Time to End the Epithets

Source: Point of VIew Wallace Ford

In the afterglow of 11.6.12 it is certain that many people on the progressive side of the political ledger think that in a very real way this country may start moving in the right direction. But before people start breaking their shoulders patting themselves on the back consider that there is a very fixable wrong that exists in public discourse in America. What follows may offend you, but not as much as Native Americans are offended every day.

Somehow, well into the second decade of the 21st century, most people in this country simply do not have a problem with sports teams adopting Native Americans as “mascots”. To be fair, during the past thirty years, most colleges and universities have stopped the practice – my alma mater Dartmouth College went from being “Indians” to “The Big Green” years ago and other schools, St. John’s and Stanford come to mind, have followed suit.

Nevertheless, the National Football League team in the nation’s capital is still called the “Redskins”. “Redskins” has always been, and will always be, a racial epithet. There is no sane person who would call a Native American a “Redskin” to his/her face without intending to be offensive and probably expecting an altercation to ensue.

Not to be left out of this sordid bit of Americananonsense, the Cleveland Indians Major League Baseball team still uses a cartoonish logo of Native Americans complete with a big nose and scarlet complexion. Not to be outdone, the Atlanta Major League Baseball team uses a tomahawk as a logo and promotes the “Tomahawk Chop” among its fans.

The history of the interaction between the United States and Native Americans is stained with blood, betrayal and genocide. There is nothing even remotely honorable about the experience of Native Americans in this country since the first Europeans arrived in North America – the illusory fable of Thanksgiving notwithstanding.

One would think that after stealing their land, perpetrating government-sponsored genocide and a strategic destruction of their culture that the citizens of the United States would refrain from gratuitous insults and mindless racist epithets. Instead, the opposite has been the case.

Imagine if you will that the National Basketball Association had a franchise in New Orleans called the “New Orleans Niggers”. The howls and protests from the NAACP and the Urban League and the Congressional Black Caucus would be heard from sea to shining sea. And their protests would be righteous and just.

Yet the Washington “Redskins” play in a city that is 78% black. If there has been any concerted protest or organized outrage from the black community in that city or this country it has been buried behind headlines about Rihanna, Drake and Allen West.

Imagine if you will that the Women’s National Basketball Association had a franchise in Cleveland called the “Cleveland Bitches”. The National Organization for Women and numerous women’s organizations would rise up in righteous protest. Yet there are no news reports of the women in Cleveland expressing any offense or outrage to the scarlet-hued Native American cartoon logo that symbolizes the baseball team of that city.

Once again, imagine if you will that the Major League Baseball had a team named the “Atlanta Faggots”. A multitude of gay men and women’s organizations including GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Against Defamation) would be leading marches, protests and boycotts nationwide – as well they should.

Imagine professional sports teams like the Cincinnati Wops and the Los Angeles Kikes and the Kansas City Micks and you can start to understand the daily insult that American sports perpetrates upon Native Americans. There is nothing hip, cool, trendy or traditional about ethnic slurs that needs to be perpetrated or propagated, and certainly not on the platform of professional sports.

It is, therefore, all the more troubling that Americans from whatever constituency cannot understand the pain and insult that is inflicted upon Native Americans every time Fox Sports and CBS Sports gives the scores of the latest “Redskins” game. How is it that advocates for justice and human rights give sports a pass when it comes to racism directed at Native Americans?

With the fiscal cliff looming and war in Gaza blazing, insults directed at people who have already been demeaned and humiliated may not be at the top of the national agenda. But that is the point – hypocrisy, ignorance and shameful insensitivity can never have a place in the national discourse and now is always the right time to make a change for the better.

Getting the NFL to require the Washington football team to change its name may seem like a small step only if you are not a Native American.

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