Growing up around Washington, DC, I never thought much about the name of our football team. This was for two reasons – one, I really didn’t care much about sports, and two, it was the Washington Redskins, had always been the Washington Redskins, and it was what I was used to. Being raised in a community of folk musicians gave me a respect for long-held tradition at a young age. There was even a song:
Hail to the Redskins
Braves on the warpath
Fight for old DC!
But some traditions have to change, and this is one of them. We have passed the era of 1950s cowboy movies, in which the stereotypical “Indian” was a collective cultural icon of savagery and violence. Today people everywhere, we hope, recognize that Native Americans are people, not stereotypes, and that it is hurtful and racist to use those stereotypes to market football teams (or anything else), however long and storied a history those names might have.
Look at it this way – would you name a team the Washington N-words? How about the “Blackskins,” the “Yellowskins,” the “Brownskins” or even the “Whities?” If the answer is “No,” then it’s time for a change. Just because something is what we’re used to doesn’t make it right.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a Native American child in this country. I suspect that, like most things, the experience depends on where you are, what nation you belong to, and what your family and community are like. Every experience is unique – but I do know that “Indian” war whoops, tomahawk chops, fake “Indian talk” (“Me want plenty….” ugh) and images of indigenous peoples as savage warriors make it a whole lot worse, wherever you are. It’s racist; it’s wrong, and it’s time to let it go.
So let’s change the name (although some have suggested keeping the name and changing the logo to a red potato – I like that). I’m sure we can come up with something that better honors the capital city of the United States, and that respects the people who first lived there. Set up a big contest. Make it a promotion. Have fun with it – but let “The Redskins” go.