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Ryan Burns in the Lost Coast Outpost questioned the appropriateness of Honest Engine, the name and logo of a Eureka car repair shop, after it appeared prominently in an advertisement beneath my last column ("Art Attack," May 29.). That column was about a painting that many people deemed to be offensive to Latino students and staff at Humboldt State University.

It turns out that Honest Engine owner Robert Neely wrote Burns to say he decided to discontinue use of the logo, after almost four decades, because he now realizes it offends some people, which he never meant to do.

One of the hundreds of comments on Burns' post complained that parents don't seem to teach the "old rhyme" anymore about how sticks and stones break bones but words won't hurt. I do teach that to my daughter, but we both know it isn't true. Words do hurt and the psychological pain festers.

On June 18, the Seattle Times announced it would ban the name Redskins from the paper. Sports Editor Don Shelton said the paper decided 20 years ago that the name was offensive enough that it would minimize its use to just one mention per article and keep it out of headlines and photo captions. He noted that colleges and high schools across the country have changed offensive team names and mascots over the past decades. Stanford went from Indians to Cardinals, for example. His column received more than 1,500 comments, many from people announcing they would ban the Times from their homes.

Yahoo Sports reported that the Cleveland Indians are quietly "reducing" the visibility of Chief Wahoo, their smiling, red-faced Indian logo, which I found so offensive I never liked watching Oakland play them. The team is replacing its logo with a big C on road caps and minimizing its use in publicity.

I find it surprising how impassioned people get about logos and mascots. They protect them as time-honored traditions. A tradition is a practice we have that no longer has any justification other than, it's what we do. If it is a practice that makes everyone happy, then that justifies continuing the practice. But if the practice causes harm, that is no justification to continue it. We drop traditions all the time. We create new ones. Traditions should bring people together, not divide them. Why carry on a practice that offends people when you can create a new one of your own that offends no one?

I grew up in a religious household. We honored so many traditions that it is hard for me to remember them all. Some were ridiculous. We kept kosher and that meant we had eight sets of plates in our house — the everyday dairy and meat plates, the good dairy and meat plates, and as many more plates just for Passover. Meanwhile, when we brought in Kentucky Fried Chicken or Chinese food (we were Kosher but c'mon ...) we ate on paper plates. I can't believe there is any God so petty he would care about our plates. Someone, somewhere, made up those crazy Kosher rules, probably for some good reason at the time.

So many of my family traditions were based on religion that abandoning them left few to celebrate with my daughter. But it occurred to me that we could create our own traditions. We have a great one we started some years ago at Thanksgiving. We took our pumpkins left over from Halloween and rolled them down a big hill to see who could roll one the farthest. Now everyone who comes to Thanksgiving brings pumpkins and we roll dozens of them down the hill. We call it the Great Pumpkin Roll. If one day, a pumpkin we roll hurts someone or we find the practice disparages some culture, we will stop doing it. And that won't ruin our world. We'll find something else that's fun for all.

As someone who is a staunch defender of our First Amendment freedom of expression, political correctness should creep me out. After all, self-censorship can be as dangerous as forced censorship. When you self-censor out of fear I think it is dangerous. But not when you censor yourself out of courtesy for those around you.

My husband and I try to live our life by a moral code: We call it, "What's it to us?" Or when posed to other people, "What's it to you?" If someone asks us for something and it won't cost us anything or make us go out of our way very much and it can help them out, or make them feel better, then, what's it to us? Why not help when you can? Why not try to make someone feel better when it doesn't cost you?

I've never understood how some people will stand their ground when it doesn't benefit them materially and it hurts someone else. During the civil rights movement, many white business owners in Birmingham stood their ground rather than change how they treated black people, even in the face of a costly boycott by black shoppers. Why did they do that? That floors me.

I can't understand why, when faced with two or more options, some people will choose the one that causes harm rather than the one that could prevent it.

I think Robert Neely didn't realize how offensive his logo was because most people realized it wasn't worth a fight. That doesn't mean it didn't make them feel uncomfortable. To his credit, once it was pointed out to him how people feel, Neely chose to change rather than fight.

Political correctness becomes a big deal when people make it a big deal. If you view it as common courtesy to the people around you — your friends, neighbors, customers, co-workers, employees and fellow fans — it isn't such a big deal.

Now let's talk about Lou Seal. That mascot really creeps me out. And then someone should take on Uncle Sam. How creepy is that old guy?

Marcy Burstiner is chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Humboldt State University.

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About The Author

Marcy Burstiner

Marcy Burstiner is an assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at Humboldt State University. If there's something about the media that confuses you, e-mail her at

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