A little over a week ago my alma mater, University of New Hampshire, made headlines (mostly in New England) for taking off of the hockey playlist the song Black Betty. Black Betty is traditionally played when the team comes onto the ice and fans start clapping in sync.
Apparently various constituencies at UNH have been protesting the song for years and trying to get it removed because of its racist overtones. I had never heard anything about it when I was there--maybe because coming out against a hockey tradition at UNH is like coming out against University of Iowa's pink visiting team locker room football tradition. You're going to draw a lot of fire.
But for some reason Athletic Director Marty Scarano chose to finally take Black Betty off the playlist this year. He did not cite a particular group or person's complaint that caused the decision but apparently there was at least one made recently according to Scarano's statements to the press.
The 1970s rock song has been called offensive to black woman by the NAACP for thirty years now and UNH finally decided to do something about it. (As much as I love my alma mater, they are a little bit slow on the uptake.)
Interestingly, NBC seems to be a little slow on the uptake too. On this morning's TODAY show, Matt Lauer got dressed up in goalie gear to take the ice with the women of Team USA and during the montage of shots taken on Lauer, NBC played Black Betty--not the words, but the melody. Apparently they have not gotten the memo.
There have been numerous calls by UNH students and alum to bring the song back. They all cite "tradition." But no one seems to be questioning the concept of tradition itself. Why do we have the view that tradition is always a good thing? Clearly, traditions can be offensive. Arguments that things were different "back then" do not hold up. Sure, "things" were different back then, which is why things are different right now. Traditions have to be carried throughout changing times; the contexts in which traditions exist are constantly altered--and when they no longer work they must be altered.
This is the context in which I put the Black Betty tradition at UNH. Sure, I am sad I will never be able to go back to the Whitt and hear the song and clap along. But it will not take away from my overall excitement. There are plenty of other songs out there.