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