What’s more surprising than Walmart taking the initiative to remove Confederate flag-themed items from its shelves? Try the Forth Smith School Board voting to phase out the “Rebel” as mascot of Southside High in the 2016-17 school year, as reported by KFSM-5
The TV station says the board also decided that “Dixie” will no longer be the high school’s fight song, beginning in the coming 2015-16 academic year.
The longtime mascot doesn’t display overt Confederate symbolism. He’s stylized as a dapper Southern gentleman with an oversized hat. He’s not threatening. He’s cute, in fact — as long as one intentionally divorces him from the context of American history.
But that history is too raw and too relevant to be ignored. Think about what “Dixie” mean to Southside students who happen to be African American, and suddenly it doesn’t seem quite as cute to have a “rebel” as a mascot in a public school district that’s 11 percent black (and over 50 percent nonwhite).
There’s also the fact that the demographics of Fort Smith’s high schools reflect the socioeconomic and racial reality of the state, and the nation, in 2015. Southside is 64 percent white and 37 percent low income. Northside, the other high school in Fort Smith, is 27 percent white and 81 percent low-income. (In full disclosure, I very briefly attended Northside for half a semester my senior year.)
The college-going rate at Southside was 64 percent for the 2013-14 school year, and its average ACT composite score was 24. At Northside, the college-going rate for the same year was 30 percent and the average ACT score was 20. There are many, many complex reasons behind those disparities of opportunity and their stubborn persistence over time — and no, removing a mascot won’t address them, not in and of itself. But the truth is that on a statistical level, race correlates to income, and income correlates to educational achievement. And the truth is that every ounce of that statistical gap is ultimately rooted in the inequalities inherent in the history of our country. And reckoning with the ugliness of that history is a necessary step towards a society where we can finally say with a straight face that race actually doesn’t matter in terms of dictating one’s chances in life.
The Fort Smith School Board made a brave move tonight, the right move. Talk about some rebels.
People are already getting upset, unsurprisingly. And other Arkansans are saying, rightfully, “it’s about time”:
PS: By the way, Fort Smith isn’t the only district in the state with a rebel mascot.