One Portland high school is saddled with a dilemma over whether trees are racist.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School, named after the prominent black activist and journalist who chronicled lynching in the post-Civil War era, was supposed to vote on a new mascot Tuesday of last week, according to the Portland Tribune. The vote was postponed, however, following complaints from a board director that a change from the Trojan mascot to the evergreens was racist.
Director Michelle DePass, the local Portland paper reported, said the tree mascot would invoke images of lynching.
“I’m wondering if there was any concern with the imagery here, in using a tree … as our mascot?” DePass pressed the committee tasked with finding a new mascot. “I think everyone comes with blind spots and I think that might’ve been a really big blind spot.”
The school’s principal, Filip Hristic, reportedly told the board he shared DePass’s concern that evergreen trees are racist.
“We take this seriously and I definitely want to follow that commitment to protect, preserve and promote the legacy of Ida B. Wells,” Hristic said, but added the evergreen mascot would serve a local Oregon connection to the school’s identity.
The renaming and mascot committee, which consists of students, staff, and community members, proposed the evergreen tree after a survey among students and staff offered more than 400 different nominations.
“Evergreens are characterized by the life-giving force of their foliage, the strength of their massive trunk, and the depth of their roots — in an individual tree and as a forest of trees,” Ellen Whatmore, a teacher on the committee, said at the meeting, according to the Portland Tribune. “They provide shelter and sustenance. They have histories that preclude us and will continue in perpetuity after we are no more.”
Martin Osborne, a member of the committee who is also black, defended the proposal for the evergreen mascot, telling the school board they did consider the potential imagery of lynching but that the tree still served as the best way to represent the school.
“We were looking at the symbolism more as a tree of life, than a tree of death,” Osborne said.