Why Republicans Protect the "Honor" of Offensive Team Names
By Jeremiah Goulka
Most Republicans don't think so. They defend the name, as they do other Native American-based team names, such as the college football champion Florida State Seminoles, calling them tokens of "honor." They claim that the names celebrate a "heritage" and "tradition" of "bravery" and "warrior-spirit," and they publicly wonder: What's the problem?
The Onion, that fine news source, captured it in one neat, snide sentence: "A new study... confirmed that the name of the Washington Redskins is only offensive if you take any amount of time whatsoever to think about its actual meaning." So what's keeping Republicans from thinking about it?
For one thing, Republicans tend to wear a set of blinders, crafted and actively maintained by the party's functionaries and its media priesthood. They also suffer from mental roadblocks shared by American whites more generally, including a thin, often myth-based “knowledge” about Native Americans. Collectively, all of this blinds Republicans to what it's like to be on the receiving end of power at home and abroad.
That said, the GOP's power brokers know the party is facing a demographic time bomb, so why do they let their media minions form an offensive line to protect the Redskins name? Nationally, the Republicans’ short-term hopes and long-term survival may hinge on whether they can manage to make the party welcoming to non-whites. Yet they proudly wear these blinders, as I once did, continuing to "honor" American Indians--as they never would a team called the Whiteskins, the Brownskins, the Blackskins, or the Yellowskins. Here’s a little breakdown on why.
Again and again, Republicans in the media sound this chord, effectively saying that if there is no intent to harm, then there’s no foul.
Blinder 2: The Messengers
See a common thread here? Democrats. Liberals. Progressives. Minorities. The Left.
The other team.
These messengers could say that the sky is blue, and the natural Republican inclination would be to think that they were lying for partisan gain. The Enemy is relentless, implacable, and vast. It must be stopped.
Blinder 3: The First Amendment Right to Offend
Here's the rhetorical formula: Sure, some people offend others on purpose, and yes they're jerks, but most people don't. It's too bad if you're offended, but what’s important is to protect the constitutional right to offend--because isn't that what the First Amendment is actually all about?
Blinder 4: Feelings are for Sissies
The implication is clear: Feelings are for losers--that is, liberals, those sensitivity-preaching, holier-than-thou, bleeding-heart, sad sacks of emotions. Grow a pair.
To recognize that names matter, however, means recognizing that human experience matters--not just the experiences of approved people, but of all people. Republican ideology is based on protecting its in-group, fighting off solidarity with out-groups, and claiming that success and failure in American life is a moral story of meritocracy alone--to the extent, of course, that government regulations don't get in the way.
As much as Republicans may formulaically say that they care about everyone, the party is scared to death of empathy. It could lead Republicans to get past their false moral narrative and see the many ways that their policies harm minorities, women, and the poor. Empathy could even lead Republicans into embarrassing historical terrain where they might learn that, through germs and violence, whites killed off millions of Indians, and that "Manifest Destiny" is just a marketing catchphrase hiding the fact that the United States broke off from one empire and immediately started its own on this continent. And once they recognize that, they might even start noticing our empire abroad or getting serious about equality at home. Next thing you know, they might start pushing to increase taxes on the rich and funding for Food Stamps or Head Start or Medicaid... Republican Armageddon.
(Art by Michael Darmody, a student at San Juan College.)
Turning against mascots
Goulka doesn't say how it happened, but he apparently went through a conversion from mascot lover to mascot hater.
Even Indians go through this process sometimes. Some of them like or are indifferent to mascots until they experience the harm firsthand.
Here's one Native woman's explanation of why she came to oppose mascots:
Indian Mascots, a Privileged Fight
By Autumn White Eyes
That night was a turning point for me. Why was I so angry? Because she didn’t know. She has no idea know what it’s like to grow up Lakota, or on a reservation where every day can be a struggle to survive. She doesn’t know what it’s like to be around alcoholism, domestic violence, poverty, or rape. It was then that I realized that I wanted people to know it offended me. Their Halloween costumes offended me. Their Indian mascots offended me. Even their fake native jewelry and moccasins offended me.
I searched for the words to describe why the Indian mascot offended me in many different articles I read, both politically correct and empathetic ones. After my research and talking with Preston about his poem, I’ve realized that fighting the Indian Mascot is a privileged fight. It is a battle Natives fight when they are privileged enough to be experiencing life away from their homelands for once. In these environments the Indian mascot is often the predominant representation for Native people. If I had gone to a school closer to home, I would not be writing this reflection; it is likely that I would still feel indifferent towards the mascot. If I hadn’t gone to Dartmouth, I may have been able to focus more on the poverty and domestic violence prevalent in my community. Instead, I am in an environment where many of my peers lack the basic knowledge of who my people are. While I didn’t know how to react to their blatant racism, they didn’t know how to respond to my existence.
This is particularly true among conservatives whose attitude is "America, right or wrong!" They refuse to acknowledge the land thefts and massacres that enriched their ancestors.
When Indians are fictional characters to you, you don't take them seriously. You don't "feel their pain," much less the need to do anything about it. Indians are like sick and hungry Third World castoffs--poor creatures that are somebody else's responsibility, not ours.
To paraphrase Goulka, "Americans are scared to death of empathy. It could lead them to get past their false moral narrative and see the many ways that their policies harm minorities, women, and the poor." And that, not just the elimination of mascots, would help Indians tremendously. That's what the mascot fight is really about: getting Americans to realize Indians are real people with real problems.