I cannot let a football season open without raising the question of the names of sports teams generally and the Washington “Redskins” in particular. I continue to be absolutely amazed at the resistance on the part of team owners to changing the names of these teams, but also the tolerance by so many fans of these racist names.
I have to pick on the Washington Redskins both because I was once a fan of the team and also because I live in the D.C.-area and have watched this situation close-up. As I raised in a column a few months ago, a poll was released this spring that indicated that most fans wanted to leave the name of the team as it is, despite the fact that it insults Native Americans. For some this was seen as the end of the discussion because it appeared to vindicate the position taken by the team’s owners.
Let’s flip the script for a moment and consider the problem from a different vantage point. It would be worth looking at polls that were taken in the South during the early 1960s to ascertain the level of White support for the continuation of Jim Crow segregation. The mere fact that a majority of people favor or do not favor something does not automatically settle an argument. Rather, it serves as a barometer, telling us about where people stand today but it does not necessarily tell us anything about the morally correct position.
It is unclear why it needs repeating—especially to African Americans—that the preponderance of opinion among Native American indicates that terms, such as “redskins,” are racially offensive. This is not about intent any more than a White person calling one of us a “nigger” should be judged based on intent. The word is so patently offensive that, used by someone of another racial or ethnic group against us, it serves as an act of aggression. Someone can stand before us and tell us that they love us, but were they to name a team the “Kansas City Niggers,” there would not be enough love and sincerity in the world to override our objections.
So, why is it any different for Native Americans? Why do we have to keep going through this silly argument when the morally correct position is clear? Why should it matter whether the team will need to create a new image? That should not concern us any more than we would have been concerned about the work involved in removing “Negro Only” or “White Only” signs from public institutions 40 years ago. It is what needed to be done 40 years ago and it is, today, about what must be done.
Send a note to the Washington Redskins owners. Ask them about the last time that they permitted someone to use terms like “nigger” in the offices of the Washington Redskins. If such terms are objectionable, why do they think that “redskins” is any different?
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.