Sunday, June 05, 2016

Charlie Pavitt on "Redskins"

Here's occasional guest blogger Charlie Pavitt commenting on the use of the nickname "Redskins."  He invites intelligent responses, as always.


Along with others who are troubled by the commercial use of the term "Redskins" in reference to the Washington area football team, I was surprised by the results of the survey indicating that about 75% of Native American respondents did not find the term insulting, and only about 10% did (I don’t remember the exact numbers). Now one thing I have learned over my years as a social scientist is to be suspicious of surprising survey results. I automatically think in terms of biased question writing, but I did have the opportunity to read the question, which was worded something like (again memory fails) the following:

Do you or do you not find the term “Redskin” insulting?

I don’t find that biased, so I can’t quibble with the reported results on that issue.

But I wish we could find out how that sample of Native Americans would have responded to two other questions. One was suggested by a statement in response made by an activist on this issue (third memory flaw – forgotten name):

Are you or are you not comfortable with the commercial use of the term “Redskin” by the Washington area football team?

Is that not the issue that is really at stake here?  The second comes from a remark by a sportswriter made on ESPN (fourth memory failure):

Would you or would you not be insulted if a Caucasian referred to you personally as a “redskin”?

My guess here is that a large proportion would find that insulting.  And if I am correct about that guess, then the term is insulting no matter the results of the question that was actually asked.

One more issue – I am perturbed by those who defend the use of the term because of its “tradition.” In a roughly parallel circumstance, more and more people have realized that the “tradition” of flying the Confederate States flag on state government grounds is insulting, because the reason why there was a Confederate States independent of the United States was to protect the institution of slavery. (And I don’t want to hear about “states’ rights”; the reason why the Confederate states wanted their “rights” was to protect the institution of slavery.) And there is a tradition in part of Africa to mutilate female genitalia.  I could go on and on with examples, but I’ll stop here; “tradition” is no reason for continuing a bad practice.

Anyway, I do think that some of the discussion of this issue is overblown; two hundred years of ill-treatment has left the Native American nations with far worse problems than a football team’s commercial trademark. And maybe I am wrong about the answers one would get from the two survey questions suggested above. But it doesn’t matter to me. I shall continue my practice of referring to the “Washington area football team” by that title rather than their commercial trademark.  And I invite all like-minded people to do the same.

-- Charlie Pavitt

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At Sunday, June 05, 2016 4:29:00 PM, Blogger Don Coffin said...

I taught for 7 years at Illinois State University (in Normal; 1980-87, IL); just a bit northwest was the city of Pekin, IL. For years, the athletic teams at the high school in Pekin used the nickname "Chinks" (no, I am not making this up--they even had a male student and a female student dress in "Chinese" robes and strike a gong when the football team scored). Shortly after I arrived in Normal, retaining the name became a major issue (it had come up before, in the mid-1970s), with many people in the community appealing to tradition, or arguing that no one (much) was complaining. On the other side were other residents claiming that the name was racist and demeaning, regardless of tradition of anything else. The name was changed to the Dragons that fall, but it was a point of contention for several years afterward. What may be obvious to most people can be extremely hard to see for others...not that that's any excuse for retaining an offensive nickname or persisting in offensive behavior...

At Monday, June 06, 2016 3:54:00 PM, Blogger Ron Rollins said...

Did you know that a lot of Indians refer to themselves as 'skins'?

It guess this goes back to all those other cultures that use words to describe themselves that the claim are offensive when others do the same.

At Monday, June 06, 2016 4:15:00 PM, Blogger Don Coffin said...

Right, and a lot of African-Americans use a 6-letter word starting with "n" and ending with "r". So should we conclude that if *I*, an old white dude, use that word, they won't be offended? Why is it difficult to understand the difference between in-group communications and between-group communications?

At Tuesday, June 07, 2016 4:09:00 PM, Blogger Ron Rollins said...

If a word is offensive, it's offensive to everyone.

At Wednesday, June 08, 2016 7:48:00 AM, Blogger Grandpa S said...

I have always wondered on issues like this whether the people who claim to be offended are actually offended by the specific matter at hand, or if they are using the issue to try to exercise power over an institution more prestigious than themselves, and it is that prestige that they are actually offended by - or better put, jealous of. With all of the things going on in the world that one could be truly offended by, I'm afraid I find the incessant complaining about a football team's nickname to be petulant and phony.

At Wednesday, June 08, 2016 12:59:00 PM, Blogger Brian said...

I don't quite agree, Scott. First of all, "incessant complaining" seems a bit strong. I certainly don't know anyone who doesn't stop complaining about this - it's more like something they get moderately irked by when it comes up. Also, it seems false to me to say "with all of the things going on in the world that one could be truly offended by...", as if you can get offended by this OR something more worthwhile. Isn't the world big enough, and aren't we complicated enough, to get, say, truly offended by slave labor in Botswana, or forced genital mutilation in Egypt, or Putin putting hits out on journalists in Russia, and then, also, from time to time, offended to a much lesser degree by a team nickname burdened with racist baggage? Because isn't that how most people approach the issue? That all seems fair to me.

That said - when I really try to play devil's advocate with this issue, I wonder how much the name "Redskins" has any baggage at all. Like, when I hear the name 49ers, I don't think of a mid-19th century gold rusher; I think of that team that plays in San Francisco. When I hear the name Buccaneers, I don't think of pirates who raided Florida's coasts during the 17th century; I think of a collection of guys who play football in Tampa Bay. In other words, might it be possible that the name Redskins - despite it's derogatory origins (and make no mistake, Washington's owner at the time of the team's naming was an unabashed racist) - has, over the years, transmogrified into something rather harmless? Does the football team - with all its proud history and lore, its association with Joe Theismann and Sonny Jurgensen and Art Monk - now OWN the nickname instead of the racists?

To a degree, yes. But I think only to a degree. I still think, underneath it all, there remains a nickname that belittles Native Americans, that pigeonholes them in a way that makes us, in some small way, more likely to think of Native Americans as mascots and less likely to think of them as great lawyers or doctors or politicians. That's just me. Your mileage may vary. But that seems like a more fair-minded way to approach the issue than to accuse the offended parties of power moves or jealousy.

At Monday, June 13, 2016 12:51:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

In other words, might it be possible that the name Redskins - despite it's derogatory origins (and make no mistake, Washington's owner at the time of the team's naming was an unabashed racist) - has, over the years, I liked your blog, Take the time to visit the me and say that the change in design and meniu?

At Tuesday, June 14, 2016 11:01:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I'm of Gaelic descent, and I don't care one way or the other about the Notre Dame mascot,
"Fighting Irish". I guess I could feign outrage at that.

Sports teams pick names connoting they're "rough" and "tough". The term
"Redskins" was picked because it connoted fierce, courageous warriors. Only if "rough" and "tough" have negative connotations will a team mascot like " Cowardly Surrender Monkeys" be an approved maskot.


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