George Boardman: Are we sufficiently ‘woke’ to embrace the latest in political correctness? | TheUnion.com

George Boardman: Are we sufficiently ‘woke’ to embrace the latest in political correctness?

George Boardman
Columnist

Something happened in southern California recently that should cause the residents of Nevada County to rethink the county's symbol, if they are sufficiently woke to embrace the latest iteration of political correctness.

That event was Long Beach State's decision to dump its long-time mascot, Prospector Pete, a symbol of the California Gold Rush that brought nothing but grief to California's native populations, according to school officials.

As the university's "diversity grew and more voices were heard, we came to know that the 1849 California Gold Rush was a time in history when the indigenous people of California endured subjugation, violence and threats of genocide," said President Jane Close Conoley in announcing the decision.

The student government called for the move, noting in a resolution that 80 percent of indigenous populations were killed in the 20 years following the Gold Rush due to malnutrition, enslavement and murder.

That got me thinking about Nevada County's symbol, which shows a miner panning for gold in a creek that probably hadn't been contaminated with mercury yet. The drawing is meant to honor the most important event that's occurred in Nevada County, at least since the white man arrived.

Many local residents can trace their ancestry back to the Gold Rush days, and take pride in an event that caused the leaders of this country to expand their horizon from sea to shining sea. Few people give much thought to the impact the discovery of gold had on the Nisenan and other native populations.

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That highlights one of the problems when it comes to judging historical figures: Do we judge them by the standards of their time, or by today's standards? Clearly the latter is in vogue these days in a progressive state like California, where San Francisco recently removed a statue that was thought to subjugate Native Americans, and there's been talk of changing the name of Fort Bragg because it is named for a Confederate general who supported slavery.

My inclination is to judge people by the standards of their day rather than second guessing them 169 years after the fact. History shows that human progress has come in fits and starts, with plenty of regrettable lapses along the way.

Judging pioneers by today's standards isn't likely to get much traction in Nevada County. The descendents of our Gold Rush pioneers are likely to give them the benefit of the doubt, and that's probably just as well. The only other thing we're known for is marijuana, and it would take some powerful hallucinogenics to envision a county symbol that incorporated cannabis.

Be Careful

Long Beach State is now looking for a new mascot to replace Prospector Pete. If school officials are smart, they'll learn from Stanford University's experience when it decided to drop the Indian as a mascot.

Embracing political correctness long before it became trendy, Stanford dropped its mascot in 1972 after a group of Native American students convinced university President Richard Lyman the mascot was "an insult to their culture and heritage."

The students were particularly upset by the portrayal of Prince Lightfoot, as the mascot was known. He resembled a Hollywood version of an Indian warrior and would regularly cast a hex on opposing teams, which the students called "a prostitution of the Eagle Dance of the Plains Indians."

The school went without a mascot for three years until it foolishly decided to give students a say in selecting a new one. Rejecting choices like Railroaders, Spikes and Sequoias, the students overwhelmingly voted for Robber Barons, no doubt to honor the school's founder, Leland Stanford, a leading buccaneer of the Gilded Age.

School officials were not amused. They ignored the referendum results and decided to refer to their sports teams as the color Cardinal. The university has had no official mascot since then.

That left an opening for the student band, which regularly tests the patience of school administrators, to introduce its own mascot — the Stanford Tree, one of the more bizarre representations of one of nature's grand creations you're likely to see. The tree has since become the university's unofficial mascot, but not without incident.

The student who "portrayed" the tree was fired in 2006 for showing up drunk at a basketball game. Her blood alcohol level was 0.15, almost twice the legal limit. Naturally, that happened at a game against Cal.

Into the maze

I have an appointment at 8:40 a.m. today to leave life as I know it and enter the seven circles of Hell that is the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Actually, that's an exaggeration. While the IRS may be the only government agency people hate more than DMV, I've had positive experiences with these public servants over the years. That's probably because I find out ahead of time what paperwork I need to bring with me, read instructions carefully, and fill out forms completely.

But I've been reading about the life-altering delays people have been experiencing at DMV recently as the state starts issuing the new Real ID driver's licenses mandated by the federal government, so I decided to get on top of this early.

My license doesn't expire until Oct. 18, but I went online Sept. 5 to make today's appointment at the Auburn office. I've accumulated all of the paperwork they require to prove who I am and where I was born, and I expect things to go smoothly.

But if this column doesn't appear next week, you'll know why.

CORRECTION: I wrote in last week's column that candidate for sheriff Bill Smethers had not taken a position on the use of body cameras by deputy sheriffs. In fact, he supports the acquisition and deployment of the technology. I apologize for the error.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at ag101board@aol.com.

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