If I Close My Eyes will it Not Be There?

I would like to begin with a clear sentiment that I am not in support of Amherst College’s unofficial mascot – the Lord Jeff – but that the action of its removal does bring to head some contradictions, which I find problematic.

People want to change the mascot because Lord Jeffery Amherst gave Native American blankets with smallpox – ultimately killing many. Yet, the town of Amherst, MA is named after Lord Jeffery Amherst and Amherst College is named after the town. People do not want the mascot to represent our school, but doesn’t the name of our college represent the college more than an unofficial mascot does?

Further, what does simply “erasing” the mascot not do? While reading and talking about Nell Painter’s History of White People, I was faced with the duty of allowing “great thinkers” to both contribute to society in a powerful, positive way and cause destruction of humanity through creating or promoting a system of inequality based on skin color. Their impact on society must then be understood as two-fold. Choosing to ignore their problematic contribution perpetuates it, as people are not given the opportunity to form a complete picture and opinion about historical figures. Similarly, simply removing the Lord Jeff as the unofficial mascot does not erase his history, nor does it erase the implications of naming the town and, ultimately, college after him. Thus, while I agree that action must be taken regarding the mascot, I am suggesting that there might be a better way to go about this process. A process that acknowledges Lord Jeffery Amherst’s comprehensive history and the divergence of Amherst College’s legacy from his, does not erase or negate his wrongdoings, and could heal the college in a way that just removing the mascot does not.

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3 thoughts on “If I Close My Eyes will it Not Be There?

  1. During the sit-in, I was thinking about the contradictory nature of the phrase “We are not Jeffs, we are Amherst”, since, of course, Amherst was Jeff’s last name. I firmly believe we should not use Jeff as a celebratory, representative and uniting figure for our school’s community, but I hadn’t fully thought about the effect of abandoning the Jeff and pretending we never touted him as our mascot. Additionally, I agree that keeping his last name as the name of our school and town keeps his legacy alive. I see a difference between using him as a mascot, whose purpose is to unite a school community under its signature qualities ( like bravery, speed, agility, etc. but in our case…coming up with genocide tactics?). Even unofficially holding up Lord Jeffrey Amherst as our mascot is completely inappropriate and, in my opinion, blatantly offensive. I do agree, however, that “Amherst” as the name of our school is further-reaching than the “Jeff” as our unofficial mascot. Maybe it’s not as offensive to many people because we don’t inherently celebrate the person every time we say it? Or maybe it’s only a matter of time before groups of people begin publicly denouncing the name of the college altogether and demanding a change. No matter what happens, I support the author’s point that it’s important to acknowledge and teach on the problematic history of Jeffrey Amherst and our school’s celebration of him.

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  2. I think that we must take baby steps. I’m reminded of a saying taught to me by my grandfather: “How do you eat an elephant? Piece by piece.”. Immediately advocating for changing the name of both this institution and this town would be trying to eat the figurative elephant in one bite.

    I really do think that many people would advocate for changing the name of this institution and changing the name of the town. Unfortunately, a lot of Amherst’s prestige is based on name recognition. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to change the name of the entire institution. I am not sure it is even possible. As a result, we should do what we can do at this moment, which is remove the unofficial mascot.

    I agree with you that we should know the history of Lord Jeffrey Amherst and why his legacy is hateful: that part should not be erased.

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  3. Pingback: Sports and Comedy in the Racial Discussion | The Concept of Race

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