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"Sticks and stones..."

July 13, 2018

These often repeated words are intended to soothe the powerless, bullied and abused. But they provide cold comfort at best. Names hurt. If they didn't, we wouldn't need this saying.

 

It is painful to see my hometown of Staunton, Virginia, embroiled in conflict over changing the name of Robert E. Lee High School. In May, the citizens of Staunton elected new school board members who publicly favored the name change. This is what democracy looks like. Yet, as they begin to grapple with this decision, a vocal group of citizens has mounted a campaign to "Save the Name." 

Recently, vandals have spray painted signs supporting the name change with a black X that is eerily reminiscent of the Confederate flag.

 

 

I understand that some graduates of Lee High School might feel nostalgia about the name. However, this name change will not erase their school records, sports letters or any other aspect of the school's history. What it will do is offer future students a school name that neither glorifies the Confederacy nor perpetuates symbols of white supremacy that continue to hurt people today. By returning to the original name "Staunton High School," the School Board can give all students the opportunity to feel proud of their school and their team.

 

Those who dismiss the harm done by a name or a statue fail to recognize that these symbols are inextricably linked to sticks and stones, and whips and chains, and ropes, and rape, and violence, and humiliation, and suffering. We can't go back in history to right the wrongs perpetrated by our ancestors. But we can acknowledge them and establish a way forward that is inclusive and respectful to all. Changing the name is a good place to start.

 

   

 

 

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