More specifically, Rebel Problems.
So, I’ve been trying to stay in the loop about the goings ons of my hometown in Vermont– South Burlington. Now, before I go any further, just to paint a broad mental image of this town, South Burlington is a wealthy predominantly-white town, in a very white state. I’m talking middle-aged accountant, who golfs occasionally, and eats ham sandwiches with no condiments levels of white.
Recently, a few articles and posts have been popping up on my facebook timeline about whether or not my former high school should change the sports team’s name, (ultimately the school board decided to drop the name, now they’re waiting for the town to approve the budget.) And no, before we jump to conclusions we don’t use any native american imagery.
South Burlington’s insensitivity is more… easily dismissed shall we say. We call ourselves “The Rebels.” Our logo is a baby-blue “S” intertwined with a “B” over a gray background.
Well, what’s so bad about that you say? And, if that was the totality of it I would say: nothing.
But we must always consider context.
When the school was founded in 1961, S.B. adopted the Rebel moniker to distinguish itself from its Burlington neighbors. See where this is going? Gray and blue uniforms, South vs. North, Rebels, oh and let’s not forget that S.B. used to have a confederate colonel as its mascot.
When I go back home and discuss the issue with whoever’s around, I’m asked about why I didn’t have a problem with the name when I attended. Huh, good question– let’s unpack that. Being white, I didn’t deal with non-white issues. I drifted through high school only worrying about white problems. But, now that I’ve been introduced to the concept of white privilege, (which, I know, the term is a dog whistle for some) I can see how it’s an issue. I imagine that as a person of color, playing sports for a school that takes it’s name from those who fought to keep the institution of slavery intact and maintain white supremacy is, a bit uncomfortable.
Opponents of the name change argue that “Rebels” should be kept for a few reasons. One– Money, baby. Cost is the only reasonable argument against the name change. But, even then concessions should be made by both sides until a middle ground is met. The last I had hear the price tag of changing all sports uniforms was 100K. A bit steep, but not undoable. Perhaps to placate those who are concerned about rising property taxes, the cost could be spread out over a few years.
A smaller, more vocal segment of the population refuses to let go of the name because they were once rebels too. Once a rebel, always a rebel. How sweet.
They argue that the name “Rebel” isn’t racist– at least not anymore. America was built on the back’s of rebels. The Revolutionary war, the suffrage movement, the end of segregation– all led by rebels. They aren’t wrong. Rebels can be progressive forces working for change, but in this case it’s a stretch. Context matters. SB’s history hasn’t changed. And, while S.B. retired the confederate colonel costume and students no longer fly the confederate flag anymore (yeah that happened too)– it’s disingenuous to say: “The name isn’t racist or offensive. What’s your problem?”
Personally, I’m glad that the school district has decided to drop the name. I’m a bit ashamed that it took students of color to speak out about the name first. Other neighboring towns have already veered away from offensive mascots, so why has it taken this long for SB to do the same?
P.S. To all lifelong Rebels out there, try and understand that the name is offensive and represents outdated thinking. Or buy yourself some Rebel swag while it’s still around, maybe hang it on your wall, but keep the veiled racism to yourself.
I do not own any of these images.