Amid growing racial tensions and nationwide protests across the U.S., New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio during his press conference on July 27, 2020, hinted at reconsidering the official seal of New York City. De Blasio was responding to WCBS reporter Rich Lamb’s question about the seal’s relevance in the 21st century.
New York City’s official seal dates to a 1914 city commission that was responsible for choosing a seal and flag for the newly unified five boroughs. The seal depicts a colonial settler or a sailor in pantaloons holding a rope or plummet to be more precise, and a Native American in a loincloth with two eagle feathers and holding a bow, along with flour barrels, beavers, and a windmill reflecting the city’s history as the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam.
The city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services identifies the settler as Dexter and the Native American as Sinister based on their positioning on the seal.
Nationwide protests echoed with the Black Lives Matter movement have emerged following the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police. These protests have put several historic symbols, including public art, monuments, flags, and statues which carry the legacy of slavery, racism, and colonialism in the U.S., under heavy scrutiny. And now people have started talking more openly about systematic racism and societal bias.
However, there is a difference of opinion among experts over de Blasio’s willingness.
Joe Baker, the executive director of the Lenape Center, is of the opinion that the seal ignores the controversial history of violence and destruction done by the settlers, so it should be changed.
Whereas Robert Snyder, the historian and professor emeritus of American studies at Rutgers University, opposes any alteration to historical artifacts, saying they hold historical significance and allow people to understand their past and the present.
De Blasio, who himself is a strong proponent of the Black Lives Matter movement, has already appointed a commission to reconsider some of the city’s statues with ongoing protests. He has promised in this case to appoint another commission to re-examine the New York City’s seal and decide if it is of any significance to the present situation.