Thing is, Rosa Parks Elementary is far from the only IE learning institution whose mascot dredges up memories of other notorious groups—depending, of course, on how sensitive one is, or how much time one has on their hands. There’s also the Colton High School Yellow Jackets, which might seem innocuous enough, but the moniker was also used by a proto-Klan group that marauded the southern countryside, breaking up black prayer groups and inflicting a particularly violent brand of vigilante justice.
Chaffee High in Ontario shares its tiger mascot with the extremist/hate group the National Association for the Advancement of White People, founded by former Klansman David Duke. The tiger is also the mascot for the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist organization that’s been waging war against the Sri Lankan government since 1970, funding a lot of its revolutionary activities through drug trafficking, forced prostitution and human smuggling.
Obviously, when the Chaffee High cheerleaders yell “Go Tigers!” at football games, it’s clearly an endorsement for a slew of illegalities. Hooray, forced prostitution!
Clement Middle School in Redlands uses a Viking as their mascot, which it shares with the Viking Youth Corp., effectively the Hitler Youth of the U.S.-based National Socialist Movement. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, they’re active in 25 states.
And, it should be noted, the Viking is white! Clement Middle School: innocent educational institution, or breeding ground for hood-wearing cross-burners?
Out in the desert, Coachella Valley High brands itself with a grimacing, mustachioed middle-easterner and calls their team the Arabs—something that even we find just a little offensive, but not so much that we’d raise a stink about it. Yet this blatant display has drawn less public ire than Rosa Parks’ beleaguered knight.
Digging deep enough, it’s easy to find subliminal racism in almost every harmless choice of school mascot, but some IE schools opt for a more controversial, direct form, with no fewer than 13 schools monikered by some cartoonish caricature of Native Americans and listed on the internet in sites that track racist school mascots—Norte Valley High and Alta Loma High’s Braves, Palm Springs High and Ramona Junior High’s Indians, for example. Although reaction among Native Americans seems to be mixed in regard to whether these mascots are offensive or not, studies have found that a majority—in some places, as high as 80 percent—find the depictions to be disparaging.
No word on whether anti-knight folks like Watts will be protesting the Renaissance Faire.