Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Killing The Redskins

The Cleveland Injuns thank you for your continued support.

I wonder if any current football or baseball teams would be named the Atlanta Tarskins or the Carolina Nigger Feet if the American South had either successfully maintained its’ “right” to own slaves or peacefully seceded from the Union.

I submit to you that neither of these names is any more offensive than the Washington Redskins. Yesterday, a group of Native Americans filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the trademarks for the Washington Redskins football team, saying the name is disparaging to indigenous groups. The petition, filed with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in Alexandria, Virginia, cites “extensive evidence concerning the history of the use of the term ‘Redskin’ and public perception of the objectionable term.” Incidentally, check out how the story is framed. Susan Decker and Curtis Eichelberger of Bloomberg News want to reassure their readership that only SIX little Indians want the name changed. I immediately asked myself why this should be important considering that the six undoubtedly represent a much larger contingent of folks who object to a racist slur being used as a team name.

At any rate, unsurprisingly, a recent USA Today poll shows that approximately 80% of respondents a) don’t have a problem with the name “Redskins” and b) wish to continue the name’s “tradition.” This doesn’t shock me. America (read: White America) has never really copped to its systematic, government-sponsored attempt to exterminate Native Americans, its “tradition” of “killing the Indian to save the man” or its “tradition” of race-based privilege.

What I do find confounding is the tenacity with which so many African-American fans of the team support the team name. When I lived in the Washington Metropolitan area, I was astonished by the typical African-American reaction to suggestions that the name of the local team be changed. Responses generally ranged from glossy-eyed apathy to dogged, pathological defense of both the name and the logo.

I’ve often asked myself what we have to gain from the continued marginalization of Native Americans. Historically, African-Americans and Native Americans have had both a cooperative relationship and a common enemy. Indeed, many black folks will be the first ones to let you know that they have some Native American ancestry. Why then don’t black folks in DC see the larger picture?

Noam Chomsky proffered a compelling argument regarding how our sports culture depoliticizes us. He spoke about how at any point during the day we can tune into our local radio sports program and be privy to the Average Joe’s complex, in-depth analysis of the players and teams for which he roots. He goes on to note that Joe Sixpack does not generally defer to the experts with regard to his sports-related opinions ,“ they're quite happy to have an argument with the coach of the Boston Celtics, and tell him what he should have done, and enter into big debates with him and so on. So the fact is that in this domain, people somehow feel quite confident, and they know a lot - there's obviously a great deal of intelligence going into it.” Chomsky argues that we are locked out of the things to which we otherwise might apply our intelligence, e.g. politics, so we adapt by becoming intellectually devoted to baseball or football.

Moreover, according to Chomsky, sports provide another, more important function. They serve to nurture our jingoistic tendencies and help us develop “irrational loyalties” beginning at a very early age. From Chomsky:

“But the point is, this sense of irrational loyalty to some sort of meaningless community is training for subordination to power, and for chauvinism. And of course, you're looking at gladiators, you're looking at guys who can do things you couldn't possibly do - like, you couldn't pole-vault seventeen feet, or do all these crazy things these people do. But it's a model that you're supposed to try to emulate. And they're gladiators fighting for your cause, so you've got to cheer them on, and you've got to be happy when the opposing quarterback gets carted off the field a total wreck and so on. All of this stuff builds up extremely anti-social aspects of human psychology. I mean, they're there; there's no doubt that they're there. But they're emphasized, and exaggerated, and brought out by spectator sports: irrational competition, irrational loyalty to power systems, passive acquiescence to quite awful values, really. In fact, it's hard to imagine anything that contributes more fundamentally to authoritarian attitudes than this does, in addition to the fact that it just engages a lot of intelligence and keeps people away from other things.”

That explains a lot. Namely, why franchise owners can extort a city for hundreds of millions of dollars to build new stadiums with little to no backlash. Or why we draw up elaborate, imaginary divisions with folks based on the team for which they root. Or why we keep paying more money each year for a diminishing product. Or why we continue to cheer when our favorite teams treat their players like interchangeable ingredients in a stew. Or why we periodically unleash our collective fury on players who hold out for more money but give owners a free pass. Our how a stadium full of otherwise rational people can be convinced to make “Indian” whooping noises and chopping motions with their hands. Our why we allow some jackass to put feathers in his hair, and jump around at halftime like an idiot, and think he’s somehow paying homage to Native Americans.

Given all this, it is hardly shocking that people who should know better, who should, in fact, be among the first to recognize how a name like “Redskins” dehumanizes our Native American brethren, serve as apologists for those in power who seek to keep it. Indoctrination and socialization have done such a number on us that we exalt meaningless, often faceless, sports clubs and their logos over other human beings based on the premise that anyone who’s offended by this stuff is just too sensitive. History (depending on who writes it) won’t be kind.

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At 11:15 AM , Blogger iaintlying said...

ACT, you hit on the head. I am a native Washingtonian. Even though I haven't lived there for years now, I'm still a fan of the team. It is weird when I hear myself say out loud, "I'm a Redskins fan". It IS offensive. As a POC, I know better, and should do better, so I WILL do better. Can you tell me how to access that petetion? I'll support it. If it was a name degrading to us, we would go the hell off fo sho. let me know how to get down. I'm wit it.

At 11:50 AM , Blogger mr jao said...

i'm really glad to see other people picking up on this too, i had said something to a friend of mine about the Redskins team name (a white friend i might add, not that it necessarily makes a difference) and he just sort of looked at me funny...he didnt get it...it took him a little bit of time to realize that native americans even exist in the present real world. i mean, i understand that not many of us regularly see people that can be easily identified as native americans, making it a bit more difficult to brng their issues to the forefront of our minds, but any kid who paid ANY attention in U.S. history class knows that our country was built on attempted genocide...this issue about the redskins team name is just one of MANY injustices committed against present day (all shades of black and brown)americans who dont fit into white americas "perfect picture."

seriously, please post the information for supporting this petition, I'm all for it...

At 12:05 PM , Blogger Professor Zero said...

Excellent post! :-)

At 12:08 PM , Blogger mr jao said...

oh and one other thing (forgive me, I'm somewhat new to your site), how is it I could suggest a topic to be discussed here on your site? you see, I am of mixed descent black/white (born in the U.S.), my fathers family is italian and french and my mother is from Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo)so I have never had someone (other than my ignorant friends from the PJ's) to ask about the thoughts of black americans on various subjects...alternatively, my black american friends dont really have many people to ask about things that have happened/are happening in africa, but even more concerning is that they dont even care...they all seem so concerned with maintaining this stereotypical image of what a young black man should be...I know you know what I'm talking about, all the derogatory hip hop garbage (not that I think hip hop or rap is necessarily bad,as a matter of fact i enjoy a great deal of it)and inner city thug stereotypes...I try to convince them to pursue things to get them out of their rough situations and break the stereotypes so many whites (but not limited to whites) label our demographic with but its like they just agree at the time to humor me and then go back to the same shit...it drives me crazy because i spend my time trying to break stereotypes and sometimes i just feel like its hopeless, like white people AND black people (and everyone else, except for relatively few others)dont care...i dont mean to go on ranting but, like i said, i've never had anyone else to talk to about this and i was hoping your site might be a good place to get some answers (or at least decent, intelligent conversation)...thank you...i know i went WAY off topic...

At 12:12 PM , Blogger Professor Zero said...

P.S. on the use of time: this became really obvious to me while I was living in Brazil, but I am sure it applies to the U.S. as well although I have not observed that so directly.

In Brazil, everyone, especially the 'working classes', is soccer mad. When they are not soccer mad, and if they hve the money to do so, they are getting ready for Carnival, which is not necessarily a subversive use of their time. Still, these recreational activities are where people are encouraged to put their intelligence and creativity.

Meanwhile, everyone must work a lot,
and housework is time consuming too since so much is done by hand and from scratch. And to top it off, all bills and errands must be paid in person. So, if you're poor, you take several buses across town to go and stand in a long line to pay one bill. This can take most of a day.
Then, you do the same for your next bill. And on, and on.

It doesn't leave a lot of time or energy for critical thinking or revolution.

At 1:41 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was recently in a racial & ethic minorities class and we discussed this issue quite extensively and I am proud to say that the majoorty of my class agreed that team names, etc. are offensive and distasteful. The film we watched was "In Who's Honor" which showed the controversy that happened @ the University of Illinois in 1989 and lasted until 1994. The premise was American Indians were upset because the University "created" their own Chief and ignored all values belonging to any Native American. One politican even passed a bill formally recognizing the mascot so that Alumni donations would not dwindle. I am Native American myself (.25%) and I have always found that there is a self-fulfilling prophecy that essentially lowers self-esteem if gone about in the wrong manner. We as a society should embrace others heritages & cultures, not use them to earn the all mighty dollar which is what the Redskins mascot said specifically when interviewed for this film. It's in the UNT library, take a look and it will open your eyes! Great post.

At 2:17 PM , Blogger Another Conflict Theorist said...

iaintlying: I've been searching for a way to contribute to the efforts of the students who petitioned the US Patent and Trademark Office. All I've been able to find is a link from the site of the firm that's representing them - http://www.drinkerbiddle.com/Home.aspx. It lists the names of the students who are participating and gives some bio info.

mr jao: It's funny you should mention that. I've spoken with several people who literally had no idea that Native Americans still EXISTED. It's easy to dismiss them if we think they've all been killed off like buffalo.

BTW, I take requests so if you'd like me to write about something in particular, let me know.

professor zero: Thanks again. The Brazilian example, although more extreme than in the US, can be applied here also. How many of us are so bogged down by work, school, family and other entanglements that we can't summon the energy to do anything but watch a sitcom when we finally have a moment to breath. I can't imagine that the people who run this country aren't delighted to have it be so.

anonymous: Since, as you must know, I have access to the UNT library, I'll definitely check that video out. Thanks.

At 4:49 PM , Anonymous Viece said...

I have often wondered if anyone of the African American culture noticed this. It bothers me. It bothers me more that no one is disturbed by it. I have often thought of not supporting teams with names such as those.

At 8:03 PM , Anonymous Gandalf Mantooth said...

One place where Chomsky's argument falters (three words I don't think I've ever used side by side in my life):

And of course, you're looking at gladiators, you're looking at guys who can do things you couldn't possibly do - like, you couldn't pole-vault seventeen feet, or do all these crazy things these people do.

So, if you could do these things, it's okay to become consumed by this "irrational" loyalty? Suppose if you are a part of a community, as with college sports. Okay then?

Yes, I can see the effect of sports depoliticizing us, however I don't see a scheme in place. It is much more primal, rooted in eons of social evolution. Like games have been proxies for all out war, perhaps games are proxies for all out nationalism. I wonder if people applied the same kind of dull witted analysis to politics that these know nothings apply on sports chat shows, we'd be in a lot worse shape than we are now.

I would like to be a signitary to that petition, too.

At 8:56 AM , Blogger Naro% said...

Conflict, banners/titles are a continual metaphor for supremacy. Until we as a collective say take it down, and actually mean it, the "owners" will never do. Nice post, very nice post!
more at:

At 10:47 AM , Blogger Another Conflict Theorist said...

Gandalf: I don't think that's what Chomsky was getting at. My interpretation was that we're watching people do things that we can't, which increases the hero worship factor. Further, we're linking ourselves emotionally to communities/groups that have little to do with us.

At any rate, you make a great point about athletes as proxies. I'm not sure if we'll ever move beyond cheering for our gladiators.

Naro%: Thanks for the link! I'll be in touch.

At 12:21 PM , Anonymous Gandalf Mantooth said...

Yes, but he's using that to make a point, and it weakens his argument. I was saying that with college sports, youth league sports, we're very closely linked with the communities, at least I was, and not just because I was on the team.

Also, obviously Marxist critiques of amateur sports sting me a bit . . . .

At 1:02 PM , Blogger mr jao said...

Thanks, I'll definitely be getting back to you on that...

At 1:52 PM , Blogger Stephen Bess said...

Yeah, I'm from Washington and I'm a Washington fan, but I've never liked the teams logo. In the beginning I just didn't like the color. Now, I don't like the name or the logo. Thanks for this.

At 2:17 PM , Blogger Another Conflict Theorist said...

Mr. Jao: Looking forward to it.

Stephen: I thought a fellow Washingtonian might see where I was coming from.

At 9:59 AM , Blogger Changeseeker said...

"Why then don't black folks...see the larger picture?"

Because they've been socialized just like everybody else?

I've always thought sports could be analyzed as a secular religion of sorts, giving "worshipers" "god(s)" and rituals and focus and a sense of belonging and cathartic emotional release, etc. In that vein, it's interesting, too, that African-Americans and African-American men in particular, are frequently the icons of this "religion," huh? Once you've created that scenario, it's not such a long jump to understanding lynching as a "blood sacrifice." Just some stuff I was thinking about once while I was ensconsed at FSU (of "Seminole" fame, of course).

Now, quickly, ACT, submit this post to the Erase Racism Blog Carnival right this minute! You might still be able to get in under the deadline wire. Rachel S. is hosting this month. And this post deserves that additional attention, I think.

At 8:47 AM , Blogger Another Conflict Theorist said...

"I've always thought sports could be analyzed as a secular religion of sorts, giving "worshipers" "god(s)" and rituals and focus and a sense of belonging and cathartic emotional release, etc."

Precisely! Well put too.

"In that vein, it's interesting, too, that African-Americans and African-American men in particular, are frequently the icons of this "religion," huh?"

It's always intriguing to see whites who, in every other aspect of their lives, have no use for blacks, prostrate before the black athlete.

BTW, as you suggested, I submitted this post to the Erase Racism Blog Carnival. We'll see what happens.

At 11:41 PM , Blogger Clifton said...

You know this subject is hard to figure out for me. The NCAA has told every college that uses a Native American mascot that they can't participate in championships if they do but there are certain Native American tribes that have been endorsing some colleges that. As with anything in this country that is deemed offensive, the question is does everyone have to be offended for it to really matter?

At 10:18 PM , Blogger Another Conflict Theorist said...

Clifton: "As with anything in this country that is deemed offensive, the question is does everyone have to be offended for it to really matter?"

BEAUTIFUL Question! As for those Native Americans who aren't offended, I'd wager I can find you some black folks who weren't offended by Soul Plane.

At 1:33 AM , Blogger sokari said...

Your post has been included in this months Erase Racism Carnival at

Erase Racism Carnival

At 1:34 PM , Anonymous Eric said...

Hi, I just made it over from the Erase Racism Carnival. Great post! It reminds of a piece by Ward Churchill.

The use of Native imagery for sports teams is at every level of play. A high school that my school use to play was called the Wapello Indians. The community college that I attended was called Indian Hills and their sports team are the Warriors. I've actually informed the alumni office that I won't donate any money until they change the institution name and sports mascot.

At 8:55 AM , Anonymous MB Williams said...

Thank you. I've been pounding this subject home for almost four years, sadly with little success. The fact is that the term is so much more heinous than most people know (it actually didn't derive from the color of our skin "naturally", but from the color our skin turned when our scalps were removed for bounties - bounties, which, btw, were not removed in certain states, such as mine (Maine) until the late 19th century.)

I fear if we can't even get people to understand the "mascot problem", then I fear we're doomed on much more complex issues such as cultural appropriation and tribal sovereignty.

At 7:54 PM , Blogger belledame222 said...

depressing, isn't it?

Interesting, the Chomsky bit. it certainly is true that people who "don't know much about politics" often can wax with near-Talmudic subtlety over not just sports but (for example) popcult fandom, or...

which goes to show I guess that people ultimately find such things more relevant or more compelling, somehow; which says a lot about just how alienated people are from politics. it's not that we're stupid or apathetic; it's that it doesn't seem to connect in the same way, somehow.

although you /chomsky are right in that sports culture as we know it in particular fosters a certain kind of mindless jingoism that comes in real handy when rallying the troops for more sinister causes.

it's not just us, either. one of OBL's cronies iirc said something or other about how the rush on seeing the towers fall reminded him of how you feel when your soccer team wins.

Hitler supposedly modeled his mega-rallies on American football stadiums.

At 1:02 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

did you all see the skins game last weekend, big overtime win... Go Skins!

At 12:22 AM , Blogger just said...

Hey! We're together on this issue, for sure. Check out my post from earlier this year on a similar topic just a position: what the fuck is up with wahoo?.

Thanks for all you're saying.

At 8:38 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 2:31 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 10:41 AM , Anonymous Ann said...


I came upon this thread upon clicking on another post on your site. (The "Hughely" post which if I read anymore about that man...it will be more than I can stand to....well, I'll just keep my thoughts to myself)

You know, Native Americans are not the only people offended by this racist icon.

I am just as offended at this icon ("Redskins"), just as much as I am at the "Chiefs", "Braves", and all other racist icons.

Even though your post is a year old, I am glad I clicked onto it.

Here is my answer to the Redskin icon:


My petition may not mean much, but, if it will help the Native Americans in any way, then some help is better than no help.



At 11:53 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Im sorry but you are very ignorant with the term redskin if you take it offensive. The term refers to a bloody indian scalp thus the term red. The term skin is the only part of that that in any way could be taken ever so slightly offensive because it refers to an animal skin. Otherwise the word redskin is in no way degrading or insulting. I being half Native American have no problem what so ever with the term. It was a time in our history, so what?

At 2:58 PM , Blogger Gabe Ortiz said...

1. The word Redskin has never been solely used as a slur, so it is not even close to the "N" word. Many Native Americans have used the word as a descriptor. The word is antiquated and does have a checkered past, but not all negative.

2. No I would not call a Native North American a "redskin" to their face, if I am just meeting them. Much like I would not call your Dad "dude" if i am meeting him for the first time. It is all about context and in this case formality.

3. Why their is not a similar uproar about all the dedications to Andrew Jackson, the architect of the Indian Removal Act, is a mystery to me. Estimates are that the Act was responsible for some 10,000 Native north american deaths and the Trail of Tears. Last I checked the Redskins word and the organization never killed anyone.


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