clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

I don't understand the issue with 'Redskins' - and that's the problem

New, comments

It's time white people like me stopped telling racial minorities how they should feel about slurs and start listening a hell of a lot better.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

I don't get the whole hubbub around the Washington Redskins name - Which is exactly why I don't get a say in the matter.

"Redskins" hasn't been a slur in generations. I've never once heard it used to demean anyone. Ever. To me, it's not "faggot." In 2014, that word simply doesn't have the culture force it did in the 1800s. It just doesn't.

That's reflected in the polls, which in the last decade have said the vast majority of Native Americans don't have a problem with the name; In the last six months a poll of Americans showed a similar result. If the word were some modern-day slur, the poll results would be flip-flopped.

Even if the word were used as a slur today, I still wonder what the problem is. I could only dream of an NFL team wrapping its identity around a gay slur. If Native Americans don't want it, I'll take the "Washington Fairies" any time. Once they rid the world of the Redskins, they'll come after other nicknames. Great. Let's get the "Kansas City Queers" and the "Notre Dame Nancies." I'll take every one I can get.

Hell, I'm even part Native American. Well, Native Canadian. My great-grandmother was from a tribe in southern Canada. I get my high cheek bones and skin tone from her, or so I've been told by family. She hunted, she fished, she worked, she took care of her family. She was bad-ass and she was all Native American.

I just don't get the whole hubbub over this nickname.

And that means - it's not my call to make.

Yeah I'm maybe 12% Native American. But I'm at least 88% white. I'm a white guy. That's how I show up. I was raised as a white guy in a white town in a white state (named, ironically, after an Algonquin Native American term). I ain't Native American. I can't speak for the people born and raised on reservations. While my Wikipedia page once claimed I'm Jewish, I'm just a WASP who grew up in a blue-collar family like most of America. My great-great grandmother? The shit she had to deal with, SHE had to deal with. I don't get to trade on her persecution.

We may decry the treatment of gay people over our short history, but you know what it's not like? Our nation's treatment of Native Americans. The greatest single travesty ever committed by an American President was Andrew Jackson's illegal Trail of Tears that forced the Cherokee, Choctaw and other tribes to move 1,000 miles from the Southeast to Oklahoma. Did you know the Supreme Court ruled that Jackson was not to relocate the Native Americans? He didn't care - His racism and fear made him do it (illegally) anyway.

Think about that shit - We put the man most responsible for the most horrific and illegal single act ever perpetrated by an American President on the $20 bill. That's messed up. (Slavery is the most horrific institution we have seen in North American history - but as for a single act by a single president, I'm sticking with this one.)

Polls? Are we really relying on public-opinion polls to justify any moral argument? The vast majority of Americans were opposed to lifting the ban on interracial marriage before the Supreme Court said, "this shit needs to stop." Just 55 years ago, 94% of Americans were opposed to a WHITE MAN MARRYING A BLACK WOMAN! And we're talking about public-opinion polls on a race-based nickname for a football team? Sorry, no.

I don't understand why so many Native Americans are pissed off about the "Redskins" nickname. I'd jump at the chance to have the gay community somehow associated with Robert Griffin III.

But this is not my call to make. I can't tell someone whose ancestors survived genocide only to be kicked off of their homeland how she should feel about this word. I can't decide for someone who grew up on reservations with high rates of unemployment and alcoholism whether he should feel OK every autumn Sunday when the "Redskins" are plastered all over the TV - Particularly since they haven't been very good for the last 20 years.

Instead of telling them how they should feel, it's my job to listen. My great-grandmother may have been Native American, but I never got to meet her. I was never able to ask her about the bias and discrimination she faced because of the color of her skin.

Now is my chance to learn something about my family's history, the power of images, and the lives of other marginalized Americans I should know a hell of a lot more about.