The term Redskins does not honor indigenous people.
You can argue till you are blue in the face otherwise but you will be wrong. And as a constructivist, I don’t usually challenge people as being empirically wrong (unless you are my son and we are discussing whether dishes are clean or dirty).
While the propensity to name sports teams after indigenous groups is disrespectful in an overall sense (I have often explained to people that cowboy is something you do, Indian is something you are), the term redskin is far and above intensively offensive.
The term redskin does not reference the ruddy undertone of native skin. And, quite frankly, even if that were the case it would still be an inaccuracy. Within my family, the men have been a bit darker, and all of the women rather fair skinned. My father (who is 75% Choctaw) and his father (50%) are both darker than his full-blooded mother. I am way lighter than my Jewish/Mexican fiancé. My brother is a blue eyed blond throwback. The only person lighter than him, is recently retired Choctaw Nation chief, Gregory Pyle.
The term red is not about our melanin in our skin. It is about the blood our ancestors shed as victims of a genocidal colonization experience. And about the continued effects of intergenerational trauma because of it.
Scalp hunting became common practice after settler Hannah Dustin murdered ten of her Abenaki captors during an escape and presented their scalps to the Massachusetts General Assembly in 1697. She was rewarded with a bounty. This marked a new era in Settler/Native relations in the US Territories.
Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz writes in her book An Indigenous History of the United States:
The settler authorities had hit upon a way to encourage setters to take off on their own or with a few others to gather scalps, at random, for reward money. “In the process,” John Grenier points out, “they established the large-scale privatization of war within American frontier communities.” Although the colonial government in time raised the bounty for adult male scalps, lowered that for adult females, and eliminated that f or Indigenous children under ten, the age and gender of victims were not easily distinguished by their scalps nor checked carefully. What is more, the scalp hunter could take the children captive and sell them into slavery. These practices erased any remaining distinction between Indigenous combatant and noncombatants and introduced a market for Indigenous slaves. Bounties for Indigenous scalps were honored even in the absence of war. Scalps and Indigenous children became mans of exchange, currency, and this development may have even created a black market. Scalp hunting was not only a profitable privatized enterprise but also a means to eradicate or subjugate the Indigenous population of the Anglo-American Atlantic seaboard. The settlers gave a name to the mutilated and bloody corpses they left in the walk of scalp-hunts: redskins. (p. 65, [emphasis mine])
But why does this matter to you, as a non-native? That’s more horrible than you thought, maybe, but what does it have to do with the feminist movement? After all the whole scalping thing was started by a woman even!
The Winter 2015 (Issue #65) of Bitch magazine published a succinct and brilliant piece by Emily Prado entitled “Change The Name – And The Frame.” She discusses how, despite more the half of all registered native tribes in the U.S. endorse a name change, all national polls of the general population do not consider the term “redskin” offensive. Lack of education, lack of caring?
Recently, The Daily Show took on the hypocrisy and media bias of this phenomenon. The brilliant piece, featuring my beloved 1491s, pointed out these issues within their known dead pan satirization.
And were promptly attacked by the media. Yahoo Sports, Gawker, and The Washington Post all published articles speaking to how the fans (primarily non-Natives) feel the name represents honor and tradition and should remain. This slant on the story is sympathetic to the fans, the lens is one that demonstrates to the reader that the fans caught in the controversy are the ones that suffer most.
Prioritizing the hurt feelings of White football fans in Washington, is a clear silencing of the voices of the experiences of native peoples, yet again. Would they stop rooting for their favorite team if the name changed? Of course not.
The only thing really at stake for fans is having the status quo challenged with historically relevant information and the realization that other people, perhaps less privileged than they, are deeply impacted by a continued reminder of the truth of the native experience. Both our diminished identity in this country and the continued attempts to silence our collective indigenous voice.
Essentially, the name perpetuates the continued status of Otherness.
It is a continued action of cultural appropriation in the sickest possible sense and of continued cultural annihilation. The cultural annihilation may be more often figurative than literal in 2015, but both forms still exist.
And this is a feminist issue.
Feminism is, at its core, the voice of the Other. It is a challenge to the privileged experience, whatever that experience may be.
Jarune Uwujaren and Jamie Utt emphasize the importance of global advocacy within the feminist movement, by framing the importance of intersectionality in their piece Why Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional (And 3 Ways to Practice It)
In short, intersectionality is a framework that must be applied to all social justice work, a frame that recognizes the multiple aspects of identity that enrich our lives and experiences and that compound and complicate oppressions and marginalizations.
We cannot separate multiple oppressions, for they are experienced and enacted intersectionally.
Thus, in the words of Flavia Dzodan, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”
Or, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This is the crux of the true experience of feminism, to own our privilege where it exists and fight for equality where it does not. This fight extends outward, however. Our fight should encompass not only the individuals like ourselves and the individuals different from ourselves.
Eric Holder demonstrated an understanding of this when he denounced the Redskins name as being offensive, last July. While Eric Holder has enormous privilege in some areas, and does not have indigenous blood that I know of, he does have the experience of being a Black man in this society. I imagine he gets it. Injustice anywhere? Quite right.
Just in the past few days the Department of Justice became involved in the issue, when it filed a brief in support of the Lanham Act, which allows the federal government to cancel a trademark should it be considered disparaging. This new turn of events likely occurred much to team owner Dan Snyder’s dismay, I’m sure. Snyder’s countersuit regarding the name change had been based on the unconstitutionality of the Lanham Act. The DOJ’s response was a resounding “Bitch, please.”
In short? This battle has become political at a level that few people likely suspected. And here is your chance to demonstrated intersectionality as an advocate and fellow human being.
1) Educate people on the case and why the term is so derogatory. Most people don’t know the history. Be gentle, be kind, but share facts. Silence is equal to complicity.
2) Sign petitions reflecting your support of a name change. These petitions have more power than you realize.
3) Watch for opportunities to practice intersectionality throughout your life. Yes, it seems like a lot of work. Sometimes this world makes me just plain tired. But really, what’s the alternative?