Walmart in Paw Paw is under attack today by the ACLU of Michigan as the organization demands the retailer discontinue the sale of Paw Paw High School merchandise bearing the school's mascot name, "Redskins."
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon has been sent a letter by the Michigan team of the American Civil Liberties Union asking that the Paw Paw, Michigan store remove merchandise "bearing the offensive, racial slur 'Redskins'" from the store's sales inventory and shelves. The Paw Paw mascot has been the subject of ongoing controversy in the town and surrounding areas.
ACLU officials say the Southwest Michigan Walmart Supercenter "has historically stocked Paw Paw High School paraphernalia displaying the racial slur and its accompanying, offensive images" until a recent complaint resulted in temporary removal of the products from the store. The ACLU letter makes clear to Walmart that the return of such merchandise “does not occur in isolation, but within a racial context” that the company should consider.
Mark Fancher is staff attorney for the ACLU Racial Justice Project. He contends, “As a top employer in this country and a corporate citizen of Paw Paw, Walmart has a responsibility to take a leadership role and help move this community and our nation toward the achievement of racial understanding and racial justice.”
Fancher adds, “Certain words and images contribute to a racially hostile educational environment and this debate has exacerbated racial tensions at the school.”
The ACLU detailed several examples of the hostile environment at Paw Paw High School, based on records provided in response to a Freedom of Information Act request for documentation of all racial incidents in the district from 2015 through 2017, including:
- “Tuesday coming back from lunch, [name deleted] pushed another student and called him the N word.”
- A student used a “whiteboard eraser to draw a penis and write the ‘n’ word on the carpet.”
- “[name deleted] called another student a ‘dirty Mexican.’”
- After a highly contentious school board meeting about the “Redskins” issue, a parent described the proceedings as an “openly hostile environment’ and asked school officials to help identify options for transferring her child out of the school district.
- A note to the superintendent stated: “Inside the school, I was approached by a resident who was punched in the face because she was in favor of the change [of the ‘Redskins’ name] and made this public prior to the meeting.
The controversy heated up last school year when the school board held a series of meetings before voting to ultimately keep the mascot.
There are just five schools remaining in Michigan that use the racial slur Redskin character as a mascot while 26 districts have stopped using it, according to the Michigan Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, which issued the following statement:
“There should be no ambiguity on whether it is appropriate to sell merchandise that targets a specific ethnic group with the use of a racial slur and stereotypical depictions, especially in a community that has suffered from discrimination attributable to this very subject. As a global retailer, Walmart should strive to be socially responsible in the diverse communities they serve”
Today’s letter comes on the heels of a billboard recently placed along I-94 by local advocacy groups protesting the high school’s mascot.
The issue is part of the larger national debate regarding the use of racial slurs in sports. At the center of the debate is the Washington Redskins NFL team, which has faced heated opposition for retaining their mascot name.