Imagine your ancestors were brought to this country against their will and forced to work as slaves, often in conditions so unimaginably horrible that mere descriptions of what they suffered can cause nightmares. Imagine that your ancestors spent the better part of a century after being freed from such bondage living as second-class citizens in a country for which they fought wars and helped to make a better place.
Now, imagine that you move to a place that annually holds a slave auction. It's tongue-in-cheek, to be sure. No one is actually selling anyone into slavery. But it can't feel too great knowing that the community you've chosen to spend your life in treats the thought of slavery in such a cavalier fashion.
This, unfortunately, is not a hypothetical in Pierre or Fort Pierre. It's actually happened.
Several years ago, an African American man approached the Pierre/Fort Pierre Rodeo Club and asked its members to consider changing the name of the fundraising event.
The ignominious name of this event is the Pierre/Fort Pierre Rodeo Club Slave Auction. Those last two words should cause everyone in America a little bit of pause when attached to raising money for any group.
Our nation has a well-documented and disgraceful history with slavery. And given the country's more recent racial reckoning, it is hard to imagine how any responsible person can see the phrase "slave auction" attached to the sale of someone's labor to raise money for a cause, however noble that cause may be and not think, "Gee maybe, just maybe, the name of this event might be a teensy bit inappropriate."
The fact that the use of the phrase "slave auction" apparently hasn't caused the members of the area's high school rodeo club or its advisors to stop and think for more than a few minutes a few years ago is a problem. So too, is the fact that the club's members after being told that other members of the community find the use of the phrase hurtful couldn't come up with a less disgraceful name.
The club's current advisors have said they strive to let the kids make their own decisions. That's great. They should be encouraging kids to think through tough issues and decide for themselves what to do. But if the decision is to keep a clearly hurtful, not merely offensive mind you, name for an event, then the adults failed in their duty to guide these kids toward making good choices. In today's world, naming as a slave auction any fundraising event where labor is sold is a profoundly bad judgment.
There is no evidence to suggest the rodeo club intended to cause harm with the name of their fundraiser. Indeed, the event and its name predate any of the club's current members. The club's members and its advisors simply haven't stopped recently to think about what feelings the name might conjure up in someone who has a visceral connection to slavery or its after effects in this country. It apparently never occurred to the club's members that holding an event called a "slave auction" could be seen as glorifying or, at best making light of, one of the darkest chapters in America's history.
The name of this event needs to change. May we suggest calling it a ranch hand auction or a labor auction or a Work-for-Hire auction or literally anything else other than a slave auction?