After insisting that the Washington football team would not change its name, Daniel Snyder, the team’s owner, decided to get warm and fuzzy and send out a personal letter to fans. This, of course, a few days after President Obama entered the fray and raised serious questions as to why the “Washington Redskins” continued to use a name that many people find offensive.
The gist of Snyder’s argument was that the name has been with the team for a long time and many Native Americans do not find the term “redskin” offensive. Apparently recognizing that his arrogant approach to this debate was winning him few friends, he decided to change tactics and come across as an understanding individual who felt that the legacy of the team would be harmed by a name change.
So, let’s try it this way, Mr. Snyder. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the name is not intended to be offensive. Does that really matter? Even if it is the case that some (or even many) Native Americans do not find it offensive, I think that in using a ‘reasonable person standard’ most of us would agree that, at a minimum, the term is archaic and certainly not a compliment to the Native American people.
Names and terms change over periods of time. The term “Negro,” for instance, which was used during much of the 19th and 20th centuries, was perceived as offensive by many African Americans, and ceased to be used as the consciousness of people of African descent within the U.S. changed. Specifically, we discarded the term—except when used in very distinct historical contexts – as we sought to clarify our identity as Black and of African descent.
In this sense, whether the term “redskin” is intended to offend misses the point. Let us be clear: many Native Americans (and their allies) do find the term offensive. But the central point is that the term is not used today in any respect that is in the least bit heroic, positive or an endorsement of the legacy of the First Nations of the Western Hemisphere. That is all that we actually need to know to help us conclude that the time has arrived to change the name of the Washington football team and enter the 21st Century.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the co-author of Solidarity Divided. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.