Why the ‘Redskins’ is a Racist Name
By Darren R. Reid
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 It’s not about cherry-picked “facts”, outdated linguistic research, ego-driven pronouncements, or even Original American blood money.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.”
By Gregg Deal
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’.
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.
By Drew Dixon