September 01, 2014

"Redskins" = Pan-Indian romanticism

Some thought pieces identify various problems with the Redskins name:

Why the ‘Redskins’ is a Racist Name

By Darren R. ReidWe should remember that there is a phenomenal amount of variety in the physical form and that many Native Americans do not fit the stereotypical portrait that is often used to depict them. Like the use of the phrase ‘Redskins’, [the logo] helps to impose upon a broad and varied group a type of physical ideal which, for a variety of reasons, can be damaging to those who do not match it. That might sound like a comparatively trivial point but consider that the logo fits into a broader pattern of non-Indians defining what it is to be an Indian, both in physical and cultural terms. That logo is a stereotype, an outsider’s imaginary idealisation of the physical attributes that came to mind when they were tasked with its creation. By perpetuating that logo, those ideas are being disseminated, passed on to others in such a way as they become an ingrained part of our cultural dialogue. It is not that the designer of that logo was responsible for the creation of the stereotype, but they did help to perpetuate it. The logo must be seen in the context of those fans who wear a sort of approximation of Plains Indian dress when they support their team. That dress, even if accurate, is not a toy for non-Indians to play with. Native Americans should use or not use that type of clothing as they see fit; they should define themselves, or not define themselves, through dress as they deem appropriate. It is not up to non-Indians to define an idealised image of what it is to a Native American. When Ted Nugent said that he was ‘more Indian than most Indians’ he was telling us much, much more about how some non-Indians view Native Americans than what it is to actually be a Native American. He was measuring himself against an imaginary yardstick, defined and perpetuated by outsiders for outsiders. Hunting with a bow and arrow does not make one more or less Indian, but by declaring that to be a relevant measure he was saying that, in his view, the idealised Indian is one who can be characterised by male hunters from centuries past, not, say, female activists concerned about how modern racial and gendered imagery impacts their lives and the prospects of their children. We should remember that race is not really about skin colour. It’s about power and the one thing that the ‘Redskins’ controversy has shown is that Native Americans have little of it compared to those people who would impose their view of what it is to be an Indian upon the world. Many Native Americans have protested vehemently against the name in the past few years but they cannot force a change on those people who are unwilling to let the name go.The Offensive Line

By KHLWe’re having the wrong conversation.

You may be forgiven for thinking that discourse surrounding the Washington DC football team is about mascots, but it isn’t. Not solely. This is not merely about a team’s name or its owner’s right to trademark it. It’s not about cherry-picked “facts”, outdated linguistic research, ego-driven pronouncements, or even Original American blood money. This is about structural violence. This is about racism and inequality, forced assimilation and cultural appropriation. This is about how images and words function as weapons of degradation within the real lives of Native people. This is about the ability to claim one’s own identity without it being negated and invalidated at every turn. This about staring down the barrel of genocide and surviving.

Ultimately, this is about a very complex system of events coalescing around loss. Loss of land and of language, loss of kinship and culture, loss of agency and sense of self. Loss of the right to say who we are and who we are destined to be. For successive generations, depictions not unlike those found at the center of the mascot debate have defined our people to the non-Indian world. We are continuously re-imagined by forces over which we not only lack control but over which we are denied control. And every diminution and act of microaggression, whether by lampoon or cultural theft, exacerbates the experience of historic trauma. They are daily papercuts that over time become gaping wounds whose flow of blood is slow to stem. And in terms of the health and wellness of our people, we are hemorrhaging.

No, this goes way beyond offense. The contumacy and hubris of Snyder, the NFL, and team supporters continues an historical pattern of sublimating the indigenous voice and its priorities. These entities assume an incontrovertible authority to tell Native people what should or should not define us, what we should or should not hold sacred, and that we must accept their slurs as honor not because they say it is so. Ultimately, they take from us the sovereign right to identify ourselves and our human potential, commodifying our images, our cultures, and our personhood. (And profiting nicely, too.) With all respect, it is not for non-Natives to tell us what we should think about these things. That is for us to determine. Genocide and the deep scars of colonization are not something you “get over.”
No, no, it’s Cooley.

By Gregg DealIdentity: Through reiteration in media, film, and pop culture, the identity of indigenous people does not belong to indigenous people, it belongs to those who have the power to create and shape it. The immediately recognizable stereotype has a specific look and feel (i.e. skin color, nose shape, stoic face, headdress) because this is what has been peddled to the American Masses since first contact. The need for a monolithic Pan-Indian feeds into the fetishization of Native Americans, specifically as it pertains to Romantic Nationalism. It neatly places all 566 tribes (there are and have been way more than that in this country’s history, by the way) into a single immutable image. The problem is, that’s not reality. And it is for this reason indigenous people are often met with statements like “You don’t look indian” and “do you live in a tipi” or a simple raising of the hand with the simple statement of “how”. While you may read that last statement as an exaggeration, I assure you it is not. Every Native person has heard this many times, and will likely continue to hear it, which takes me to the next point.

Institutionalized racism: Because of the aforementioned Pan-Indian and romanticism of Indigenous people, there has been a constant and ingrained slight towards Native people from the very beginning. Starting with the Mayflower, colonial settlers saw the Indians as inferior. That notion, fueled by thoughts of racial superiority, initiated years of genocide, decimation of cultures, and land theft. Under the banner of Manifest Destiny, Native people have been framed as impediments at best and subhuman at worst. Fast forward 500 years, it’s not hard to understand why the average American is so dismissive towards Native peoples. There has never been any reconciliation of this war of cultural imperialism. The history and culture of Native people is virtually unknown by most and is generally not taught or thought of as American history. Instead, we’re offered an ‘us and them’ proposition, isolating indigenous people from the rest of America. In discussing the civil rights movement of the 60’s and 70’s, there is little to no mention of the massive efforts and significant movements of Native people. Most think we simply disappeared or were absorbed into the American national fabric. When information is available, it is usually based on stereotypes, and presented with a dismissiveness and nostalgia rooted in romantic nationalism. America; land of the free, home of the brave! Not surprisingly, people are legitimately shocked when they hear that Indians are offended by the term ‘Redskins’.
Interchangeable Indians: Consent, Context, and the Contested ImageAmerican Indians simply don’t control the ownership and use of their own images as ridiculous as this sounds (and as it is). Any expression of Indianness that falls outside of the accepted stereotype is immediately subject to invalidation and critique. It is also the case that non-Natives reserve for themselves the right to adjudicate what and who is sufficiently Native and who is not. America feels that we must accept their words simply because they say them, never mind our realities.

Consider the debate about the Washington DC football team. Every opinion is considered valid except for the opinion of the people the issue directly concerns. Don’t like what they say? These days you can purchase the dignity of entire tribes with just a few dollars of Original American blood money and use them (as the team did in its propaganda video, “Redskin is a Powerful Word”) to justify a billionaire’s unjustifiable recalcitrance. Exploiting poor people. Sounds legit, right? In fact, should you express any opinion as a Native person that counters the expectation that’s been forced upon you, understand that the first line of critique will be an attack not on the validity of your complaint but rather an assault on your identity. Expect questions like, “how much Indian you are” or considerations of whether or not you are a “real” Indian, that then restrict the authority of your dissent. Native people don’t get to choose the barometer for any of those things; non-Natives do.

America likes its savages to be noble and stoic. Talking back subverts that paradigm and it makes people uncomfortable.
“Redskins” and the Power of Privileged Words

By Drew DixonIn a recent interview with Bill Moyers, Native American novelist and poet, Sherman Alexie said, “at least half the country thinks the mascot issue is insignificant. But I think it’s indicative of the ways in which Indians have no cultural power. We’re still placed in the past.” Calling for terms like “redskin” to fall from modern parlance and advocating for Native Americans are not two separate endeavors, in fact the former is critical to the latter. As long as we refuse to recognize how our words have served to silence the stories of the marginalized, we will continue to abuse them.

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