July 16, 2008

Indians really red-skinned?

Someone named Robert Johnson makes an incredibly stupid claim in a pro-mascot column. I don't know if it's the dumbest claim I've ever heard, but it's in the ballpark.

Redskins:  Racism or Easy Target?It would take a stretch to imagine that the team was intentionally attempting to insult someone else by calling themselves something offensive. There is also room for dispute as to the origin of the term “redskin.” Most believe it is a simple reference to the skin pigmentation of the indigenous people of North America.

Referring to persons in a descriptive term such as “red-skinned” is no more or less racist than saying “Native-American.” Women are often referred to by the description of their hair color (commonly blond, brunette, or redhead), but for some reason, mentioning a naturally occurring skin color is somehow pejorative.
Here's another gem:I would be willing to bet that many of the people who sympathize with Suzan Harjo (the lady who spearheaded all of this nonsense) don’t even realize the hypocrisy that is Suzan Harjo.

At one time, Mrs. Harjo was the producer of a bi-weekly “Native American” radio show called “Seeing Red.” This was obviously a clever turn of the phrase referring to the skin color of her target audience.
Comment:  Re "[F]or some reason, mentioning a naturally occurring skin color is somehow pejorative": This is either a joke or the most ignorant statement in the column. Nobody in the world has blood-red skin. Indians are brown-skinned, not red-skinned.

No word is inherently offensive. A word becomes offensive through use and convention. That applies to "kike," "wop," and "Jap" and it applies to "redskin."

As for Harjo's alleged hypocrisy, guess again, bright boy. "Red" doesn't refer to skin color, since Indians are brown-skinned, not red-skinned. It refers to a color that's become associated with Indians through (stereotypical) use and convention. Environmentalists are labeled green and Indians are labeled red regardless of their actual skin color.

Why is "redskin" considered offensive but not "red"? I dunno...why is "jungle bunny" considered offensive but not "bunny"? Why is "spade" considered offensive but not "heart," "diamond," or "club"?

Because it's arbitrary, that's why. Repeat: No word is inherently offensive. A word becomes offensive through use and convention. It happened to "redskin" but it hasn't happened to "red." (But I think Indians are beginning to use "red" less often because they realize it sounds stereotypical.)

I explained all this in my comments on Red Ink magazine. Read them again and enlighten yourself.

As for the alleged intent, the issue isn't whether the Washington team intended to offend Indians. Most people don't intend to offend others with their racist ignorance (e.g., claiming Indians are naturally colored red). The issue is whether Indians are offended regardless of the team's intent.

For more on the subject, see Red·skin n.  Dated, Offensive, Taboo.

Below:  A stereotypical redskin and two real Indians. See any resemblance?


Anonymous said...

indian are RED , get over it!red as in copper,okay i know many indianswho call themselves redskin ,its like how blacks call each other the n word.

Rob said...

When people say Indians are "copper-skinned," they usually mean it poetically, not literally. I've seen thousands of Indians and they've all been brown, not red.

A few Indians may have copper-colored skin, since "copper" is equivalent to "brown with pinkish undertones." But that's no truer of Indians than it is of any other brown-skinned people.

Let me reiterate that: Indian skin tones are no redder than any other people's skin tones. Period.

If you disagree, post links to images of Indians with reddish skin. Good luck finding them...you'll need it.

Conny said...

"A stereotypical redskin and two real Indians. See any resemblance?"

The real guys look much better! :)

Anonymous said...

hey guys I am an Indian from Montana and I have very red toned skin not blood red but red enough to call red at times more so then other times of the year and also most of my family does. We can be browner toned or paler toned more pink but ya some Indians do have a red toned skin. This may be do to some Scottish and French in the Family also. Thanks for listening