Saturday, January 08, 2011

"Redskins" Racist?

I'm not going to call him an "angry Black man," I think he's just plain angry at everything. Now he's mad at the Washington Redskins.

In his 4 July Article, Cortland Milloy, a Washington Post columnist, wrote an article entitled "It's Time Once Again to Tell Washington's Football Team to Ditch the 'Redskins' Racist Moniker."

A co-worker sent me the article today. I don't know if he sent it to me as a humorous gesture suggested by Milloy that perhaps changing the team's name might help them win...(hell, anything could help this sorry team!), or if he was pointing out the obvious: how poorly the Redskins name is perceived by the public.

I won't comment on the former because a name or uniform change, or more fireworks, won't make the Skins' 3-4 defense any less porous, changing the Indian Chief profile to a spearhead won't prevent McNabb's or Grossman's passes from hitting the ground 2 feet before hitting the receiver's fingertips, nor will it stop that eventual "holding" call on a punt return, just as Banks crosses the goal line.

I think he sent it to me because of the nickname controversy (didn't Snyder and the NFL win their recent court battle?).

Okay, I have another point of view.

Before I get started on my rant, let me say up front that I, too, am not totally happy with that choice of mascot name, but unlike others, I'm not foaming-at-the-mouth angry at Snyder or all fans of the Redskins team. Danny sucks as an owner, but I don't think he's a bigot (I don't know about that guy in Section 417, Row 9...)

I can view this topic from a more dispassionate perspective than Mr. Milloy (and I wonder where his article is about the racism in the it's-a-term-of-endearment "N-word" rant we hear from every rap record?) I can absolutely see how many people, especially Native Americans would be offended. Or, is "Americans" also racist since those native Indians never referred to themselves as "American" until they were "discovered" by the white man--or, being a Spaniard or Italian, maybe they were "tan" or "light brown?" There's no doubt that the word "redskin," whether taken in or out of context, can be considered pejorative, but what about "Red Man" chewing tobacco, is that racist? (...well, maybe...) Okay, how about the New York Giants--is that name meant to remind midgets or dwarfs of their stature? (...damn, did I really say "midget?") Wait--how about dem Cowboys? Weren't they the one who really showed the greatest animosity to the red--um, I mean Native Americans? Every western I've ever seen always shows the cowboys killing the poor indians! Ug!

How is using the word "red" in reference to skin color more derogatory than "black" when used by whites, or "whites" when used by Indians--during the same time period? If, in 1860, the term "redskin" was a racist term against Indians (and it probably was then when used by many whites), was the term "red man" also meant to be similarly pejorative? If so, was the term "white man," when used by Indians meant to be a term of endearment, or did they say it in the same context?

I think what's happening today with the use of the term "Redskins" in reference to the
Washington football Redskins, is that there is no intent for the word to be offensive,
and it could be successfully argued that it was never meant to be offensive. Well...maybe the original fight song was a little sketchy:

Hail to the Redskins!
Hail to victory!
Braves on the war path!
Fight for old Dixie!
Scalp 'em, Swamp 'em,
We will take 'em big score!
Read 'em, Weep 'em Touchdown,
We want heaps more!
Fight on... Fight On...
Til you have won,
Sons of Washington!

And it was said that George Preston Marshall was a really big bigot (bigger than our only klan member President, Woodrow Wilson). But why would someone name a professional sports team after a racial slur, then only hire white guys (presumably also racists) to wear a racist logo, so only more white people can pay to watch the game?


I found a lot of literature about the origin of the term "redskin." Much of it is very negative (natch!), but some of it is so archaic that no one would believe its roots. For example, there is a bit of scholarship that suggests the truly first usage of the word was created by Indians themselves--no, not meant as a negative thing, but merely as a descriptor--no different than saying "white man" to describe a Caucasian, or "black man" to describe a Negro (ooops, I meant African American). For example, in the Chickasaw language, there is a term: "Hattak Api' Homma" which means "Indian." It translates:

"hattak" (meaning "person") + "api" (meaning "stalk") + "homma" (meaning "red").

(no kidding, I'm not making that up!)

Or, in the Creek language, there is an expression "istichaáti" which is "person + red" to mean "Indian." In the same Creek language, they refer to blacks as: "isti-lásti" ("person" + "black"), or "isti-hátki" ("person" + "white") for "white person." It could be said that the first whites to encounter (discover) these Indians learned these words and as Indians learned English, they used their own words in English...."red man" or "red skin." And so it all became. It's possible!!!

Now, of course, those real assholes racist idiots took things to the extreme, and that's all we (and Courtland Milloy) can think of now whenever someone makes reference to the Washington Redskins. Perhaps that is as it should be--I mean, no matter how you paint it, "Dixie" and the Rebel flag will always be associated with bigotry, racism, and ignorance. But that doesn't necessarily make it so. Let me put it this way, if I take Mr. Milloy's argument to its logical conclusion, that the NFL Washington Redskins must always be considered racist because of its past history, then when can I stop thinking of the American flag (Old Glory) as also being an symbol of racism? Whoa! What? I mean, isn't that the same flag klansmen carried with equal zeal as they marched down Constitution Avenue in the 20's? Wasn't it flown side by side with that red cross-bars thing in the 30's, 40's, 50's and 60's....and 70's....and 80's....and....well, you get the point. Isn't that the same flag that flew over the slave ships that brought "istilasti" (that's Creek for "Leroy Johnson") to America? Wasn't that the same flag that flew over segregated communities in Michigan, Alabama, Nebraska....and....wait....Washington, DC, the seat of freedom and democracy, who only ended its federally governed racism in the 1950's? Yeah, you remember, prior to "home rule" in
the 1970's all aspects local government in Washington, DC, were controlled by the federal government--you know, Congress, to include public facilities, schools, and housing--all of which were segregated by law! All under the shadow of the Stars and Stripes. But who today (still) looks at the American Flag as a symbol of racism? I don't, and I don't see the Washington Redskins as a racist organization!

Alright, you've all probably stopped reading by now. My point is, I do not disagree that the team name "Washington Redskins" is very offensive to many people and they have a right to be offended--no argument from me. But there's a huge leap between the NCAA "threatening" a school by withholding scholarship money and sports revenue if they don't change their mascot names (except for the "Florida Seminoles" which seems to be okay by the Seminoles--I mean, the Native "Flowery Land" Istichaátis), to accusing Dan Snyder and Donavan McNabb of being outright racists!

Hail to the Redskins!
Learn to spell "Victory"
Braves on the warpath,
FIGHT mediocrity!


tpubgu said...

Good article, Geo. I agree is 95% of what you're saying. Of course, as a person who isn't of Native American heritage, I can't and won't attempt to comment on how they feel about the term "Redskins" being used as a team moniker or their perceived motivations.

What I think is missing from these arguments and thinking is the attempt to connect team sobriquets with the proud and noble heritage of Native Americans and not the derisive connotations. I argue that calling a sports team the Chiefs, Warriors, Indians, Braves, and Redskins, etc., is an attempt to associate with the Indian history of being a proud and independent nation with a past much longer and richer than these United States. What school or professional team wouldn't want to be associated with that? -- or do we forget all that the Native Americans have given and provided in our PC cultural assimilation?

I think this PC change of team names is an attempt to whitewash America's embarrassing history of its treatment towards the American Indian nations. I say keep the names and make more teams name their themselves after Indian terms so we will never forget their history and contributions to our society.

Now, if there's ever a team called the "Flips" or "LBFMs", I may have a different position.

Zebster said...

You won't believe this but I thought the Skins fight song said "fight for old DC." Obviously the fight song did not originate in Boston with the team.
What I think is missing from your very fine article, G, is why the Redskins are called the Redskins.
I wish they'd change it but, you're right, it's just a sports team's nickname at this point. And I agree with Rick, except at least I see a difference between Braves and Warriors, and Indians and especially Redskins.
How 'bout they change the name to the Bullets?

DC Homer said...

Zeb and Rick,

We're all pulling in the same direction! I don't think any sports team intentionally, with malice and forethought, chose to name their team after a racial slur--how profitable would that be? I think you hit it on the head, Rick--they're meant to glorify the mascot's positive side. But looking at it from another angle, I can see where a team mascot/nickname called "The Bears" could be meant to imply "We'll maul and chew your asses like mean-ass bears!" I don't think Chicago's intent is to portray a team of cute, stuffed "teddy" bears! But that's not to say a team named "The Braves" intends to scalp your women and children, no more then "The Titans" are meant to say they're an organization of polytheistic pagans!

Years ago, I heard the term "redskin" had its origins in the fact that midwestern indian tribes painted their faces red (when they were pissed off, at Christmas, who knows), but in seeing them, why wouldn't anyone naturally say, "Hey, Rick, check out those red-skinned dudes coming to invite us to the pow wow!"

Z, I didn't provide a history of why the Washington (or Boston) team was named "Redskins," because I couldn't find anything factual--only anecdotal. The most popular origin I found was the original owner's wife was Sioux. Could be....

As for the fight song, it did originate in Washington, not Boston. But it's original lyrics (the set I posted in the blog) did include the line "Fight for Old Dixie." That, and the middle stanza stanza was changed


Fight for Old Dixie!

Scalp 'em, Swamp 'em,
We will take 'em big score!
Read 'em, Weep 'em Touchdown,
We want heaps more!


Fight for Old DC!

Run or pass or score
We want a lot more.
Beat 'em, swamp 'em--Touchdown!
Let the points soar!

I also read that the original fight song actually ended in with a strain of the tune "Dixie."

I also see a difference between "Redskins" and "Braves" or "Chiefs," but I don't see blatant, covert, intentional bigotry or racism in either. People will read into whatever they want to. You can't stop it.

R.J. said...

The Redskins have quite the history. The last NFL team on integrate, and it was only after the Washington Post and the federal government forced them to. *shakes my head*

I'm on the fence on this one. I love my alma mater's name the Aztecs. As a person of Mexican heritage I love Monty Montezuma, but the PC police want to get rid of my proud warrior and I'm upset about it.

I see the same thing here. I'd defer to the Native Americans on this one.

tpubgu said...

RJ, I agree with you on your Aztecs, and I'd hate to see that go. Why did the Marquette Warriors feel the need to change their name? Is "Warriors" such a bad and derisive connotation? Personally, I'd feel proud to associate with a person who fights in combat, or defeater in competition, etc.