Why Do You Think ‘Redskins’ is Okay?
The larger debate is not a new one. Sports teams have used Indigenous references and logos for quite some time, “Chiefs”, “Braves”, “Warriors”, “Redskins”, as well as various names of Indigenous nations and communities.
Advocates claim the naming is an honor, a recognition of the strength and will of Indigenous peoples – sports teams, after all, don’t name themselves after sissies (which leads to a whole other topic of sports and ‘macho masculinity’…). In response, many Indigenous peoples have countered that they don’t take the appropriation of their names as an honour – examples such as uses of the headdress, which is a spiritual symbol, are not always appreciated.
The debate has flared up again in Ottawa, where a local football team has donned the ‘Redskins’ moniker. Redskins is a special case in this debate, as there is very little way to construe it as a possible honor. Redskins, referring to the so-called colour of Indigenous peoples’ skin, is about as racist and derogatory as it gets. It’s the same as calling your team the ‘Blackskins’, or ‘Chinks’ or ‘Jewbeards’… who would do that? It’s a slur and there’s nothing honorable about that.
Yet, in today’s so called ‘race-free’ world, many defend its use. A recent article in the Ottawa Sun saw writer Anthony Foley lay a template defence down. He argues that it’s not really offending anyone except a few ‘malcontents’. He argues that the team has had Indigenous players on it before, so there’s no possible way it could be racist (the ‘I-have-a-friend-of-colour’ defence). He calls it an honor to have a sports teams named after you. He calls Redskins a cliche and everyone knows cliches are harmless fun. He calls those offended ‘easily offended’ and thus easily ignored. And then he tops the cake with ‘it’s not racist if theres not malicious intent’.
So, no hard feelings, right? Let’s be real. If, for some reason, you honestly thought the Redskins name was one that honoured Indigenous peoples, your ignorance doesn’t excuse the racist outcome. If you didn’t know, now it’s been brought to your attention and you still aren’t going to apologize and change it? How do you spin the intent on that one? As Anishinaabeg scholar and writer Leanne Simpson writes powerfully in her open letter on the issue: “We are telling you that “Redskin” is a racist term, and I am asking you to listen.” You’re not listening.
It’s not a name to play under with pride. It’s derogatory and racist. There’s no excuse not to know this and no excuse to keep using it. Change the name.