The Whole Redskins Name Change Thing
For years now, I’ve been hearing about the lawsuits filed by Native Americans claiming that the Washington NFL team’s nickname is racist and demeaning and offensive and needs to be changed. College programs from all around the country have changed their school nicknames under the threat of litigation for fear of offending a segment of the population. Certain writers have elevated this outrage to a histrionic degree. I have to admit, I’m a little confused about the whole thing.OK, so if I called an individual of Native American descent a Redskin, I agree that it could be an offensive term. If I indeed meant it as an insult, and he took it as one, then I have offended. If I were to call an African American a nigger, then I agree it could be an offensive term. In both cases, the intent has a lot to do with it. Were I to use either disparaging term to someone I didn’t know, of course I am being offensive. If, on the other hand, I use the term as a jest, sign of respect, or other means, then it might not be offensive. The person so referred would have to make that judgment. If my friend took offense, I would have to apologize.
However, every day we see and hear people use these supposedly disparaging terms in an entirely different way. Hip-hop music demonstrates that the term “nigga” is often used amongst friends, in some cases even as a sign of respect. The Washington Redskins are clearly not trying to make fun of American Indians. This is a people, or rather a large and diverse group of peoples, that European settlers robbed, murdered, and nearly wiped out of existence. So, after a few hundred years of genocide and exile, if we stop referring to a sports team by a term once considered offensive to a small group of people, then all is forgiven? Is the Native American plight really just that they can’t stand having mascots named after them?
Words only have power if it is given to them. If we decide that Milk is now an offensive term for white people, should a white person be offended when referred to as Milk? Why? Or conversely, why not? If I intend to offend you, I could use any word, provided my derision is clear. If you wish to be offended, then anything I say to you will be offensive. When I think of the term Redskin, I think of pride, valor, and a warrior’s spirit, not to mention 8-8 seasons and crushing losses to horrible teams (see: 2008 Rams and/or 49ers). And really, Redskin? That’s soul-crushingly humiliating? That’s the worst insult imaginable? If someone called me Whiteskin, I would have to laugh. No, don’t call me Brownhair! That’s demeaning!
The whole controversy is, in my opinion, stupid and wearying.