What Did You Mean?

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What makes something offensive? In the contemporary context, some attempt to censor (often through social media campaigns) presentations that they consider offensive, making that label particularly useful for restricting public discourse. Two stories from December highlight the complexity of labeling something offensive.

A shopper in California during the holiday season noticed that wrapping paper in the Hanukkah section of a store had swastikas incorporated into the design. Deeply troubled by this symbol that the shopper associated (for obvious reasons) with Nazism, she reported it to the manager. With the story reaching the media, the store removed the wrapping paper with the offensive design nationwide and began an investigation into how the design was created and approved. Continue reading “What Did You Mean?”

Changing Symbols and the Swastika

Chilocco Indian Agricultural School basketball team 1908-09

Symbols serve as a significant way to express identity within society. Crosses generally identify someone as a Christian, a hammer and sickle as a communist, and black and white houndstooth as a University of Alabama fan. Of course, that simple equation provides an arena for significant competition about exactly which symbol represents which ideas. The apparent incongruency of Native Americans wearing swastikas on their basketball uniforms (Chilocco Indian Agricultural School in Oklahoma, 1908) derives from the assumption that symbols have a defined meaning. As with identity labels generally, the meanings of symbols like the swastika shift over time, and seldom does a symbol have only one meaning.

Continue reading “Changing Symbols and the Swastika”