There once was a town called Nigella. It was a nondescript little Podunk, located near a larger and more notable community. Its residents were almost entirely white. Its high school sports teams were named, in a more benighted era, the Niggers. Many of the kids would attend games in blackface, and the mascot was a Stepin Fetchit character who danced and hooted when the team scored a touchdown. All innocent fun, and no one in this lily-white town conceived otherwise.
Then came the civil rights era, and the school had a problem on its hands. The nickname was a piece of the town’s history, and nobody wanted to change it. So they dropped the mascot and banned the blackface, claiming the nickname was never intended as a racial slur — merely a light-hearted callback to the town’s real name.
You know where I’m going with this. Last night, the South Burlington School Board voted to keep the “Rebel” nickname, claiming that it had a specific meaning in their community and had nothing whatsoever to do with the Confederacy or slavery.
“It’s what we make of it. It’s something artificial,” said [an SBHS alum]. “I don’t think the intention is to offend anyone or promote racism.”
Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Words acquire connotations. “Rebel” has other meanings, but its primary connotation is with the wrong side in the Civil War. You know, the one that wanted to keep on owning slaves, and was willing to kill the United States of America in order to do so.