I was blessed to attend the University of Illinois, where I earned a couple degrees that empowered me to search for a job and exhibit some critical thinking.
Today, I want to apply some of that critical thinking to call my Alma Mater to task regarding the naming of a mascot. You might think this is a relatively unimportant issue but it is indicative of the political correctness that has grasped much of our culture, especially our institutions of higher learning.
When I attended the university we had a wonderful symbol called Chief Illiniwek. He was not a mascot. He didn’t lead cheers or prowl the sidelines during football games. He had a routine that he performed at halftime that was designed to be a tribute to the school and the state. This went on from 1926 until 2007.
Then, in a response to complaints from a few American Indians (or native Americans or first nations people or whatever they wish to be called) the school did away with the Chief. He was replaced by an orange “I”. And the athletic teams continued to be called “Fighting Illini”.
There now is a move afoot to designate the Kingfisher as the mascot of the university. And while a Kingfisher is a perfectly respectable bird and common in parts of Illinois, it can’t ever be a symbol in the sense that the chief was. In fact, as opposed to performing with honor, I expect there will be some gullible undergraduate dressed up in a bird outfit running around during football and basketball games.
I also predict that someone will be offended by the Kingfisher. Oh, I don’t think bird lovers will care. I have a pet bird who is a truly noble creature, although I would not recommend her as a school mascot. I’ve seen Kingfishers when I’m on the lake or river fishing and they are rather impressive. They also are much better at catching fish than I am.
But it seems to me that Kingfisher might remind some people of Kingfish, who was a star of the live radio program “Amos and Andy”. The show later appeared on television in the early 1950s, when I was alive but I doubt any of the current undergrads at the University of Illinois were.
I won’t go into a detailed description of “Amos and Andy” other than to say that it supposedly took place in Harlem and portrayed African Americans in a condescending and stereotypical way. It was removed from television after repeated complaints by civil rights groups and religious leaders.
Kingfish was one of the stars of the show. He was always dreaming up a scheme to get rich, none of which ever worked. He was not a model for young people.
So, ye politically correct makers of mascots at my Alma Mater, don’t be surprised if your new mascot upsets people even more than your university’s old symbol. That’s the way political correctness works.