Football: Is ‘Redskins’ racist?

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder argues that the name of his football team was created as a tribute to Native Americans.

I’m no fan of political correctness, race-baiting, or “the language police,” said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post, but the Washington Redskins should change their name. I know, I know: Redskins owner Daniel Snyder argues that the name of his football team has a proud, 80-year history, and was created as a tribute to Native Americans, not a racist slur. But the fact is that “words don’t stand still. They evolve.” Fifty years ago, “Negro” was a respectful term for African-American, “gyp”—short for Gypsy—was a synonym for “cheat,” and people with developmental disabilities were called “retarded” or “mongoloid.” Those words fell out of favor and are today seen as “unmistakably patronizing and demeaning.” Similarly, “Redskin” is now “freighted with negative connotations.” When the team’s name was adopted in 1933, said John Walters in Newsweek.com, the most popular radio show was Amos ’n’ Andy, in which two white men acted out “Negro” stereotypes. “Times change.” So should the name of Washington’s football team.

Yes, the name is “an anachronism,” said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com, “but it’s a harmless one.” San Francisco didn’t adopt the name “49ers” because it wanted to mock the desperation of people panning for gold in the mid-1800s, and Dallas didn’t choose “Cowboys” as way to condemn trigger-happy frontiersmen. “Redskins” was chosen to denote fierceness and strength—good things in the context of the NFL. Since the name is clearly not “intentionally pejorative,” said Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times, the real battle here is over “the imperative to scrub society of all offensive language”—particularly “language that offends liberals.” That effort will never end, because “some people always need to be offended by something.”

Who are you to decide what’s offensive to us Native Americans? said Gyasi Ross in Deadspin.com. White commentators would never dare tell black people how they should feel about the words “nigger” and “nigga.” Blacks now own those terms, because they paid for them through generations of oppression and murder; the same is true for “Redskins,” which is what whites called Natives while nearly wiping them out. Yet now a host of white pundits insist that any Native who objects to “Redskin” is “too sensitive.” Evidently, Natives are so voiceless in this country that we’re the only group who can be safely ignored when white people keep using a racist slur.

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