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I'm looking at you, Washington NFL Franchise.
I'm looking at you, Johnny Depp painted up to pretend to be a Native American who runs around, acting ridiculous.

I want you to take a moment and imagine either of these two things portrayed about anyone else.

Would you name a football team the Washington N-words?   Johnny, I love you in so many films, but if someone asked you to wear black face for a role, wouldn't you say "WTH?"

And yet, it seems as though in some weird world, here in 2013, mocking and making fun of Native Americans still has no negative backlash.

I will say openly, I am not Native American.  I grew up in a community that had a proud history of being founded by the Osage Indians, a city that grew and, at the insistence of family members, a museum and events were formed to honor the Osage who presented a "pageant" of events in our community many years ago.

I cannot, nor will I, pretend to understand the pain and hatred that goes into being mocked for being a Native American.   But like most people, there has come a time in my life that people have used words, phrases, etc. to denigrate me or those around me, and I understand that words not only sting, they help define the way we think about ourselves and others.

For this reason, I'm a bit aghast that this summer, one of the big blockbuster films, from Disney of all sources, is spending so much time in it's trailers and other media showing off their "funny" painted Johnny Depp as Tonto, playing into all the trope and stereotypes that we wish was no longer a part of our culture.

I guess there were no actual Native Americans who could act.   I hope there were no Native Americans who were OK with degrading themselves to a film with the goofball direction that goes on here.

I'm OK with films taking a comic appeal to an aside; and if Johny Depp wearing a painted face was the only time Native Americans were being mocked in our society, I would shrug and say "we all get poked fun of now and again, maybe it's a bad joke, but.."  But what makes this film harder to swallow is that right now, heading into summer camp, there is an NFL team that despite years of opposition keeps and maintains the name: The Washington Redskins.

Grantland.Com recently did a deep look at this problem, and it is still baffling to me why no movement can be made on what should be simple.

   "We'll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites."

    —George Preston Marshall; founder of the Washington Redskins, 1961

    "We'll never change the name. It's that simple. NEVER — you can use caps."

    —Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, 2013

I wish I could cover the past sins of the Washington NFL team, but it is best summed up in a series of excerpts from the Washington Post, years ago:

For the 24 years when he was identified as the leading racist in the NFL, he simply stared down the criticism of his refusal to sign a black player. It was the only subject on which the voluble Marshall never expressed a public opinion, never resorted to a quip. But he bristled when this columnist reminded him in print that "the Redskins colors are burundy, gold and Caucasian."

He caved in, finally, when Interior Secretary Stewart Udall issued an ultimatum: Sign a black player or be denied use of the new 54,000-seat D.C. Stadium (later renamed RFK) that the government had paid for, and to hell with the 30-year lease Marshall had signed.

Some argued that Marshall's anti-black policy was grounded more in commerce than in prejudice. Marshall had brought his football team to Washington with a plan to make the Redskins "the South's team." To that end, he established a network of radio stations in Southern cities and towns to carry the games, and he directed his coaches to draft players mostly from Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Texas colleges. They did, and the team became the Confederates of the NFL. One original line in the Redskins' fight song went, "Fight for Old Dixie," before it was revised to "Fight for Old D.C."
Sitting in DC, making their game in RFK Stadium, sits a team that goes unnamed.. or listed only as "Washington" in all the major newspapers in America, papers that are rightfully ashamed to list the name that their owner steadfast refuses to change.

Senators and house members have tried to make the NFL .. and Snyder listen to reason, but to little avail.

Del. Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) on Tuesday said the use of the name "Redskins" for Washington's football team is offensive to American Indians as the "N" word is to African-Americans.

"The use of the 'R' word is especially harmful to native American youth, tending to lower their sense of dignity and self-esteem," American Samoa's delegate to Congress said on the House floor. "It also diminishes feelings of community worth among native American tribes and dampens the aspirations of their people.


But he said the NFL continues to ignore these requests. Several House members recently sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on the issue, but Faleomavaega said Goodell wrote back saying the intent was never to harm American Indians.

Goodell also argued that the Redskins name has a positive meaning, an argument Faleomavaega said was made in a "dismissive manner." The delegate also took a shot at Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who has said he would never change the name.

"Such arrogance is wholly inconsistent with the National Football League's diversity policy, which states, 'Diversity is critically important to the NFL. It is a cultural and organizational imperative about dignity, respect, inclusion and opportunity,' " Faleomavaega said.

Grantland, though, finally nails the problem that haunts not just the Washington NFL team, but this summer's Lone Ranger:

Imagine if your team makes the Super Bowl. Instead of glory, I can guarantee two solid weeks of coverage, debate, and questions about why our shared national holiday will be marred by a racial slur. Instead of celebrating the league, your buddy Roger Goodell would be under the hot lights and pressed at every turn about why several media outlets in the D.C.-Metro area refer to your franchise only as "the Washington football team." There would be "Occupy Redskins" protests in the Super Bowl host city. With RG3 comes relevance, and with relevance comes the one thing Roger Goodell loathes more than direct sunlight: political attention. The attention RG3 demands, the heightened profile of the team, and your desire to get a new D.C. stadium all speak to the reason why there is more sunlight than ever on the shame of this name and why the end is assuredly near.
The Washington Team will be in the spotlight this year; the first time in many years thanks to a youth movement that brought in an exciting QB, a lot of media attention and some expectations.   The Lone Ranger is a 200M+ blockbuster tentpole for Disney that will get major advertising push around the country and will open in thousands of theaters to flocking teens.

If these were minor events, teams and movies that would be seen by a very few, maybe we wouldn't pay attention.

But this year in two separate mediums - sports and film - Native Americans will be presented to the world as the mocking visage of the past; a humiliating portrayal that continues the age old prejudices and mockery of how we treat people.

One of these will be in your multiplexes in time to celebrate the birth of our nation.   The other will be outside of our nation's capital.. in a building named after RFK.

Welcome to 2013.

Originally posted to tmservo433 on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 04:34 PM PDT.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges, Native American Netroots, and Community Spotlight.

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