"If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team — even if it had a storied history — that was offending a sizeable group of people, I'd think about changing it[.]"Mr. Davis said the president ought to be focused on other things, challenged him because he hasn't complained about the name of the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team and pointed out that an Associated Press poll last April found four out of five Americans don't see the name of the Washington Redskins as offensive.
. . .
"I don’t want to detract from the wonderful Redskins fans that are here," the president said. "They love their team, and rightly so—even though they've been having a pretty tough time this year. But I think—all these mascots and team names related to Native Americans, Native Americans feel pretty strongly about it. And I don't know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real, legitimate concerns that people have about these things."
Sigh. In America today, anyone who defends the use of "nigger" or "chink" or "spic" or "Raghead" outside a Klan meeting or some other pocket of ignorance and hatred, gets treated like the racist s/he is. Anyone who showed up at a party in blackface and began tap-dancing would be ejected, and not too gently.
If somebody decided to buy the Tennessee Titans and rename them the Nashville N----s, can it be doubted that the outcry would be heard nationwide?
Imagine what would happen if every time Robert Griffin weaved himself 30 yards downfield, the crowd leaped up to shout "Go Kikes!" The outcry would long ago have forced a change. But "Redskins"? That still gets a pass.
"Redskins" is treated differently than all these others. As is redface—adult non-Indians dressing up and delivering tomahawk chops and "Ugh, me big chief" talk. Plenty of places you can still get away with that without raising an eyebrow. Thus, we still have people defending the name of the Washington Redskins and the despicable Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians baseball team and resistant to changing either.
Please read below the fold for more about this infuriating situation.
Most people, we Indians are told, don't find these matters offensive. In fact, we're told—with a straight face—that these names and this mascot (and other caricatured team mascots) actually honor indigenous people. So, we're told, not really asked, what's the problem?
This, in fact, happens to us Indians all the time because so few non-Indian Americans are aware of the impact many common expressions have. We Indians often hear non-Indians describing one of these racist put-downs with a comment such as oh-that's-not-racist. Or I-don't-mean-it-offensively. Thus does "squaw" and "chief" and "off the reservation" or "casino Indian" get used frequently. We try, most of us, patiently to explain what's wrong with these usages, just as we patiently explain why having a football team in the nation's capital still named the "Redskins" in the 21st century is, frankly, grotesque. People's defense of keeping the name makes the offense worse.
Some of those defenders will go to just about any lengths to make their case, including putting a fake chief up like some cigar store Indian to say he has no problem with the name. So it must be okay.
No it isn't. It's racist.
Thankfully, over the past few years, more and more non-Indians have gotten the message in the Washington team's hometown, including writers such as Robert McCartney at the Washington Post earlier this year. There was even a symposium on the issue in D.C. in February. The pressure is on and the president has added some helpful support.
As Ray Halbritter, the leader of the Oneida tribe, told the Associated Press: "When one of the most valuable franchises in the NFL is using a racial epithet, how do you explain that to the children? How do you explain how it makes you feel as a human being?"
That the president has weighed in doesn't mean the change will happen immediately. The National Congress of American Indians has, for decades, sought to get teams to drop the "Redskins" name. It has had considerable success at the college and high school levels. But the resistance, as Davis and the Washington team's owner Dan Snyder have made clear, will continue.
And we should expect the team to trot out a couple more bona fide Indians to say they don't think the name is offensive. That's a trick we've seen used against us quite a few times in the past 400 years.