There’s a great deal of talk today surrounding the Washington Redskins and whether they should be forced to change their name. Most of this conversation stems from recent findings that 90% of Native Americans don’t find the term, “redskin” to be offensive. However, today I want to bring to light the word we should really be targeting: “niggardly.”
Yes, you read that word right. Yes I said it. And yes, it has absolutely nothing to do with the word we infamously hear on rap albums. You know, the word that comedian Larry Wilmore called President Obama in front of the nation.
Despite having nothing to do with ‘that’ word, “niggardly” should still be banned. It’s a bad word. This word is offensive, even if it’s not. Black people should despise this word and if they’re not pushing to ban it from all speech, they’re just being dumb.
After all, the “Redskins” debacle has proven that banning language doesn’t have to take real offense into account. If a word sounds ugly and offensive, even if it’s not offensive to those who “should” be offended, it should be removed from everyday nomenclature.
But, much like “niggardly” (have you googled the definition yet?), “redskin” is a term with some interesting history surrounding it. For starters, the word “redskin” was created by Native Americans as a form of solidarity between tribes. Linguistic anthropologist Ives Goddard rigorously studied race and color pronouns of early America and found that:
“The actual origin of the word (redskin) is entirely benign.” – Ives Goddard, linguistic anthropologist
The term was created by Native Americans, much in the spirit of “black,” “African-American,” “colored,” and other racial terms which were created or used by blacks and other minorities throughout our history (NAACP, anyone?).
Leaving the term itself aside, many argue that even if the word is benign, American football teams can’t just co-opt terms used by minorities for their own gain. However, this argument becomes very problematic when revisiting history. For example, when the Washington team adopted the name, it was part of an awareness campaign to get more Native Americans into football. On the inaugural Redskins game in 1933, Washington had several Native Americans on the team, including four players and then-head coach William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz.
Even the team’s logo, which bears the profile of Native warrior donning feathers, was designed by a council of Native Americans. Walter “Blackie” Wetzel, a former President of the National Congress of American Indians and Chairman of the Blackfeet Nation lead the movement to create the modern logo to honor Natives. The whole point of the team was to pay homage to Native American people and grant them more access to football.
In fact, even today, many Native Americans look to the Redskins mascot with pride. Take for example, Nick Begaye, who said:
“I’m Navajo and Cheyenne & Arapaho. If all mascots, like the Chiefs and Redskins are gone. It’s going to be harder and harder to remember our culture. I take it as a sense of pride. Keep the name. Those would of been my dream teams to play for if i ever played pro ball.”
In a recent article for the San Diego Union-Tribune, author Matt Calkins interviewed several Native Americans who all had strong, positive opinions about the name:
“Christopher Curro said he takes pride in the name and would only be offended if it were changed. Bonnie LaChappa said she had just bought a Redskins jersey for her husband. Torrey Brown said she appreciates that American Indians have at least some mainstream representation.”
Calkins goes on to voice the real concern Native Americans have regarding this issue:
“If there’s one universal feeling among the American Indians I spoke with last week, it isn’t necessarily that they are oppressed or bullied — it’s that they are ignored. In the words of Dr. Joely Proudfit, a Native Studies professor at Cal State San Marcos, “we are an invisible community.”
Of course, the Washington NFL team is not the only one to bear the name “redskin.” In fact, there are 62 high schools in 22 states with the name “Redskin” as a mascot. Most of these schools have predominately Native American populations and several of them are on Indian Reservations. One school that still uses the nickname is Red Mesa High in Arizona, located on a Navajo reservation, and where 99.3 percent of its students are Native American. Another is Wellpinit High School in Wellpinit, WA, home of the Spokane tribe.
So if these Native Americans use Redskin as a mascot, are they racists? Are they destroying Native American culture? Do they have some invisible internalized white privilege? If you answered “yes,” then it’s time to get off your self-righteous ivory tower and consider the radical idea that Native Americans are perfectly capable of choosing what offends them and what does not.
I can tell you anecdotally, from the Native Americans in my family and friends (and we have a lot of them here in the west), that not one single actual Native American that I know hates the name. Most are indifferent or even like it. But what good is an anecdote, we need hard evidence.
Here’s where the recent study comes into play. Using a proper sample size of 500 Native people both in tribes and living near tribal territory, the study found that 9 in 10 American Indians have no problem with the name. Queue self-righteous social justice outrage….
Generally, one of the first retorts made against these findings is the claim that “redskin” is defined as a slur in the dictionary. Since the dictionary calls the word a slur, it doesn’t matter what people think. But the dictionary also says that “marriage” is a union between a man and a woman. The dictionary also defines “man” as a fully grown biological male.
Still want to stick to dictionary definitions? If you use the dictionary as your ethical guide, then you will no doubt protest the LGBT bathroom movements and Same-Sex Marriage as they clearly violate dictionary definitions.
Of course, as a white man, I’m also often confronted with the fabulous hyperbolic: “What if they did this to your culture?”
Luckily for me, white mascots have been around quite awhile. Cowboys, Patriots, 49ers, Steelers, Buccaneers, Saints, Raiders, Packers, and Vikings are all names appropriated from white culture. Some of them are quite ugly (I mean are ALL white people really gold thirsty, village raiding, cheese packing, pirate-hick-barbarians?). That’s just NFL teams. Other sports teams include: Yankees, Fighting Irish, Celtics, Texans, Canadiens, Gaels, Norsemen, Spartans, Fighting Scots, Crusaders, Trojans, and more. ALL of these mascots are crude, ethnic appropriations of white people. At least 90% of white people don’t find them offensive. Should we ban all of them as well?
In 2012, a university basketball team named themselves the “Fightin’ Whites.” Members of the University of Northern Colorado made this their mascot in attempt to shame white people. The plan was to insult whites in the same way many Natives supposedly felt insulted. The team began selling shirts bearing the logo (it included the words “Fighting the use of Native American stereotype” so as not to become a white supremacist shirt).
Turns out white people liked the logo so much that sales of shirts and memorabilia helped endow a sizable scholarship, bringing in over $100,000. In fact $79k went toward the “Fightin’ Whites Minority Scholarship.” Now minority students can get a free education directly on the backs of white appropriation.
Another recent attempt at white shaming in sports mascots came from ESPN’s Bomani Jones, who wore a Cleveland Indians shirt with the word “Indians” replaced with “Caucasians.” His aim was to stir up controversy and essentially anger white people into feeling angry at their culture being used in such a way. However, Bomani’s attempt at slander became a joke, with white people for the most part laughing about it. Within 24 hours of Jones wearing the shirt, the manufacturers sold 2,000 shirts.
This leads to the final position from those seeking to ban the name. They argue that some people do find Redskins offensive, even if nearly all Native Americans don’t. Therefore, we should ban it anyway.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it comes off as incredibly racist and fascist. What could be more dictatorially racist than telling someone: “You should be offended but you’re not. Don’t worry, I’ll take offense for you, since you can’t do it on your own.”
So in this spirit of pretentiousness, I urge all black people to wake up and start protesting the evil word, “niggardly.” It sounds offensive, it looks ugly and I’m sure that someone, somewhere is offended by it.
Of course, if you think that the idea of banning words on such frivolous grounds (or any grounds for that matter) is ridiculous, then congratulations, you are a rational human being. Good luck out there.