Just as important, they aren't relying solely on emotional appeals to make their case. They're hitting on all cylinders now--challenging the bogus arguments about "honor" and polls and "more important things to worry about."
Would You Call Me a Redsk*n to My Face?
By Brian Cladoosby
President, National Congress of American Indians; Chairman, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community
"Redsk*n" Doesn't Honor Anyone
There is nothing honorable about the word. Native peoples are not honored by the slur, the image, or the mockery of "war dances" on the sidelines.
The word isn't a benign classification of a person's skin tone. Not only is it a term that has been uttered with scorn and hatred, it also refers to the literal "red skin" bounty hunters would collect in order to be paid for the number of Natives they slaughtered. These men would kill Native people then rip the skin from their bodies in order to receive payment. It isn't a term that honors the "strength, courage, pride, and respect" so many argue it does. It is a term born of the violence Native Americans have been experiencing for hundreds of years.
Use of the word is recognized as racist in many scenarios: if one child called another child a "redsk*n," it would be bullying; if one adult referred to another as a "redski*n" at work, it would be harassment; if "redsk*n" was used in the course of a crime or scrawled on someone's home, the perpetrator would be charged with a hate crime. Most readers probably would never consider calling a Native American a "redsk*n to their face. Yet, the name is defended because it is the name of a football team.
Team Spirit Is More Than A Name
Longtime supporters of the DC team often recount memories of cheering for the team with family members, singing the fight song, and being proud of their home team. In his letter to fans, team owner Dan Snyder argued that those traditions and early experiences are part of his identity: "it mattered so much to me as a child, and I know it matters to every other Redsk*ns fan in the D.C. area and across the nation. Our past isn't just where we came from--it's who we are."
But is it team spirit, sportsmanship, enjoyment of the game, and cheering for the home team that matter, or is all that secondary to the name itself? More and more fans are coming to the realization that memories, traditions, and identity are not so fleeting as to be marred by using a different name.
One avid fan wrote of her fond childhood memories of the DC team and of becoming a fan while a young child in El Salvador before coming to the United States. She has loved the team longer than she has been an American. Yet, when she faced the real offense felt by many Native people and the fact that no other racial group would be forced to endure a team name that denigrated their identity, she came to the obvious conclusion--tradition or not, the name has to go.
About Those Polls
Defenders of the name frequently refer to laughably unscientific polls that say Native Americans are not offended by the name. Of the many problems with the methodology of these polls, the most egregious is that at no time were respondents asked any details about their Native heritage. No questions were asked about tribal citizenship/membership, about cultural knowledge, or about connections to tribal lands or families. It is entirely unclear exactly who was polled or whether they are, in fact, tribal citizens.
During NCAI's 70th Annual Convention and Marketplace in mid-October, thousands of elected tribal leaders and Native peoples representing hundreds of Native nations, gathered to work for a better future for our tribal nations and the United States. A resolution was passed unanimously "Commending Efforts to Eliminate Racist Stereotypes in Sports" to publicly declare the support of tribal nations in the work to end this era of racism in sports. This is all the evidence necessary to know that Native peoples, raised in and living with their own traditions, find these types of mascots disparaging.
The numbers are clear: Native peoples want the name to change. Those asking for a change are not a small minority. From all walks of life and across the political spectrum--from the president to NFL hall of famers and fans--there is public acknowledgement that the name needs to go.
"More Important" Things To Worry About
As so many have pointed out, the Native American community does have problems other than the names of sports teams. Poverty is rampant in Indian Country. Sexual assault is a daily problem for men and women--and nearly 70 percent of the aggressors in these attacks are non-Native. The Indian Child Welfare Act is ignored and Native children continue to be separated from their families. Elected tribal leaders consistently strive to make changes for their people as do the elected leaders of other communities across the country.
These issues are usually ignored by the media and policymakers. Threaten a football team's name, though, and these problems are used to deflect and trivialize the use of stereotypes and racism. Mocking Native cultures is not trivial. Ending the casual use of racism is important.
It is also important that this debate over mascots and names continue to open doors to conversations that introduce Washingtonians and the American people to the 5.2 million Native peoples in America today. Our peoples face daily problems and have always made positive contributions to American society: as governments and business leaders, veterans, first responders, elected officials, entertainers and sportspeople--not just as caricatures on a team logo. This debate isn't an opportunity to defend racism by pointing to "bigger problems," it is an opportunity to confront racism by creating awareness and better understanding about this problem.
By Ray Halbritter
The first answer to that question is simple: If, as critics contend, a professional team's name isn't all that important, then why do they so vehemently resist the call for change? The answer, I fear, is that those who are so committed to using this name believe they are entitled to continue slandering us.
The second answer to the question relates to the significance of professional football. The NFL is arguably the country's single most powerful cultural force. In light of that, it is fair to say that for many Americans, their most explicit contact with the idea of Native American culture is the Washington team's racist name. Indeed, on TV screens every week, millions are told that we are not fellow Americans, but instead subhuman. Pretending that's somehow not important is dishonest, especially when social science research shows that such persecution has destructive public health consequences.
The third answer to the question about why this is such an important issue has to do with the definition of America itself.
Those who defend the use of the word "Redskins" present themselves as the sole arbiters of what is acceptable. They present themselves that way because those engineering the racial assaults–rather than the targets of such assaults–have always claimed supremacy. People like Washington team owner Dan Snyder insist that their supposed right to target, intimidate and persecute people inherently negates the right of others to be free of such persecution.
The fight to change Washington's team name, then, is a larger fight to declare that America will finally put the ideals of mutual respect before those who want to slander others on the basis of their alleged skin color.
Such mutual respect, of course, requires the willingness to see the world through others' eyes. It requires, in other words, a society that values empathy more than hate. In such a country, no group deserves to have as powerful an organization as the NFL treat them as a target of a racial slur. As this country's first people, we deserve simply to be treated as what we are: Americans.
By Gyasi Ross
Author; attorney; member of the Blackfeet Nation
But that shouldn't be the test--Native people shouldn't be forced to choose between living or racial discrimination. "Clean air or school lunches." "Be alive or don't be discriminated against in a way that no other racial group is in the United States."
Those are false binaries.
See, as I pretty exhaustively laid out in a recent piece at Deadspin, whether or not a person supports Dan Snyder's absolute free speech right to name his team whichever racial epithet he chooses, the empirical, indisputable fact is that Natives are treated differently than any other racial group in America. That is a matter of public record. It's also easy to prove; simply put in other skin colors for "Redskin" and see if it would be an acceptable name for a professional team. Blackskin. Yellowskin. Whiteskin.
Wouldn't happen. Disparate treatment.
Therefore, whether a Native is like me--I don't subjectively feel offense at the word "Redskins," and I generally think that it's a topic of privilege--or not, is beside the point. The Redskins political debate is not whether one or many Natives feel subjectively offended, but why non-Natives objectively feel comfortable treating Natives differently than everybody else.
Subjective feelings aren't the point. Objective discrimination is.
By Gale Courey Toensing
There’s an easy solution that would appease those who don’t think the racist slur is an important issue. “All we have to do—all we ever had to do to solve their problem—is to just be quiet, just shut up, just go away, stop being who you are, stop doing your dances and just be good-looking brown people. Wouldn’t that solve all our problems? We wouldn’t have to argue with them anymore, we wouldn’t have to take on the NFL, the wealthiest franchise in the world.” But that’s an impossible solution because of the values that indigenous peoples are taught. “The world has always underestimates a people’s belief in themselves—we call it a fire in yourself, a fire that doesn’t die. That’s what we’re taught. We’re taught to look forward to the seventh generation. Everything we do is really for our children and their future.”
Because of Oneida’s hugely successful Change the Mascot campaign, the “redskins” issue is has been widely reported in the mainstream media—“finally for the right reason,” Halbritter said. People across the country have had their consciousness raised and are asking questions. Halbritter himself posed a question: “Why in the 21st century is this racist epithet still being used to market professional football team that is supposed to represent the capitol of a diverse, tolerant nation?”
He urged the tribal leaders and attendees to seize the moment to press the issue forward. “This is a moment to say that we will not be treated as a racial slur. We want to be treated as what we are, Americans,” Halbritter said.
The MHA Nation passed a resolution on Oct. 10 titled “Rename the Washington Redskins,” wrote a letter to the editor about the issue—it appeared in Saturday’s newspaper (Page A6)—and The Press interviewed chairman Tex Hall about the topic for a story that appears on the front page of our Sports section today.
“Our tribe’s position is that ‘Redskins’ is derogatory,” Hall states in the article. “It came from taking scalps and taking bounty.”
Comment: Gyasi Ross reiterates a key point that I've made before. Namely, that polls attempting to measure the subjective feelings of offense are flawed. One can not feel offended personally yet still think the name should change. Because, as Ross says, it's an objective example of racism--of discriminating against Natives and only Natives.