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Friday, June 20, 2014

Hail to the...

There's another chapter in the controversy surrounding the name of Washington's football team. During the NBA Finals, the National Congress of American Indians aired this ad:



Earlier this week, the US Patent Office canceled the "Redskins" trademark, citing its offensive nature. If the ruling is upheld - it's headed to appeal now - it could damage Dan Snyder and the team's ability to make money off of products and merchandise bearing the previously trademarked images.

I had a post in me some time ago with a list of potential team names that I've since lost. I do have some things to say about the matter though, and I'll go about it as a conversation with myself.


You haven’t said anything until now?
I haven’t cared much, and this is because I’ve had the luxury not to care much. Ain’t privilege grand? This isn’t to say only Natives need to care about the team’s name - in fact, quite the opposite. But it is we, as non-Natives, who have the luxury to not care.

How is the Government going to force them to change?! 
That’s not what’s taking place. The Patent Office has ruled that Redskins cannot be held as a trademark because of its offensive nature. This does not force - implicitly or explicity - Dan Snyder to change the name, though it may make it less lucrative for him not to. And before you go blaming this on Obama’s America, the same conclusion was reached in 1999 (under, granted, Clinton’s America, for the right-wing folks) but the ruling was thrown out due to procedure.

Why not the same ire for the Indians, Chiefs, Braves, Blackhawks, Seminoles, or Illini? 
The difference I draw is that each of those names is simply self-evident. There are still problems with some, and I put Chief Wahoo’s smilin’ Sambo visage at the top of the list, but I don’t see the names as definitively problematic. Redskins on the other hand, is a slur. In fact, if you believe one interpretation - it’s actually a synecdoche - the actual Red Skin was the scalp of a slain Native given forth for bounty. To this end, as much as folks like to make the comparison with other slurs, perhaps a more apt parallel would be a team called the Atlanta Lynch Mob - a harsh reminder of the nation’s brutal history with a particular ethnic group.

But what about the Fighting Irish? 
This MAY be the most apt parallel; while Fighting Irish doesn’t originate in a slur, the stereotype used here is evident. My two main criticisms here are these: One is that while the Irish have been an oppressed group throughout much of American history, they are, at present, fairly mainstreamed as “white”. The second is an in-group, out-group difference. UNC Pembroke, an institution began to educate a Native population who still largely serves the same, maintains the moniker Braves with pride. The Fighting Irish, similarly, adopted the nickname amidst a large Irish Catholic population at the institution.

Not all Native Americans are offended! 
Not all of anyone agrees on any one thing. Funny how that works. Further, just because one is a participant in one’s own oppression doesn’t change its nature.

The Redskins have a long and storied tradition under that name that dates back to 1933!
You know who has a storied tradition that dates back a good deal longer? The indigenous people of this continent. It could be said in either case that the brightest days for each are in the past; in only one case is this tragic.

All of that said, I will say this: If I were Dan Snyder (and income aside, I thank my lucky stars that I'm not) I'd double down and dig my heels in. The way I see it, there's a core of Redskins fans who feel the franchise was wronged and/or want to buy the authentic merchandise and will not patronize the undercutters. Add to that folks who will come out of the woodwork to buy Redskins gear on principle, like those who supported Chick Fil-A amidst boycotts, and I think Snyder will be just fine.
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