The Name Game: Race and the Washington Redskins

“I’d ask him [owner of the NFL Washington Redskins], ‘Would you dare call me a redskin, right here, to my face?’ ” she says. “And I suspect that, no, he would not do that.”

That’s what Amanda Blackhorse, a Navajo woman who is a named plaintiff in the case against the Washington Redskins, one that asks that they be stripped of their trademark rights, something that could cost the NFL team a lot of money.

You can read about her story here. [USA Today]

Now, various members of the Washington team and staff have suggested that this case is just another instance of a team being marred by “political correctness” and that Native Americans who find offense should just “get over it.”

I was particularly taken aback by Washington’s star quarterback Robert Griffin III, an African-American, who said specifically, “In a land of freedom we are held hostage by the tyranny of political correctness…” Mr. Griffin, I implore you to look at this from your own perspective. If the team’s name reflected a racial slur against black people, and you know which word I’m thinking of, would we be living under the tyranny of political correctness to abolish the use of that team name? [Indian Country Today News Network]

Mr. Griffin, I’m sure your grandparents, their grandparents, and there on, would agree that something as simple as eradicating such nonchalant use of a racial slur to be empowering and just plain right.

I commend the mayor of Washington for seeing that this team name, and the unwillingness of the team owner to change the name, as plain wrong. Mayor Vincent Gray stands firm on not calling the team by their name. A stance I am incredibly supportive of.

When I was working for the Buffalo Bills as a media relations assistant, I traveled with the team for the Bills Toronto series. That year, of all teams, we were to face off against Washington. Now, I don’t know how effective my strategy was in the grand scheme of things, but I made sure that every single thing I wrote about Washington did NOT include their team name. This was hard considering 50% of the job was to write things that were said in press conferences verbatim, but in the little bit that I did have autonomy over, you would not see the R-word present.

Yes, the team is a privately owned corporation and they are well within their “rights” to keep the name undermine an entire group of already oppressed people. But here’s my opinion on what this all means.

No. We cannot force Dan Snyder, the owner of the team, to change his mind. But we can try to hit him where it hurts people like him – in the wallet.

We can use this fight to educate people on the real issues that surround the use of this name. A socially accepted racial slur only creates this ambiguity around who real Natives are and what real Natives do. The free reign over a racial slur gives people the idea that we’re a dying society, we are up for fantasizing and interpretation.

This Washington team name gives credence to the ignorant who insist on whooping and hollering (or “chanting”) incoherencies that have nothing to do with any particular native nation. These people believe it is how “the indian” acts because this is their exposure to “indianness.”

I do not whoop. I do not holler, indeed I rarely raise my voice. I do not wear war paint, and no, my eye shadow and mascara does not count as such. I have never worn a headdress because it is not the Seneca way, nor could I because I am not a Lakota Chief. And if anyone in their right mind had the nerve to call me a “squaw,” hell hath no fury like a pissed off, well-educated, extremely proud Native woman.

It wasn’t until I got to college and started meeting people outside of my inner circle that I began to see the proliferation of racial bigotry and cultural appropriation. Sorority sisters wearing a headband and allowing their boyfriends to be cowboys (holding a gun to their head – that’s a whole other blog post), and turning traditional Plains tribes’ dwellings into children’s imaginary play places where they think they are being “Indians.”

There are a lot of social implications that come with Snyder’s reluctance to change the Washington team name. Why should he? He makes plenty of money and most importantly, as a rich, straight, white male – he has never known what it is truly like to be oppressed in this country. Because he does not know, he does not care. This lack of empathy from someone who has ALL OF THE RESOURCES TO CHANGE THIS WORLD but could not possibly care less… this is what makes me question humanity sometimes.

I commend the people fighting for this and I can only help (for now) as far as this blog post and to keep up-to-date on court proceedings and internet articles. They are actively working for the respect and the dignity of American Indian people and I believe they’ve taken great strides in doing so.

I’m proud of the organizations that understand just how ridiculous it is to have a mascot reflect a very narrow understanding of Native Americans. My own current college, St. Bonaventure, changed the team name from the Brown Indians to the Bonnies, and changed the Indian head logo to a wolf. Today, people are extremely proud to be a Bonnie if you talk to an alumni. I don’t think a single one of them are upset with the fact that they aren’t a “Brown Indian.”

What do you think about the controversy surrounding the name of the Washington Redskins? Tell me your thoughts.

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One thought on “The Name Game: Race and the Washington Redskins

  1. Pingback: A Friday Eve Brain Dump | No Apologies

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