How to Stop Accusations of Racism? Stop Having a Racist Team Name

This country’s treatment of Native Americans over the years has been nothing short of shameful. While Native Americans have inhabited this continent for longer than any other group of people, they have been repeatedly treated like squatters when the government was not slaughtering them to make way for white settlers. Recently, the controversy over the “Washington Redskins” football team name has been re-ignited. To help demonstrate part of why such controversy exists, I thought it would be worth looking at OxfordDictionaries.com’s description of the history of the term “redskin.” According to the website, “Redskin is first recorded in the late 17th century and was applied to the Algonquian peoples generally, but specifically to the Delaware (who lived in what is now southern New York State and New York City, New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania). Redskin referred not to the natural skin color of the Delaware, but to their use of vermilion face paint and body paint. In time, however, through a process that in linguistics is called pejoration, by which a neutral term acquires an unfavorable connotation or denotation, redskin lost its neutral, accurate descriptive sense and became a term of disparagement. Red man is first recorded in the early 17th century and was originally neutral in tone.” In other words, “redskin” is not a neutral term like “Indian” or “Native American.” Rather, it is a racial slur in the same vein as the n-word. The only reason why the Washington Redskins has not already been forced by public outcry to change its name is that Native Americans have been so marginalized that it is not even widely known what terms constitute racial slurs against them. Daniel Synder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, has announced the creation of a new fund to benefit Native Americans, likely with the goal of putting out the fire of controversy. While I think his motives were likely less than pure, I applaud the creation of the fund. However, I find his argument that Native Americans would benefit from action not words to be disingenuous. Of course decisive action needs to be taken to redress the grievances that Native Americans have endured and continue to endure. But why can these actions not be taken in addition to changing the name of the Washington, D.C. football team rather than instead of changing it? If a Mississippi Billionaire owned a team named for an anti-black racial slur and decided to make an annual donation to the United Negro College Fund, they would still need to rename their team. If they made the donations and kept the team name, it would appear that they were simply interested in saving face. I realize that proposals that the NFL oust the Redskins from the league or that football fans stop buying tickets to games that the Redskins play in are likely to fall on deaf ears. However, I hope that one of these days, Snyder will have enough common sense to rename his team. I won’t hold my breath.

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