Irradiated by LabRat
So this is, again, late, but this took awhile to finish distilling through the mental filters.
There’s this football team that plays in the Washington D.C. area. They’re called the Washington Redskins, their uniforms are a dark maroon shade, their logo is a profile of a Native American* man, and their mascot looks like this:
A lot of people, particularly Native Americans, feel the name and additionally the logo and mascot are offensive. The Redskins are of the view that this has been their name and their color scheme and their logo for a long damn time, there’s a whole army of Redskins fans out there, and changing any of it because a minority finds it offensive is entirely unreasonable. They also feel that it’s an admiring and respectful use, given football teams don’t name themselves after anything that is wimpy and pathetic, they name themselves after strong, aggressive images.
Recently the U.S. patent office ruled that as the moniker and logo are “derogatory to an ethnic group”, the Redskins trademarks are invalid. This doesn’t mean, by the way, that people can actually go out and bootleg Redskins merch left and right now- at least not yet– though Harry Reid seems very confused on this point himself. (Harry Reid, litigator, has no clue about the law; film at eleven.)
I have Views on all of this. As follow:
The patent office thing is a total bullshit bureaucratic move, a rather craven roundabout way to try and strongarm the team into doing the thing that the government would prefer politically. It’s a rather classic case of “technically correct, blunderingly wrong in actual fact”. It’s stupid and a thing the federal anything should not be doing, an entirely righteous generator of outrage from a libertarian perspective. I do not approve in the least.
That said, sorry, but the Redskins name, logo, and mascot actually ARE pretty goddamn offensive and in my opinion the team should have done this of their own free will long ago. Why? Well, it’s my damn blog, so I’ll tell you, at length.
1. The historical usage of the term “redskin” ain’t all that nice. There’s a lot of linguistic argument that the origin of the term and most of its usage weren’t, much of which is justified, but at the time the team was named and for the bulk of RECENT history, yeah it was. In the middle of the twentieth century it was usually used about like “negro”- if a common phrase in a genre of movies had been “THE NEGROES ARE ATTACKING” or reflections on the noble savagery of the negro. I’m sorry, but it’s just not a polite term. The context in living memory has been a lot more “racist” than neutral or “admiring”. To claim otherwise is the revisionism. Go watch a few weekends’ worth of Westerns from the thirties through the sixties and seventies and then come back and tell me that “redskins” usually meant “our awesome neighbors”.
2. Using a group of people as a mascot is pretty fucking sketchy in and of itself. The NFL has 32 teams. 15 are named after animals (Bears, Lions, Panthers, Rams, etc). 4 are named after jobs identified with the region or city their team hails from (Packers, Steelers, Cowboys, 49ers, the former Oilers as a bonus). 3 more are named after some combination of job and group identity, again associated with the dominant population of the region their team hails from and in one case a highly admired identity throughout (foundational to) America’s history (Vikings, Buccanneers, Patriots). There are a handful more named after more esoteric or generic things (Browns, Saints, Jets, etc), and 2 named after mythological humanoids (Titans, Giants). And then there’s two named after an extant, resident ethnic group in the United States, the one at issue having by far the more derogatory name and mascot. Not coincidentally, the same group. (And no, the Vikings aren’t just the same thing. For one, there’s a huge Scandinavian population in Minnesota. For two, in order to compare to “Redskins” it would have to be “Ignorant Thuggish Norsemen”, for which there isn’t a derogatory term in common American parlance for reasons that should be obvious if you ponder the matter.)
3. Arguing that the history of the Redskins franchise has always been totally respectful and it’s just modern overweening sensitivity targeting a convenient target with the “racism” charge is, like arguing that “redskin” is a neutral or respectful term, bullshit. The Redskins were the last NFL team to integrate and allow black players on their roster- in 1961. And not of their own decision, either- the .gov told them they could either integrate or they could GTFO Washington D.C. and the stadium they were using, seeing as how it was all federal property.** The Redskins as a franchise have had to be shoved, struggling and protesting, toward any sort of respect for people who aren’t parts of the NFL. Or ones that are but aren’t white enough.
4. Speaking of D.C. and federal land, does it seriously strike nobody but me that naming the D.C. football team a derogatory term for the only ethnic group the American government fought an actual official war of extermination against is incredibly fucking cringeworthy? Really? Just me? Okay.
5. I’ve heard complaints that the Redskins shouldn’t change their long-held name because of the complaints of “a tiny minority”. Okay. A) Native Americans themselves are kind of a tiny minority in the US, just under 1% of the population, b) There are Natives that don’t care, though suspiciously every single one I’ve met personally finds the “Redskins” thing ridiculously offensive whether or not they think it should be a political priority, c) Dismissing Natives as a minority so tiny that they shouldn’t really have significant political sway is pretty goddamn tasteless given the people brushing them off and the city the Redskins are based out of are pretty much the reason they aren’t the ethnic majority in the first place.
6. Speaking of political sway, it matters in just how grating and how big of a problem something is. I’d be pretty irked with a team called the “Bitches” that featured a furious-looking woman with her teeth bared as their mascot, but it stings a lot less given that women have the political power to put a hell of a lot of pressure on to have it changed. Likewise I hate being described as “flyover country”, or any variant of hick or rural rube or redneck by snotty liberals from blue urban enclaves with the implication my opinions should be dismissed out of hand, but much to the frustration of these individuals me and mine have the political power to blow off THEIRS at least half the time and more often at our own local level. Shrugging off group-based insults is a hell of a lot easier when your group actually has the power to hit back hard over more serious abuses. Native Americans, for the most part, don’t.
7. And still speaking of relative power and minorities: “Washington Redskins” is about as offensive as a Richmond-based team in a black uniform with a portrait of a brutish-looking black man called the “Bucks” would be. You will note there is no such team. You may also note that the NFL has a pretty high proportion of black players, coaches, and staff. Also that black people represent a much larger minority in the US than Native Americans do. You would probably also be able to draw the conclusion that this is not a coincidence. There are, so far as I can determine, only slightly more actual Native players in the NFL as there are teams using them as a name and logo. You can’t really talk about reclaiming derogatory terms when the actual people they refer to aren’t even remotely represented among the almost entirely white people using them. You can’t actually “reclaim” a term on someone else’s behalf. Especially when they really don’t want you to.
I’ve seen the charge “white liberal guilt” thrown around a lot. On a more personal note? My objection is not in the faintest based on guilt over being white. It was what I was born as, I feel zero guilt for things I did not personally do, the sins of my father’s fathers are not my sins. I was, however, raised by my parents to not be an asshole, and THAT is why I find the “Redskins” thing offensive and why I think they ought to change of their own initiative. Not because it’s more or less popular to do, not because either a minority or a majority thinks it’s good or bad, not because white people ought to slink around whispering apologies for what our ancestors and government have done, because using people as mascots, ignoring the objections of the people they represent in favor of what’s more comfortable for you to do instead, willfully dismissing the history behind it all, and telling those people in the process how they ought to feel about it are asshole things to do.
The Redskins have, and should have, every protected right to go around being assholes. The beauty of freedom is that you can stand up and take your place as a proud Asshole-American and go prancing about in redface with a cartoon warbonnet if you so choose. And given that Native Americans are a tiny population, you’re probably not even going to face any consequences for it at all beyond people like me saying “Jesus, what an asshole”. They have to right to whine about being called assholes if they so choose from their megaphone; they have the right to say “Well fuck you, you’re too puny for me to care about”.
“Have the right” and “right thing to do” are totally different things, however.
*Before “politically correct” starts up: a) “Indian” is already an ethnic group from India and having to verbally distinguish between the two irritates me, b) I don’t see what the hell the harm is in calling a group of people what they actually want to be called, especially when it’s clearer, and c) of all the hyphenated-American ethnic terms, which I have mixed feelings about, “Native American” is the one that is actually accurate rather than redundant as a descriptor. We’re all Americans, but they’re the group that was here in the millions strong on the actual American continent before History Happened. “Politically correct” is a pretty pointless charge when it’s also geographically and anthropologically correct.
**I DON’T disapprove of this on libertarian grounds. “My house, my rules” is an old and respectable principle, and if they had really wanted to stick to their guns they were free to- as long as they found someone else willing to host them, or bought their own stadium.