October 08, 2013

Reasons to change "Redskins"

The rationales for changing the "Redskins" name keep coming. Here's a philosophical one:

“It is a shameful enterprise to root for a team called the Redskins”

The name controversy's gone national (even the president's weighed in), and some fans are calling for a change

By Daniel D'Addario
Whether or not fans of opposing teams are actually depicting native peoples as dead in their hopes to get a win over the Illini, the Braves or the Redskins, they’re still framing them as something less than human. The Redskins play against the Bears, the Lions, the Eagles, the Panthers, the Falcons …

As Chadwick Allen, a professor of English specializing in comparative indigenous literary studies at Ohio State University, noted: “You have native people relegated to the past and made unreal as contemporary citizens. When people hear these names they think of the deeper past, not contemporary people. Other sports teams are named things like the Spartans or animals associated with being aggressive or strong.” Naming football teams after Native Americans in the first place is a way to put them safely where they belong, under the control of white management as surreal figures of fun and fantasy, the exact counterbalance to the Paul Revere-like New England Patriots (and this leaves entirely aside the issue of just how offensive “Redskins” is compared to, say, “Illini”).

“In the imagination of mainstream Americans, they’re still fighting the Indian wars,” said Howe. “They only happen to be on the gridiron.”

Joanna Hearne, professor of English specializing in Native American and indigenous film and media at the University of Missouri, noted that use as team mascots was specific to Native Americans in sports: “No one would do that with an image of Sambo. Over time with protests from Native American communities, and shifts in education and increasing Native access to media and representation, there is consciousness that this is pageantry of colonialization.” In other words, to portray a Native American as a mascot representing athletic talent and, as in the case of the Redskins’ unofficial mascot Chief Zee, comic bonhomie, is a process of erasing the humanity of Native Americans and a specific story of their actual slaughter—per Hearne, “legitimizing title occupation and ownership of land.”
Still fighting the Indian Wars, relegating Indians to the past, putting them under white management, erasing their history and humanity...yes to all this article's arguments. I've said similar things many times. Indian mascots are a symbolic way of keep Indians poor and humble under the white man's thumb.

Polls ask wrong questions

Here's an explanation of why "Redskins" polls are bogus:

Think no one cares about the Redskins' team name? Visit a reservation

Yes, Native Americans feel there are bigger issues in the US than a bad NFL mascot, but that doesn't mean it's not offensive

By Dana Lone Hill
Frankly, that's how many Native Americans feel–that the US has greater problems, especially considering we're currently in the midst of a government shutdown. At one time that was my stance, too. But here's the thing: while many of us don't think it's anywhere near the biggest problem in America today, we would all be offended if anyone ever referred to us as redskins.

If you want to read a thoughtful opinion on the Washington Redskins mascot debate, I recommend Joe Flood's piece on Buzzfeed: "How The Redskins Debate Goes Over On An Actual Indian Reservation." At least he bothered to see what people living on reservations really think of the term (Flood himself lives on my homeland, the Pine Ridge Reservation). He asked many people if the term was offensive and a majority agreed, we have other things to worry about in Indian Country. But when he turned the question around and asked if they would allow someone to call them a redskin, every single one answered no, because it was offensive.

I did my own informal survey and got a variety of answers. Yes. No. It doesn't matter, and the ever so popular "We have more important things to worry about." Yet, when I asked the same question Flood did: "What would you do if someone called you a redskin?" The answer was the same. Everyone thought it was offensive. That's why this mascot debate matters.
Bingo! Someone finally asked the right question. It's not whether the team name bothers Indians in the abstract. Or whether they'd waste time changing the name. It's whether "redskins" is an insult or not on a personal level. And the answer is a unanimous yes, it is.

As I tweeted:#Redskins polls are based on confusion between should they change name, would you change name, does name offend you, & does slur offend you?These are four different questions, if not more. Yet polls treat them as if they're the same and blur the answers.

Let's see what happens when polls ask, "Would you call an Indian a 'redskin' to his or her face?" Until then, they're dodging the issue of whether the name is an ethnic slur.

No comments: