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Redskin Pride?

There was a city council meeting tonight, in case you missed it. A few weeks ago, a citizen named Paul Moran stood up and spoke about the "Redskins" controversy. He eloquently expressed his concern for the bloody and hate-filled history behind the word and called for communities such as Utica to remove its stain. Later that evening, under miscellaneous comments, one member of council dismissed the impassioned plea. To this councilman, "Redskins" was seemingly no more offensive than the mascots of Newark (Wildcats) and Heath (Bulldogs) High Schools. In other words, there was no need to worry about the label which animated Mr. Moran.

Here was my response tonight:

"What’s in a name? More importantly, what’s in a name that is supposed to represent a group of people? It has been asserted that affixing the label “Bulldogs” or “Wildcats” to a sports team or a school is equal to doing the same with respect to “Redskins”. If “Redskins” is offensive, then what about the other two names? Is it not logical to say that calling your team the “Bulldogs” is an insult to bulldogs? No, it is not logical to make such a comparison, because these labels have very different histories. In what sense can we say that an animal-based mascot is an affront to those animals? I know of no examples where the labels “Bulldogs” or “Wildcats” were used to disparage those creatures, and I’m willing to bet that none of you are able to think of any either.

Let’s get to the point here. A few weeks ago, a fellow citizen spoke up about how the use of “Redskins” as a mascot must come to an end. We’ve seen the backlash against political correctness for quite some time now. In some instances I’m in solid agreement that this “P.C.” movement has overstepped its bounds, but here is one area where the backlash is dead wrong.

In case you need some background information to understand why, here it is. For example, in an educational textbook published and distributed in the late-1800s in New England – entitled A New Primary Geography (1886) -, young students were taught in pages 24 through 25 about five races of people, with the “Red Race” being associated with those people which our forefathers referred to as “Indians”. In case you make the mistake of concluding that the term is harmless even here, the textbook went on to say – on page 26 – that: “[t]he various races of men differ greatly in regard to knowledge and manner of living. For this reason they are sometimes divided into four classes: Savage, Barbarous, Half-Civilized, and Civilized.”

A little further it continues: “Savages are the lowest and most degraded class. The Indians and most of the negro tribes are savages. …Savage and barbarous tribes are almost always engaged in war.” Then, the book wraps up this portion of its racist indoctrination by reassuring its young superior-race readers that “[a]lmost all civilized people belong to the white race.”

We know that “redskin” wasn’t just a derogatory label, but a violent one as well. In sharing an excerpt from an 1863 edition of one Minnesota newspaper, Baxter Holmes of Esquire points out at least one troubling use of the word: “The state reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory”. Then, that same announcement followed up by noting that this reward was greater than the value of all extinguished “Indians east of the Red River”. There is some debate as to whether this particular advertisement for murder was calling for the scalps of Native Americans – which wasn’t an uncommon practice at the time -, but the one thing that is clear here is that hate – not an attempt to express or inject a sense of community pride – motivated the use of “redskin”. How convenient of us mostly white citizens to stand here and proclaim that “Redskin” is a harmless label.

How convenient indeed for us white men and women who’ve never experienced a legitimate threat to our collective existence or safety even as our forefathers did much to ensure the same for other so-called “races”. I’m not assuming that every fan or student calling themselves a “Redskin” is racist, but what they are celebrating is an icon of evil, plain and simple. Let’s try an exercise, shall we?

Many of us were raised with the notion that if you can’t say it to someone’s face then don’t say it all, or if you can’t do something out in the open, then it should not be done. I say, if you can’t comfortably walk up to a random Native American and refer to this stranger as a “Redskin”, then you probably shouldn’t use the term at all. Moreover, if you can’t use the other “skin” terms equally, then that should say something about the level of decency attached to the word.

Ask yourself, if you were starting from scratch, would you be in favor of naming Newark High School’s team the “Newark Redskins”? Or, what about the “Newark Whiteskins,” the “Newark Yellowskins,” the “Newark Brownskins,” or even the “Newark Blackskins”? Of course you wouldn’t dare think of choosing one of the latter four, because that would be obviously racist, right? So, how is “Redskin” any different? Perhaps “Redskin” is preferable because it seems to communicate something intimidating like the “Wildcat” and “Bulldog” mentioned earlier. Think about that for a second, while also remembering the afore-referenced piece which claimed that Native American “Redskin” “savages” are “almost always [at] war”. Bear in mind that our white ancestors were taught to fear the “Redskins”, because of their perceived ruthlessness and brutality. Now, look at this situation from the opposite end. If you were a Native American citizen, would you be happy to pay taxes for and/or send your child to a school with a label that used this term? If not, then I think the answer is clear: the time to stop calling anyone a “Redskin” was yesterday."

I realize that my position on this is probably not going to be shared by everyone who reads this. To be honest, I've never filtered my opinion for its popularity on any subject and I never will; even if I hope to attain elective office one day. My point here is not to impress you, Mr. Moran, or even to put the aforementioned Councilmember in their place. Instead, my reasoning for speaking out is to take a stance in favor of justice and community unity. There is nothing but division which comes from using "Redskin", and my hope is that you too will come to see that it has no place in modern society.

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