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The official seal of the village of Whitesboro (image via Syracuse.com)

Yay, democracy? Residents of the aptly named New York village of Whitesboro, in the town of Whitestownvoted 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? 

Four of the proposed alternate seals for the village of Whitesboro (via Syracuse.com)

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: 

According to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 99.5% of Whitesboro residents listed themselves as white.

Carey Dunne

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

15 replies on “A Village Named Whitesboro Votes to Keep Its Insanely Racist Seal”

  1. to quote T. Houska, “As America moves past Confederate flags, NY votes 157-55 to keep a seal of a white guy strangling a Native American.”

    looks like #7 on Hyperallergic’s 20 Most Powerless People in the Art World: 2015 Edition can look forward to moving up on the list for this year. i keep expecting this seal to be a parks and rec tribute or viral marketing joke.
    as a native american myself, i’m quite tired of non-natives defaulting to, “well it’s not offensive to me, therefore it’s not offensive, period.”

  2. Nicely done Carey. I appreciate the research you did and the drawing out of the relation of the decision to keep the seal to other current political trends.

  3. Bottom line, if you are a US company you can’t relocate to Whitesboro and you can’t bring jobs there, or integrate products produced there into your stock. No one is going to risk alienating any part of their customer base in the current economy. Some of the companies that paid to fight GMO labeling are now voluntarily giving up GMO ingredients so that they can voluntarily label their products GMO free. Public image matters and companies are realizing that with all the choices consumers have they can’t ignore the fact that the customer is always right because the customer can always leave and take their money with them. Big companies with deep pockets, companies like Hershey’s. While the perceived risk might not ever manifest given the opportunity no CFO, CEO, brand manager, marketing executive, risk management team, corporate board, or even shareholder base is going to take a risk like that when there are so many other towns to do business with and in that carry no bad PR at all. Marginalizing your town’s future to cling to your town’s past is idiocy.

  4. I agree the seal could do a better job depicting a “friendly wrestling match,” but how can you say its insanely racist just because you interpret it that way? The true meaning of the seal has been reiterated over and over again. Ask anyone that voted to keep it and I doubt they come back with “yeah I chose to keep it because I like the fact it shows how much better we are as whites.” And to say this vote is reflective of disturbing larger trends is a little much. As mentioned only about 5% of residents even voted.

    Further, if you did a little research yourself instead of just copying the endless articles that have been written about this, you would find that the Whitesboro High School mascot is a Native American “Warrior.”

    Warrior: a person who fights in battles and is known for having courage and skill

    Last time I checked being a warrior is a good thing.

    Lawyered.

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