The History of You

It might seem silly to write another blog post about the word *tribe*. Bryson from NP Baltimore wrote an eloquent piece on it already (read it here). Or perhaps, you saw it unfold in the Facebook discussion with the global social group name change to NP World Social. To be clear, November Project, as an international movement, no longer uses this word to define our 52 communities. And now, we’re living in a moment in history, where again white and white-passing individuals, like myself, must confront their… well, our white privilege, our white fragility, and all of the ways in which our white-centered society have inherently created an unequal, unjust world.

So, yes, here I am talking about the word *tribe* again — this time with a mini Virginia-based history lesson in reference to how I’ve interacted with it and used this word to describe myself prior to NP. I was born and raised in Virginia Beach, VA (it’s the “vb” on my social media handles!). After graduating from high school, I went about an hour up the road to The College of William & Mary (W&M) for my undergraduate studies. When we dig into the idea of cultural appropriation (which as defined by The Cambridge Dictionary is: the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture) vs. cultural appreciation, you really need to look no further than an institution founded in 1693. An institution with original plans dating back to 1618, a time when Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, was seizing and colonizing much of the Powhatan lands. An institution, rooted by a royal charter, with one of its goals “that the Christian faith may be propagated amongst the Western Indians, to the glory of Almighty God.” 

Jumping ahead a few hundred years, in 1913, the nickname, “Indians”, was adopted for W&M’s basketball team, as well as a logo depicting a Native American holding both a knife and a tomahawk. Throughout the early to mid-20th century, W&M used some variation of the word “Indians” to define their athletic teams, adopting the infamous feathers logo in the 1970’s on their football team’s helmets. By 1978, W&M decided to remove imagery of actual Native Americans from its visual identity, but still made the decision to adopt the feathers as part of the university’s official logo (extending past athletics), as well as to continue using the nickname, “Tribe”, which it still uses to this day (with the similar idea in how November Project previously used it: a class or set of persons, esp. one with strong common traits or interests). 

It wasn’t until 2006 and only when the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) demanded it, that W&M stopped using the feathers as part of the official logo (the university actually applied for an appeal of this decision, which was denied). Yes, there are a lot of other details around this NCAA ruling — including support of the feathers logo from Virginia tribal leaders at that time, but one thing remains true. Words matter. The words we choose to identify by are important. How we show up and create inclusive spaces for all, not just for some who approve of it, is absolutely crucial. It has been, it has always been, and it will always be absolutely crucial.

While writing this blog post, I unearthed this painted wine glass with the W&M feathers logo — a high school graduation gift that I’ve carried with me for 10 years.

While we cannot undo the past, something I’ve re-learned over the last few weeks (through the powerful knowledge sharing happening on Instagram, no less!) is that we can and must define the present, the right now. The right now shifts our future. This includes deciding what we choose to hold onto (especially if that something is not originally ours) and how we choose to let it define us. For November Project, that means no longer holding onto *tribe* as our own.

From my corner of the world in Brooklyn, I’m encouraging you all to take a little dive into the vast universe of the Internet to learn more about the history of you, the history that has shaped who you are today. The city block you grew up on or the city block you now call home. The history of your alma mater, your high school, your summer camp or church. The history of your favorite sports team. The more we understand how we got to the right now is how we can start changing it for the better. 

Spread love,

Jessica

Additional Sources

History of W&M Mascots and Nicknames: www.wm.edu/about/mascot/history/.

Tribe Mascot, FAQs: https://www.wm.edu/about/mascot/background/faqs/index.php

The Muscarelle Museum of Art Announces Exhibition Devoted to History of the Brafferton Indian School on the Historic Campus of William & Mary: https://muscarelle.wm.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Brafferton-Press-Release_June-2016.pdf.

NCAA Rejects William & Mary’s Mascot Appeal: https://www.chronicle.com/article/NCAA-Rejects-William-and/37043.

William & Mary’s Libraries, Mascot: https://scdbwiki.swem.wm.edu/wiki/index.php/Mascot.

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