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Washington Redskins: America's Modern-Day Smallpox Blanket

Judy Lee |
October 30, 2013 | 4:15 p.m. PDT


This nation has far too many skeletons in its closet to parade around wearing bones as accessories. (Mr. Tea, Creative Commons)
This nation has far too many skeletons in its closet to parade around wearing bones as accessories. (Mr. Tea, Creative Commons)
“Stick to your guns!” comments Facebook user Wayne King on the NFL article about Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s decision to keep the football team's name and logo. Recently, the Redskins have been under fire for their name and mascot, and for good reason. Even President Obama has weighed in on the issue.

What took so long?

The term, once used by America’s founding fathers as they scalped and biologically infected the Native Americans on this country’s land is now being cheered on in the stands by their posterity. In what context is that not sickening?

Regardless of how long the name has been used or how it might be interpreted (“It stands for bravery, courage, and a stalwart spirit and I see no reason why we shouldn't continue to use it,” says former team owner Jack Kent Cooke), familiarity and an optimistic interpretation won’t erase the horrors of the past.

If there were a German sports team named “The Berlin JewPigs,” would Cooke’s reasoning be considered a valid defense? There would be riots, calling for an immediate name change. Why? Because Germany will never gain the privilege of a fully accepted apology, much less the license to mock an historical trauma, practiced by the United States. But this nation has too many skeletons in its closet to parade around wearing bones as accessories.

In the context of gross racism and genocide, the term “Redskins” should horrify us as a nation and society just as much as a team named the “Blackskins” would. In the heart of our capitol, the name and logo aren’t prideful; they are shameful to our nation and everything it stands for.

This isn’t to ignore all of the other sports teams that reference a commercialized caricature of Native American culture, the Tomahawks and Savages particularly spectacular in brand. The problem isn’t just the Redskins; it’s our refusal to acknowledge our own ignorance and hypocrisy. Dan Snyder can cite as many statistics related to Native Americans and provide as many personal anecdotes as he wants; the issue is larger than both of those combined.

The fond memories associated with the name “Redskins” and the existence of merchandise solidifying its place in fans’ hearts are entirely irrelevant in the face of the larger issue: we are okay with the mockery of a minority because it has served to entertain our majority.

In reality, it shouldn't matter if a name and logo has brought eighty years of pride and smiles to the faces of young white people if it references the near-extinction and marginalization of an entire race and culture, spanning over centuries. There never was and never will be an excuse for disrespect in the wake of cold-blooded murder—no questions, no negotiations.

But alas, Dan Snyder has proudly reinforced the notion that time and time again—even in the face of blatant hypocrisy—America will “stick to its guns,” whether they’re pointed at Native Americans in the 18th century, or at our nation's core values in the 21st.


Reach Contributor Judy Lee here.



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