Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Racist Redskins

A few days ago, over on Volokh.com, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh posted some statistics regarding how native Americans feel about the name of the NFL's Washington Redskins. Nut sentence:

Asked if they were offended by the name Redskins, 75% of Native American respondents in SI's [Sports Illustrated's] poll said they were not, and even on reservations, where Native American culture and influence are perhaps felt most intensely, 62% said they weren't offended. Overall, 69% of Native American respondents--and 57% of those living on reservations--feel it's O.K. for the Washington Redskins to continue using the name.

In the comments section, I posted the following reply:

Does the racial status of those who are offended matter? I'm white, but I find the name Redskins offensive, just as I would be if my beloved Seattle Seahawks renamed themselves the Seattle Sambos. Plus, as Gregg Easterbrook has long suggested, the Washington team could rename itself using a cool tribal name from the local area.

This set off a flurry of responses, many of them hostile, including one that accused me of being a "guilty white liberal." Thus, I commented once more at some length:

I've never been called a "guilty white liberal" before -- though admittedly, the name "Attorney SF" connotates a certain ACLU-loving wishi-washiness. I like the name so much, I just renamed my fantasy team.

Professor Volokh's post cited data that suggests many American Indians alive today are not bothered by the name "Washington Redskins." As one of the commenters rightly points out, this data is useful if your decision to be offended by a potentially-racist moniker is based on whether members of the group are, in fact, offended by the potentially racist moniker. And I grant there are many people who fall into this "I will be offended if they are" group.

But that's not the basis of why I dislike the name of the Redskins. I don't like it because it's *racial* slur. As someone who dislikes all forms of race-based identification and classification -- hence my opposition to affirmative action in all forms (still a guilty white liberal?) -- using an outdated term like "Redskins" reinforces, ever so subtly, the notion that native Americans are "red," and that color is important to classifying Americans. The fact that it was once used to disparage native people just adds to the odious quality of the name.

This isn't an issue that keeps me up at night, and I understand fans of "the 'Skins" feel a deep allegiance to their team and its name. That's why I second Gregg Easterbrook's great idea to rename the team after a local tribe -- seems to me that changing the name is relatively costless, and could even be an improvement.

By the way, the mockumentary movie "The Confederate States of America" has some great-albeit-squeamish commercials updating products that were really sold in the 1800s and early 1900s, such as "Nigger Hair Cigarettes" and "Aunt Jemima" syrup.

* * *
(As of this afternoon, no one's caught the "Aunt Jemima" reference, which -- indefensibly --remains widely sold throughout the U.S. Along with "Uncle Ben's" rice.)

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's quite a bit of difference between Jemima Syrup and Nigger Hair Cigs, which I have never heard before! Redskins was always perjorative, "Aunt" and "Uncle" way less so. So though I think your antipathy to redskins is sound in it's odiousness, the comparisons are not apt, in my opinion.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Johnbai3030 said...

Sheet... I been smokin' nigga hair cigarettes for near on 20 year now... and i ain't about to stop cuz a some gay lawyer man down in California what gets teary eyed 'bout it. Now pass me some more a dat maple syrup!

1:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You ignoramus! Prolly related to Unca Remus! It's NIGH on 20 yars, fer gawd's sake! ~da momma, hangin on the cattle car o de train

5:38 PM  

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