Washington Redskins Racism Cuts Far Deeper than Wanted For the Team Fans

It’s all so simple really, what’s at the bottom of the fight over changing the name of the Washington Redskin’s football team.  The real deal point that hits home the hardest about the debate is the word racist.  Not racism; it’s the full-on, take it personally, title of racist.

The idea that they have, for generation after generation, celebrated and cheered a term built upon the bloodied bodies of human beings is incomprehensible.  It should be.

After all, regardless of the mouthpieces who speak in support of it, another truth is that the New England Patriots at Washington Redskins 08/28/09majority of those team fans are really just your average, basic, decent citizen and neighbors.  They’re the same people who’d help you shovel your walk; they’d rush to help someone in an accident.  They send donation after donation to help people devastated by wrath of nature disasters.  They’re the same people you’d likely enjoy a coffee with at a local school or church event.  Like most anyone, they will move heaven and earth to protect and cherish their children and community.

They will also do the same to protect that inner sensibility to remain good people.  Good people are not racist.  Therefore, that “R” word is the issue, but not really the term itself; it’s about the people who are changing their truth’s history of it.

The campaign to bring out that ‘truth’ is everywhere.  Social media is fully covered by various groups in support of the talking points put out by the team’s organization.  They include the origin of the term, the number of teams with the name, the original honor intended, and so on.  The team has put up a page on their website dedicated to the issue.  There are constant interviews given by their P.R. reps in radio, podcasts, TV, and newspapers.

The team owners created a charitable organization dedicated to the plight of Native Americans – although the altruistic intentions are vociferously debated given the timing of the new generosity and the requirement of highly visible team branding attached to what is given.

The information available for the entire issues’s history is ample and readily accessible, and yet its existence is denied over and over.  The engagement of hundreds of Native American tribes and groups is almost wholly ignored. The organization at the head of the issue, the Change the Mascot organization is never referenced.

The irony in the labor to ignore the voices of Native Americans by declaring this is only an effort by white liberals serving a politically correct agenda is completely lost on them. They’ll state sadness and regret about the Trail of Tears, but if there is such a thing as opinion genocide, there is a good case for this being an example at work.

How do decent people seemingly willingly embrace racism?

redskins fan trail of tears  How is all of this even possible by these same decent people of regular everyday life?

kc  chiefsTo get an idea, we’d have to ask what it would feel like, within the dawning of the realization, that what Native Americans are saying, is true.  What does the evidence of horrible realities behind nearly 80 years of mythical stories of supportive honor do to the average heart?

What does it mean and what does it say about everyone who ever supported the team?  What does that make every celebrating and cheering owner, employee, player and fan over those nearly 80 years?

Despite a likelihood of racism within some of the mindsets, for the most part, for the rest, in a word, it would have to be: ignorance.  We’re talking about mostly just ignorance.  For over two centuries there has been a deliberate effort to hide the history of Native Americans with even more fervor than the attempts to silence them today.

The concerted work to erase the attempted genocide of the America’s Indigenous Peoples includes omitting and revising facts in school history books.  Governments even today will avoid the word genocide despite loads of buildings holding their own records detailing:

  • the creation of reserves, reservations,
  • the breakup of families and the creation of residential schools to break the cultures and assimilate them,
  • the demand to manage virtually every aspect of life on those reserves and reservations.

The most the average citizen learned about Indigenous people amounts to pemmican recipes, tipi making, and how they caused great harm to the poor besieged settlers on their land.  This is just fact, and in truth, because of that even many of the Indigenous peoples have yet to learn their own histories.

So, it is in these cases, that we can say to people:  we understand. We can’t condemn someone for racism unless they are informed and educated about the point of issue.  To be sure, there has been a lot of informing going on and the aid of social media has been helpful in spreading the news even faster.  There have been a good number of successful inroads because of this, but make no mistake, there is still a huge amount of ground to cover in North America.

For those informed and educated, but still insist on the old beliefs, I suppose the notion of change itself is even harder to embrace.  There’s not much that can be done about that by us, but for all the rest, the truth of the words by slave abolitionist, William Wilberforce stands in this as much as all inhumanity:

“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say that you didn’t know.”

RL

Thank you, to Mike Wise – Washington Post Sports Writer, for sharing this piece at CSN Washington Post.

Thank you, to my readers who have shared their own experiences and/or views in reply to my previous piece detailing many of the specific arguments,

Cherokee Nation Triples in One Week, & Don’t Call Me a Redskin

We should be impressed with how many people are well versed in Native American culture and history.  It’s been amazing and enlightening to see all kinds of average citizens report and comment so expertly on First Nations and Aboriginal issues lately.  Of course, this post isn’t really about how much is known about Native Americans as much as how deplorably inadequate our education about the culture(s) still is.

The story that has caused all the questionable commentary was the news the U.S. Patent Office revoked the name trademark for football team, the Washington Redskins.  The public response has revealed that a number of people feel immersed enough in Native American culture that they can speak for how Native Americans should or do feel about all kinds of issues.  This includes how to react to the use of a term historically known as racist for the sake of sports team logos and names.

I keep reading things like, as a Native, I’m one of the people who doesn’t really care about this, and so why should anyone else.  I most definitely have feelings about this – I feel hurt, angry, and sometimes surges of the humiliation burn I endured at times throughout my life because I am a Native person. The sting of being called a dirty redskin when I was a child is as piercing now as it was then.

peace is our promiseI’ve read over and over that even if I do care, what I feel is beside the point because there are far more people out there who really matter.  I happen to think it’s the ones who stand against racism and discrimination of any form that matter.  I believe in the ones who say let’s make the world a better place without the cost of that being another human.  I seek those who speak beyond the words that filled so many, too many, of the commentaries like this:

BUT – 90% of the Universe Likes the Name!

“90% of Indians don’t mind the name Redskins.” or sometimes it’s stated as, “90% of Americans like the name”.  These statements refer to the often cited, but academically questioned, National Annenberg Election Survey from 2004. They proudly quote that 90% figure, but that’s 90% of the 768 respondents – 691 people who claimed Native American ancestry, not 90% of all Native Americans. That’s part of why people take exception to this poll.  It also took almost a year to find those 768 respondents, which begs the question, which neighbourhoods were they looking in?

If you want to get technical, according to U.S. Census records for 2004, there were approximately 3,000,000 Native Americans in the U.S. then.  The number needed to statistically represent 90% of Natives (with a 3% +/- error margin) would’ve had to have been at least 1,100 people  – preferably Native Americans who live within the culture, or are well-versed in it.

There is a constantly ignored October 2013 SurveyUSA poll that showed 59% of 500 non-Native American Washington DC residents thought the name was offensive.  79% of them didn’t think changing the name would make them think less of the team.

There was something else I noticed in the comments and that was how many Native American relatives we all have. If the number of self-identified part-Native Americans claiming not to have a problem with the name is true, then Native Americans must really represent close to a third of the overall U.S. population. For sure the Cherokee nation’s population has got to have tripled in the last week.

There is tremendous debate as to the truth of the word’s offensiveness.  This is where the vast in-depth knowledge of Native American history appears most in the comments.  The origin of the word is debated to the nth degree with disagreement about the word being born of racism.  Therefore, no racist beginning, no problem.

Origin is not the point

 noun: etymology
  1. the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.   The origin of a word and the historical development of its meaning.
plural noun: etymologies

A paper by Ives Goddard is often cited as incontrovertible proof that the word did not begin as a slur because he cites English and French notes from 17th-19th century journals where they note a chief and some tribal members called themselves red people. First Nations are hundreds of cultures. Some people take exception to those notes because Native historians  – as in the Native peoples themselves – did not record their history in the same way, and most do not historically refer to themselves as red people, let alone redskins.  In any case, the paper does acknowledge the term evolved into a slur, or “obloquy”.

Next, victoriously trotted out are exceptions to the view that most Native Americans are offended and why they shouldn’t be:

  • The first Redskins coach was Native – Disputed as someone who took on a Sioux identity to escape the draft. He also did not name the team.
  • The team was honoring that coach and four Indian players – disputed by redskins owner in a 1933 interview with the Hartford Courant.
  • The Natives have always been proud of these honors – it was Natives who started the trademark revocation in 1992, but overall objections to the name began in the 1950s.
  • Many school teams, even Native ones, call themselves redskins and are damned proud of it.  Most are forgetting when those schools were originally named and by whom, but even so, self identification to claim the name is not the same thing.
  • Oklahoma is Native named and is Choctow for ‘Red People’.  Actually, ˆ“Ogla-ut-homma”, has a different etymology. In the Choctaw language “Homma,” can mean rust, brown, tan, or red. Oklahoma could easily be translated as ‘tan people.’

This may be interesting debate so far, but what isn’t disputed is that the name evolved into a term that evokes centuries of derision, hatefulness, discrimination, and attempted genocide.  The term is recorded in historical accounts repeatedly calling for the scalps and genitalia of our ancestors. It’s this part of history that most resonates with the people who are offended by the images and names that dehumanize them to a cartooned existence, i.e. redskins.

Despite that, the reasons given to keep the name run the gamut from derision to the absurd; Natives and white liberals are just whiners and choosing to be victimized. There is simple ignorance of the issue to blaming Obama, who apparently is in need of another distraction.  Some people are very concerned about the expenses this could cost teams if they have to re-tool names or images.  Some people want to cling to tradition, eagerly willing to overlook the horrific and bloody history associated with the term.

Coming to terms with the idea of change can be hard, and for some people, very hard.  Changing something that is eight decades along is even seen as dishonoring “tradition”.  However, if a tradition is based in the highly questionable honor of documentable racism, the time for change is long overdue.

Banning racist slurs may not change everything, but words do have power and standing against words that caused so much damage is the beginning of the end of discriminations, and it says, yes, we do matter.

Besides, there are already cases to show that it can be done without irreparable loss.

  • The University of Utah Redskins became Utah Utes in 1972.
  • The Miami University (of Ohio) Redskins became the RedHawks in 1997.
  • The Southern Nazarene University Redskins became the Crimson Storm in 1998.
  • To date, there were more than 3,000 American Indian mascots and names used in school K-12 athletic programs; more than two-thirds of those have been changed.

Still don’t think any racism underlies the word?  Then why do you suppose that in every single one of those comments – all those stridently opposed to change and steadfastly insistent that the term redskins is really an honor – why did none of them refer to Native Americans as redskins? Not a single one.

RL

Some may have noticed I didn’t capitalize the term in some areas. I did that in order to reflect how that term changes tone even with a simple adjustment of a letter.  I doubt the irony of that was missed by even the most ardent slur defender.

Updated July 7, 2014 Washington Redskins PR Hire is a good idea for Native Americans:   2006 Ben Tribbett Proves Washington Team Name Is Slur, 2014 Ben Tribbett Paid To Defend It
Updated June 29, 2014 to include the Oklahoma reference increasingly cited as self-description for entire Native American nations. With thanks for the information provided by Paula Starr,  Executive Director at Southern California Indian Center.