It’s time once again to tell Washington’s football team to ditch the ‘Redskins’ racist moniker

February 25, 2011

After a recent visit to the National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall, I’m wondering how much longer our city will tolerate having a football team known as “Redskins.”

It’s a racist name, patently offensive — and the incongruence is simply ridiculous: a world-class institution devoted to showcasing Native American heritage in a city whose leading sports franchise makes a mockery of that heritage.

A film now showing at the museum, called “Reel Injun,” chronicles more than a hundred years of insidious depictions of Native Americans in movies. We have been woefully misinformed, and our kids are still being brainwashed.

Walt Disney mythmakers would have them believe that Pocahontas was some Westernized siren in a sultry dress and not the 9-year-old girl that she really was when John Smith took an interest in her.

Bugs Bunny and Popeye are still killing off the “sneaky savages.”

John Wayne can still be heard yelling: “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

In our minds, Geronimo was Chuck Conners spray painted red — which, as a Native American comedian noted in the film, made about as much sense as “Adam Sandler portraying Malcolm X.”

Enough already.

Having slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Indians, we romanticize the tragedy by turning Native Americans into sports mascots — feasting vicariously on their vanquished souls.

We think “Redskins” is a term of endearment while thinking little, if at all, of events such as Wounded Knee — the massacre of men, women and children by U.S. troops in South Dakota that epitomized the depth of animosity toward Indians.

Little wonder that the 120th anniversary of the massacre, on Dec. 29, passed virtually unnoticed.

Ask yourself: Why is it okay to use “redskins” but not, say, “blackskins” or “whiteskins”? Suppose some team chose as its mascot a spear-chucking Mandingo warrior who ran up and down the sidelines in a diaper? No way.

When Mexico released a stamp portraying its version of a Little Black Sambo character, African Americans flexed their international muscle and the stamp was withdrawn. The Mexicans said they loved the character and were simply honoring him with a stamp.

Apparently that line of reasoning only works when you’re offending Native Americans.

“I see the name of the team and all of the imagery as being a continuation of a process than began a long time ago to define us in a very limited way, as less than human, in order to rationalize the dispossession,” said Kevin Gover, director of the Museum of the American Indian, a Pawnee who grew up in Oklahoma. “It is a slur, a word that was used to degrade us, hurt our feelings and make us angry.”

So far, dozens of Native American organizations have joined in no fewer than seven lawsuits protesting the team’s name. Some of them, including a refiled lawsuit that was dismissed last year on a technicality, are expected to be tried in federal court this year.

But why wait for the law to make us do the right thing?

Gover hastens to point out that just because fans cheer for the home team doesn’t make them racist. Given the centuries of brainwashing by the media, some people may just be ill-informed.

“We don’t believe anyone means us harm,” Gover said. “On the other hand, once people know that the name is offensive, and they continue using it, you have to wonder about their intentions.”

We all know that the Washington football team needs a new identity — that something has sapped the team spirit and depleted the will to win.

Look how awful they treat one another? It’s as if the team is suffering from the same negation of humanity that is symbolized by the use of that faceless “redskin” image.

“No franchise wants to face that it’s built a losing culture or pampered its big stars or that it simply has no identity,” wrote The Post’s Thomas Boswell in January of last year. “Nobody wants to say, ‘We failed.’ ”

It’s long past time to say it. Put that logo in a museum and create a new brand. Change the name.

milloyc@washpost.com

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