Hypothetically speaking, if the US were to someday be conquered by another cultural nation that spoke a completely different language, there could be quite a few things that would anger us if we were still present in the territory that was formerly the United States. Let’s say that the conquering people decided that they would create professional sporting leagues and these sporting leagues were watched and enjoyed by millions upon millions of people in this conquering nation. Let’s also say that they decided to make the Americans their mascot. The Americans would be playing in a league that had animals as their mascot. To make it all worse, they then would decide to make a caricature of said culture that had no resemblance whatsoever to the vastly different groups of people that had and still are inhabiting this continent. This would all seem disrespectful and actually quite ridiculous, would it not? Well, that’s because it is. Such a scenario is almost impossible for us to imagine, because such systematic oppression is something that white Americans haven’t experienced. However difficult it is to imagine doesn’t disqualify that it currently is in fact happening to the Native American population in the United States.
What is even sadder is that such a diverse and culturally proud people have been reduced to a cartoon character like the Cleveland Indians mascot “Chief Wahoo.” The only interaction that some people will have in their lifetime with a Native American is through wearing a hat with that image of cartoon with the skin tone as red as a brick embroidered on it. At some games, people dress up as a stereotypical Native American would in cinema, with a headdress and moccasins. But who are they actually dressing up as? Native Americans are such a vast and varied people, that this shares no resemblance with many Native American tribes. You just cannot essentialize any culture, so what makes it okay to do such a thing to Native American culture? But this is what is portrayed to many Americans, many of them being as young as five or six years old. So when they see a person who actually identifies as Native American, will they expect them to behave as the ridiculous mascot does?
There are even some people who support the use of the racial epithet Redskins that the Washington’s NFL team uses for the name of their mascot. They say that the use of the name is a form of honor for Native Americans. However, the epithet itself is racially and historically insensitive. I see no honor in that. Is football a piece of Native American culture? Did 22 Native Americans line up against one another on a 100 yard field before Columbus landed on Plymouth Rock? No, they most definitely did not.
The Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder does contribute money to Native American foundations. In a possible public relations move stemming from backlash due to his continued support of his team name, he has created the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation to provide aid for struggling Native American tribes. However, that little bit of face saving philanthropy still doesn’t give him the right to continually use a racial slur as the name for a professional sports team. This idea that the Washington Redskins are remaking the slur into something honorable is inappropriate. Taking back the name is something for Native Americans to do, not some billionaire businessman sitting in an office suite, who has no obvious ties to Native American heritage. I assume that most Americans, including owner Dan Snyder himself, would never use the slur when talking to a Native American in the first place. So if most people would never do such a thing, what makes it okay for the image to be projected across the world’s sporting landscape?
The National Congress of American Indians put forth a powerful two minute long video titled “Proud To Be” during the NBA finals because they weren’t allowed to air it during the NFL Super Bowl since it would invoke bad publicity against the NFL. The video flashed images of many Native Americans and said the names of many Native American tribes as well as using adjectives to describe them. The video ends with the words “Native Americans call themselves many things. The one thing they don’t…” and an image of a Washington Redskins football helmet, leaving the viewer to finish the sentence.
Snyder is blatantly disrespecting the Native American population by ignoring their requests for the name of the Redskins to be changed to something else. It’s obviously upsetting many tribes through its evidence of historical inequity. Otherwise one of the largest Native American organizations wouldn’t put forth a nationally televised video if it didn’t upset them.
How does it make sense that Snyder is reluctant to change the name of the Redskins because Redskins fans are attached to the name, when the Native American population has to hear the racial slur Redskins whenever they want to watch ESPN? Most fans aren’t Native American, so what basis do they have to push for a racial epithet to be continuously used despite its disrespectful nature? How does Snyder think the discomfort felt by fans if the Redskins name were to be changed compares to the discomfort felt by Native Americans when they hear that racial slur repeated by millions every NFL Sunday? It just doesn’t compare. It never will, and he needs to realize that. The financial cost of renaming the Washington Redskins’ brand doesn’t compare to the social cost and financial losses caused by boycotts if the name were to remain.
The Washington Redskins franchise declares themselves a proud 81 year old sports team. In reality, they are just a business that is seeking to make money, nothing more. Native Americans on the other hand are a proud people thousands of years old. A business located in Ashburn, Virginia, with a stadium in Landover, Maryland isn’t going to add anything to Native Americans’ cultured legacy as Dan Snyder continually claims. His business does not honor them. It makes a mockery of them, and Snyder’s decision to stand behind the racial epithet despite requests for it to be changed makes a mockery of himself.