Original Meaning Isn't Everything

Published: 22 October 2018

This weekend, Christa Scholtz (Chair, Indigenous Studies Program & Associate Professor of Political Science) wrote a letter to the editor of the Montreal Gazette:

"Original Meaning Isn't Everything"

Re: McGill Redmen should keep their name (Martin Patriquin, Oct 18)

Martin Patriquin suggests McGill University should keep the name of the men's varsity team, the Redmen. He writes that a decision to do otherwise would be "cowardice", an unprincipled abdication to political correctness. I disagree.

For the sake of argument, I accept Patriquin's premise that the origins of the name are indeed "anodyne". But the fact is that the meaning did shift away from just "men wearing red" fairly quickly. As Patriquin notes, the name did in fact become explicitly entangled with racist and stereotypical tropes about Indigenous peoples. This too, can matter to an assessment of today's meaning. An original meaning is important, but that doesn't necessarily prevail over all that comes after.

Patriquin says the board of governors will have to "weigh the weight of history against... political correctness". But which weight? Which history? Patriquin would tell Tomas Jirousek, Indigenous student and member of the rowing team, that the crimson on his varsity singlet will forever and always outweigh the reasonable objection he holds. It recasts Jirousek from reasonable to reactionary. He is now the politically correct Indigenous student unable to accept that everyone else has moved on but him.

This is not fair. We can be principled when we conclude that past stereotypes are indeed weighty things in the here and now, and that the burden is no longer solely for Indigenous students to carry. We can be principled when we say that the inclusion of Indigenous voices in our university is a value that outweighs these particular six letters on the jersey, however long and storied its pedigree. We can be principled in deciding that we can find a new word that McGill's athletes can carry with distinction on their shoulders."


For Patriquin's original article click here. To read more about #ChangeTheName, and the work of Tomas Jirousek, click here, here, and here.

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