BUILDING NEW TRADITIONS
“Tradition! Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as a fiddler on the roof! …Because of our traditions everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.” From the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Traditions can be good and useful for people. As the famous song from the musical suggests, traditions provide stability for society. Some traditions bring enjoyment and festiveness into our lives. But traditions can also become cages that imprison the mind, restrict people’s options, and blind us to needed changes. The English novelist William Somerset Maugham once wrote, “Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.”
In my last article I said we need to get rid of the many racist symbols, names, and monuments that still occupy too many public places. We must end the traditions that foster hate, division, and exclusion. Matthew Scully is a conservative Republican author and speech writer for numerous Republicans including President George W. Bush. He has written that,
“Sometimes tradition and habit are just that, comfortable excuses to leave things be, even when they are unjust and unworthy…”
This aptly describes much of “southern heritage.” It also is applicable to other traditions we need to change.
It is long overdue to end the use of offensive references to Native Americans for sports team names, logos, and mascots. After years of Native American agitation, the Washington, D.C. football team is finally dropping the use of “redskins.” News reports say the team owners were ultimately forced into this decision by their advertisers. This proves the name isn’t about “tradition.”
Professional sports are businesses. It is all about the money. Rich white guys buy teams for the testosterone rush and tax write offs. The owners of professional teams have no hesitation to change a team name, or move it to another city, when the local community refuses to subsidize their profit margin with new, fancy stadiums.
An aside: I would suggest the Washington “Forked Tongues” as a new team name. It is certainly appropriate for the primary industry of the city. The name “Rednecks” would fit many of the team’s fans. Many sports team names are intended to portray toughness and warlike qualities that strike fear into the hearts of the opposition. The Washington “Socialists” would fit this requirement. All the right-wing politicians are terrified of “creeping socialism.” They think it is a powerful monster that undermines our moral fiber, subverts our children, and is destroying the country. The Washington Socialists vs the Houston Oilers would be an epic all-American battle.
Seriously there are many college and high school teams still using offensive names that also need to be changed. These symbols are not about community solidarity, team pride, or anyone’s heritage. They are about not caring about others and being too lazy to move beyond the “comfortable excuses.” Something called a tradition doesn’t mean it is good. Nor is something right just because it is old. New team names would soon be fostering positive team spirit while not being offensive. We can easily replace the offensive names and create new traditions.
The same could be said for our “hunting heritage.” This is just a convenient excuse to oppose sensible gun regulation. It is used by those who profit financially, or politically, from having more guns than people in this country. The nostalgic “traditions” of father and son bonding over the hunt, or the hunting shack comradery, are long gone. Hunting to supply food for the family is almost gone. Hunting as a sport is declining with fewer participants each year. Today’s kids all have their heads in a computer screen. They are not about to get up at dawn to freeze their asses off in a tree stand. Get real granddad!
Then there is the tradition of voting on Tuesdays. Tuesday’s are a work day and it is very inconvenient for most people. Of course, we couldn’t do anything sensible such as voting by mail, online, or with convenient ATM-like kiosks. The unsupported claims that voter fraud would result is only the excuse to “leave things be, even when they are unjust and unworthy…”
There are many positive events and people in our history that need to be remembered. There are many labor leaders, social reformers, civil rights activists, and peacemakers who are much more deserving of remembrance and honor than any generals. These “heroes” could be the foundation for new traditions that emphasize our “better angels” instead of war and militarism.
The U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation (https://www.uspeacememorial.org) is working to change this at the national level. They want to build a monument in Washington, D.C. to honor individuals and organizations who have worked for peace. Dr. Michael Knox, founder of the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation, reminds us, “Our society should be as proud of those who fight for alternatives to war as it is of those who fight wars.” As the statues of slave owners and Confederate generals come down, they should be replaced with monuments to peace and justice.
Duluth, MN., now has a Peace Walk that connects a number of peace and justice related public monuments in the downtown area. The walk addresses issues of militarism, racism, domestic violence and encourages learning from this history to find ways to promote peace. This is a good example of honoring our heritage while promoting positive values. See http://peacewalkduluth.org.
We can build new and better traditions. We can honor all the good that is happening in our society instead of continuing to promote the things that divide us.