When Washington’s NFL team announced this week that it was dropping its “Redskins” moniker, the national conversation played out more or less as expected. Many applauded the long-overdue decision. Some moaned about political correctness. Others dismissed it as merely symbolic, the latest front in the debate over the meaning of statues, team names and corporate logos.

The problem, says Stephanie Fryberg, isn’t that the conversation is about symbols. It’s the assumption that the symbols don’t have real-world consequences for living people.

A professor at the University of Michigan and member of the Tulalip Tribe, Fryberg has spent years studying the psychological effects of Native stereotypes and logos on both Native Americans and non-Natives. She’s seen precisely who gets hurt.

In her studies, she found that exposing Native American teenagers to Native sports mascots decreased their self-esteem, lowered the achievement-related goals they set for themselves, and diminished both their sense of community worth and belief that their community can improve itself. Other studies have shown that the use of Native mascots increases suicidal ideation and depression among Native Americans. “Being shown the mascot actually lowered Native high schoolers’ self-esteem more than giving them negative statistics about [Native American communities], like high suicide rates, depression, dropout rates,” Fryberg told POLITICO in an interview on Wednesday. “That really gives you a sense of how powerful the imagery is.”

Read the full article at Politico.