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Flipping the Byrd

Date: 2015-Dec-08           Author: Barry Shatzman

He was just a product of his times.

That was the main argument used by those opposed to the University of Maryland changing the name of its football stadium from Byrd Stadium to Maryland Stadium.

But the reason for the change was stated in an email sent to alumni by the university's president Wallace D. Loh...

President Byrd is rightly regarded as "Father and Builder" of UMD over a 43-year career here, retiring in 1954.... He laid the foundation for today's achievements. He earned his place in our University's history.

He was also an ardent proponent of racial segregation and discrimination. To many African-American alumni and students, "Byrd Stadium" - the "front porch" of the institution... conveys a racial message hidden in plain sight.

But Byrd's views merely were a product of the times he lived in, right? Well of course they were. Does that make them acceptable enough to name a building after someone? Even if the building is used by some who might have been a victim of those views.

Now let's be clear. The types of perceptions we're talking about haven't been just against black people. Throughout the times of this country, we have engaged in hatred and systemic discrimination against all kinds of peoples. Irish, Jews, Palestinians, Mexicans, Japanese, and Muslims. We had the Yellow Peril and the Red Scare. Most recently it's been refugees from Syria.

You just don't like foreigners, you say? Then how about our treatment of the North American natives? They lived here for tens of thousands of years, yet look what's happened to them in just the past 500. What about homosexual and transgendered people who were born Americans and still face scorn and discrimination?

Past or present... all products of our times. And all caused by the same thing. Fear. We worry they'll take our jobs. We're frightened they might be secret terrorists. They're criminals, rapists, moochers... you name it.

There's another thing they all have in common. And this is where I yank the excuse rug right out from under Byrd's feet. And yours.

In every single instance of mass anger and differential treatment, that hate was later shown to be wrong. Read those words again. Every instance. Wrong. There has never been an exception. Read that one again too. Never an exception.

But here's the good news. You can do something about it right now. Any time you're told you have something to fear from any large group of people and you find yourself believing it, start to investigate - both from outside sources and from within yourself. Let's not kid ourselves... these fears can be very difficult to overcome. But overcome them you must - because if you don't you will be proven wrong.

Please do yourself that favor. So in 50 years they don't rename the building that has your name etched on it. Or worse... excuse every mention of you by saying that you simply were "a product of your time".

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