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Yay, democracy? Residents of the aptly named New York village of Whitesboro, in the town of Whitestown, voted Monday to keep their controversial village seal, which looks suspiciously like a drawing of a white guy strangling a Native American man. According to the village’s website, it actually “depicts a friendly wrestling match that helped foster good relations between [village founder Hugh White] and the Indians.”
Debate over the seal, which has been the subject of controversy since the 1960s, was reignited last year in the wake of a mass shooting at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The South Carolina Senate subsequently voted 37-to-3 to remove the controversial Confederate Flag from the State House grounds. But Whitesboro was not quite so progressive when it came to updating its image, even after open calls for designing a new village seal cropped up around the internet and a Long Island man started a petition to change it.
“I am aware that people are upset about it,” Mayor Patrick O’Connor told the Village Voice this summer. “I could understand why people would have concern about it. But, [as with] everything else, I think you have to take all the facts into consideration. If people take the time to do that and they reach out to us, or they do the research themselves, it’s actually a very accurate depiction of friendly wrestling matches that took place back in those days.” Disney’s Pocahontas is also an “accurate depiction” of those “friendly wrestling matches,” right?
The voter turnout in the village of less than 4,000 was relatively small. According to Syracuse.com, when given several alternate non-racist seal designs to choose from, 157 of the 212 voters supported making no changes to the Whitesboro emblem. The proposed redesigns included an image of Hugh White and an Oneida chief holding hands and a peaceful drawing of mountains and birds.
The controversy over this village’s emblem might seem like a small local issue compared to more pressing national concerns, but the vote is reflective of disturbing larger trends; it brings to mind the current Trump-led backlash against political correctness and strains of white nationalism gaining visibility in the public eye.
The seal was originally designed in the late 1800s, but was revised in the 1970s, when White’s hands were moved from his opponent’s neck to his shoulders to make their wrestling match look even friendlier. The seal displayed on all of the village’s official documents, trucks, and equipment. Here is the village’s original seal, from 1800:
— Samuel Klein (@metasj) July 3, 2015
According to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 99.5% of Whitesboro residents listed themselves as white.