Sports Americana has a funny way of honoring Native Americans. Or a racist way. In what has come to be known as a favorite modern pastime, the National Football League has taken the country by storm and left the PC police stranded on an island–and in the process re-wounded the knee and heart of the Native American community.
The football man cannot be bothered by the wifey types on Sundays, let alone the Indian man, who was supposed to be killed off long ago, either through gradual genocide or mentally through a collective societal “hear no Indian, see no Indian” and caricaturization. But there the Indian is – out of his cupboard, cupping his hands and making some hoopla about the Washington D.C.’s football team name: Redskins.
How dare they call audible with the race card and spoil all the fun? Why can’t they just get themselves back on down to their casinos and get with the Monday Night Football program? And it’s not only “them whites” who offend and oppress this group — as some mad minorities would have it when reverting to deconstructive dialogue and debate. Some minorities also see that word as a no “biggie,” or are altogether unaware of the history of Native Americans. See: horizontal racism. The oppressed becomes the oppressor. And it’s also some Native Americans who have co-opted the word, not unlike some in the African American community who have co-opted the ‘n-word’ with the caveat that whites are linguistically excommunicated from the table. It’s a funny way of empowering, oneself, a type of class consciousness but with no class. Or a necessary way? There is something to be said about marginalized groups co-opting terminology whose original intent was defamation of said communities. It speaks volumes to the longevity and depth of historical oppression and institutionalized racism, where some members of the aforementioned groups are grasping at straws at this point — latching on to anything that can be molded into a form of cultural capital or empowerment. But then why is it called Black Power and not N-Power? Why Native American pride and not R-word Pride? The difference between the n-word and the r-word is that the general consensus is that white Americans cannot use the n-word. The n-word is the forbidden apple but the r-word is apple sauce at the Thanksgiving table that all are welcome to feast on. The n-word is effectively swept under the rug but the r-word is on the big screen in high-definition, Blu-ray, and 3D. In an interview with USA Today, the team owner Dan Snyder stated, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
I would like to propose alternate names such as Toughskins, Bravemen, Generals, Fighters, Grit, Matrix, Machines, Gears, Commanders etc. but I’m afraid they would fall on racist ears. After a Monday night football game, take time to read psychological studies that talk about the detrimental effect that such language has on Native American children.
Martin Luther King Jr., an actual demigod if I ever saw one, stated that man should be judged by his character and not skin color. As it is, Native Americans are being caricaturized in such a way that does not honor the content of their character. They are being symbolically displayed on helmets, jerseys, and logos like a Barnum and Bailey freak show in some twisted fashion.
This depiction of a grossly oppressed community is the most blatantly racist but socially acceptable show on earth. This fake honoring doesn’t take into account Native American history and oppression but is rather a continuation of it. King, in his iconic Letter from a Birmingham Jail, stated that he was not necessarily frustrated with extreme whites – their minds were already made up and their next move was very predictable – it was the moderate whites who he was frustrated with – who through inaction and wanting to conform to tradition were enabling the extreme groups to run roughshod.
Much in the same way, it is the decent, everyday football fan – in not wanting to be inconvenienced – who allows the perpetuation of Native American cultural appropriation, caricaturization, and hatred to take place. This whole honoring of Native Americans with sports teams is questionable at best and as real as Manti Te’o’s girlfriend. It is made up of historically racist forces and dynamics, luring decent football fans into disingenuous reverence of, and relationship with, a fake, obtrusive, obnoxious, and obfuscating Native American caricature.
Trade in those jerseys and fake honor for the better America – the one that allows social justice, civil rights, and common decency to flourish. You don’t have to be a demigod to stop using that word. In doing so, you will have killed the racist, saved the man.
Julian Estrada is an MSW student at UWT. He was a writer for the Daily at UW Seattle during his undergraduate studies.