November 13, 2012

"Redskin" doesn't mean scalping

Redskins Not So Black and White

By Adrian JawortHarjo’s team had previously claimed “redskin” derived from referring to bloody Indian scalps during the onset of the French and Indian War. Particularly cited is England’s 1755 Phips Proclamation, a declaration of war against the non-British allied Penobscot Nation stating:

“…For every Scalp of such Female Indian or Male Indian under the Age of twelve years that Shall be killed and brought in as Evidence of their being killed as aforesaid, Twenty pounds.”

As appalling and emotionally appealing as it is, the Phips Proclamation doesn’t include the words “red skins” in it. Claiming “scalps” automatically means “red skins” is revisionist history, to be blunt. It was the Native Americans who first used the term “red” in order to differentiate between indigenous, white, and black people. When not referring to their individual and other tribes collectively, why would they use Indian, Native, or other adjectives to describe their obvious skin differences back then?

Ives Goddard is a senior linguist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of History. Goddard wrote the book, I am a Redskin: The Adoption of a Native American Expression (1769-1826) and notes the earliest uses of “red skin” were in recorded statements from Natives by the French who generally traded amicably with them. The French were careful to denote the “red” distinction was made by Natives themselves. By the time of the Phips Proclamation, according to Goddard, “red” to describe Natives was used “by both French and English…. Although Europeans sometimes used such expressions among themselves, however, they remained aware of the fact that this was originally and particularly a Native American usage.”

Also citing Goddard in the recent article, “Before the Redskins Were the Redskins: The Use of Native American Team Names in the Formative Era of American Sports, 1857-1944,” Professor of Law and historian J. Gordon Hylton writes about the term, “…throughout the nineteenth century, the term was essentially neutral when used by whites, reflecting neither a particularly positive or particularly negative connotation.”

Even Sitting Bull once remarked, “I am a red man. If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man he would have made me so in the first place.”

Regardless, over the years, the scalp-equals-redskin theory has gained traction as well-meaning people took Harjo’s word on the matter as fact—including ICTMN.
Comment:  Jawort's main point--that "redskin" doesn't come from scalping--may be true. But he glides over two other important points.

1) "Red"--as in "the Indian had red skin"--isn't the same as "redskin." Most Indians don't consider "red" offensive, although it's fallen somewhat out of favor because it's inaccurate. Indians don't have red skin.

2) If "redskin" was originally neutral, it's become derogatory over the years. Its origin doesn't have anything to do with its evolution into an insult.

For more on Redskins as a sports team name, see Campaign Against Nepean Redskins and Kansas City Star Won't Use Redskins. For more on the word's origin, see The Origin of "Redskin."


Anonymous said...

Hey Rob! Like your blog. Anyway I wad the authorbig this and I do agree with your point that the term had evolved into something derogatory and has been. Next to the line about saying something about 'whites saying Redskins with condenscension,' I originally put "and if blacks don't like to be called colored or Negro, then we must respect that too." but it was edited for brevity sake.

Personally, I'm neutral. on the subject but I couldn't in good conscience let natives take what seems to be a stretched truth as fact--especially when it's supposedly the cornerstone of what wouldve been a Supreme Court argument. It doesn't serve us Natives to revise history to suit our polical agenda matter how noble we deem the cause because then we can't be taken seriously when called on it.

Anonymous said...

Darn touch screen phones!