There has been much talk recently over the use of the term “Redskins” as the mascot for the NFL’s Washington franchise. If you pay close enough attention to my writing on the NFL, you will notice that I try my best to refrain from ever using the term. But I have never spoken to that fact until now. With Washington visiting Oakland to play the Raiders this weekend, it seemed a fitting time to explain my thoughts on the topic.
Anyone who takes the time to really look into the history and use of the term “Redskin” will know that there is a lot of disagreement as to the origin of the term. Some believe it was originally coined by Native Americans themselves. Some believe it was not a descriptor of skin color, but rather a descriptor of the type of paint some tribes would use on their bodies. Some believe it is a reference to the Phips Proclamation by King George II in which he offered big-time rewards for the scalps of Native Americans, male, female and child alike.
The origin of the term, however, is irrelevant in my opinion.
There are some facts about the history of Native Americans in this country that are irrefutable. As exemplified by the Phips Proclamation, there was a clear and concerted effort at genocide in the early history of this country. The proclamation offered nearly a full year’s salary for the scalp of one male adult and the proclamation was worded as an order, not an option. As a result, a culture of seeing Natives as less than human and easily discarded was cultivated in America. Native Americans were chased west, getting killed en mass in the process.
While the efforts at wiping Native Americans off of the face of the Earth did not succeed, the effects of the attempt are inescapable. Native cultures that have not already disappeared are struggling to avoid becoming artifacts of history. Cultures that that once roamed the most fruitful lands of this country now find themselves confined to reservations in some of the most inhospitable locales in America.
So what, you ask? What does the history of Native Americans have to do with the use of the term “Redskin”? It’s really quite simple if you take a minute to think about it.
The use of any Native American symbolism as a mascot for a team is creating a caricature out of a culture. The only reason this has been so acceptable in America is because of years and years of the British and United States governments telling settlers it was ok, if not encouraged to try and kill all Natives. Because of this history, a blatant disrespect for Native cultures has become common place and accepted — something that would never okay in regards to other cultures.
Can you imagine an NFL team named the Blackskins that used a caricature of an African tribesman as its mascot?
What about a team named the Yellowskins that boasted stereotypical imagery of a Chinese man, complete with bamboo hat?
How about the Brownskins with a picture of a Mexican wearing a poncho and a sombrero?
These mascots would NEVER be found to be politically correct or acceptable in today’s America. So why is the term Redskin coupled with a stereotypical picture of a Native American okay?
It isn’t okay.
Much like pop culture has desensitized Americans to violence, it has also desensitized Americans to the blatant disrespect that still takes place on playing fields today through the use of these mascots. Imagery of Native Americans as savages and less than human has made it seem acceptable to treat them that way, even today. It’s a trend that has gone ignored for far too long, in large part because Natives have been marginalized by American culture to the point where they have no voice. Only now, when non-Natives have taken up the cause, are these names and images drawing any kind of legitimate attention. That alone should tell you something about the term.