I applaud Courtland Milloy for his Jan. 8 Metro column. The NFL and the owners of the local professional football team need to look at the name and the image that it presents through Native American eyes.
No other race is subject to this treatment in America. The restaurant chain called Sambo's was put out of business because its name was a slur against African Americans. A complaint was successfully brought against the restaurant chain in Massachusetts, under state civil rights laws, because the term "Sambo" had become a pejorative against African Americans.
When Michael Jackson used the term "kike me" in a song, the words were quickly changed when those offended by the term protested. The Stanford University marching band was banned from Notre Dame stadium because it mocked the Catholic religion at half-time of a football game. The national media invented the term "the n-word" to keep from repeating a racial slur against African Americans on the evening news. This is a good thing, the word is offensive.
Look it up in a dictionary. The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition calls the n-word "offensive slang." Now look up the r-word: "Redskin: n. offensive slang."
Yet the news media in Washington say and print the r-word routinely and daily without any concern about its meaning, its offensive nature. Imagine a professional football team in Washington whose name was . . . well, you can't because it would never happen.
Yes, the Vikings, the Irish and the Celtics are human mascots, and no race of people is protesting that these team names and images are offensive. But the fact is they are representations selected by people of those cultures represented, and no administrative body or court has held that these names are offensive racial slurs. Two have found that "Redskin" is.
Why do we concern ourselves with this when Indian education is the lowest in the nation, when the poverty and unemployment rate among Indians is among the highest in the land? Because they are connected. Stereotypes and caricatures are the underpinnings of other forms of discrimination. The federal Indian law scholar Felix S. Cohen wrote in 1953:
"It is a pity that so many Americans today think of the Indian as a romantic or comic figure in American history without contemporary significance. In fact, the Indian plays much the same role in our American society that the Jews played in Germany. Like the miner's canary, the Indian marks the shifts from fresh air to poison gas in our political atmosphere; and our treatment of Indians, even more than our treatment of other minorities, reflects the rise and fall in our democratic faith."
The "Frito Bandito" is gone; "Little Black Sambo" is gone. The Washington Wizards changed the team name because "Bullets" was a symbol of gun violence and death. Racial epithets are violence against the spirit and a symbolic death of dignity--they are dehumanizing. Let's make a clean sweep and change the name of the "R" football team.
--Lawrence R. Baca
The writer is president
of the Native American
Like Courtland Milloy, I find the Washington football team's name offensive. But for my first 24 years in the metropolitan area, I used the name and strongly rooted for the team.
All that changed this past season. Shortly after Daniel Snyder purchased the team and stadium, he changed the name of the stadium's location back to Landover because the people living in the area--several hundred people--found "Raljon" offensive. Yet for the millions of Americans who find the name of the team not only offensive but also insulting, Snyder has taken no action.
I am not Native American, but I believe that many people like me find the team name abhorrent and without justification. So this year, I started referring to the team as the "Washington Area Football Team" (or "WAFTees"), give my son a dollar for each time I use the pejorative term ($5 so far this season) and get no joy from watching them play.
--Peter S. Gray