A symbol of challenge reinterpreted by UTSA students and alumni

With the decision to end the use of the “Come and take it” slogan at the University of Texas at San Antonio, the university is bowing to the demands of the few and neglecting those of us who have come. interpret the slogan as one of the empowerments for our UTSA community.

To me and countless others, “Come on and take it” does not symbolize what UTSA President Taylor Eighmy is claiming or the handful of loud opponents. Yet barely 960 signatures on a petition have prompted the leaders of a university with more than 20,000 students to make a decision that affects us all.

For me, the so-called symbol of racism and exclusion has evolved to represent distrust of those who want to deny our civil rights. We can use the slogan to defend our rights in the name of racial equality and justice instead of clinging to a historical interpretation that many of us have no connection with. Does that make me racist, as opponents of the slogan would have you believe?

As a black student growing up in New York City, I learned that Texas and the former Confederacy states have long oppressed black and Hispanic communities. My education covered in depth the racial legacy of division, violence and oppression in the South, but “Come and take it” was not included in that legacy.

“Come and Take It” in the United States dates back to the American Revolution, when Colonel John McIntosh used the phrase to challenge British troops at Fort Morris in Georgia. This distrust of oppression can translate into a modern interpretation of the defense of civil rights.

Even co-opted by 2nd Amendment activists, the phrase serves as a reminder to black and Hispanic communities of our own rights to defend ourselves against racial violence. Standing up for the rights of blacks and Hispanics, by gun or without, gives people like me the right to claim “come and take it” as we do.

Instead of making the hasty decision to end the use of a slogan that many of us cherish, UTSA could have gauged the feelings of students and alumni. The university could have taken advantage of the alumni association and its media to disseminate a poll, or help the student government association put the decision to a vote. There might have been some effort to open the floor for discussion on why the meaning of the slogan can vary so much among students. If the consensus were to come up with a new slogan that captures the fighting spirit of UTSA, the university and its students might feel good to come to a decision together.

But the university chose to listen to a small vocal group who insist on labeling the slogan as racist, although modern interpretations are far from it. If “Come and Take It” is the racist symbol that the 960 petitioners say, then what right can we keep the Texas flag symbols? By what right can we keep the cities so named Jefferson, Houston and Austin? Do the residents of these towns themselves consider themselves racist because they still live in towns that are named after people from our honored past who did not have views aligned with ours? What right can we keep anything in our history if it cannot be reimagined, or if we hold ourselves guilty for the sins of our fathers?

I respect Kevin Eltife’s statement to stand up for “traditions and history that mean a lot to students, alumni and fellow Texans.” The chairman of the UT System Board of Regents stepped in to challenge UTSA’s decision to get rid of a slogan that ended up meaning a lot to a lot of people. Those of us who have found our own meaning in the slogan “Come and Take It” should not feel guilty for maintaining a tradition that we have reinterpreted. Instead, we should feel empowered to defend ourselves against the noisy and oppressive few.

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