Of Columbus, The Redskins,
And Ignorant Racism
Nearly 600 Years After The Italian Explorer Reached The New World, The United States Is Immeshed In A Debate Filled With Questions Of What It Means To Be Offensive And Ignorant While Also Using Revisionist History As Justification
By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine
Oct. 14, 2014 — Because I love nothing more than spending my time beating dead horses (no horses were harmed in the writing of this column), I have one thing to tell you: the Redskins have to change that friggin name already.
In honor of the Columbus Day holiday this week, I figured it was time to really dig in to this article. After all, Columbus was a horribly racist progenitor of American Indian genocide that we still celebrate for some reason. So, what better way to honor his memory than to take a look at America’s existing racial insensitivity towards Native peoples.
That’s also the reason why it’s important to look at issues like this. In and of itself, the name of a football team isn’t important. Football is an arbitrary game with very little significance in the real world. In fact, it’s ridiculous how much importance we give it in our lives. However, in this instance, football can help shed light on a larger societal problem, that of ignorant racism.
Somehow we live in a society that still manages to celebrate a documented genocidists once a year and a billion dollar company can operate with a racial slur as its title. This is a problem. It’s a problem of perspective when a large portion of society constantly invents revisionist false history in order to perpetuate lies and bigotry.
We’ve heard the arguments from each side over and over and over again. Those in favor of a Redskins name change (read: people not too ignorant or racist to see what must be done) argue that it’s offensive towards Native Americans and a completely antiquated term that has no place in contemporary society.
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has oft said he will never change the name and even cited a 10-year old Annenberg study that said 90 percent of Native Americans don’t find the name offensive. Not only is that study too old to be relevant by sociological standards, but it failed to verify respondent claims of Native American ancestry.
It also misses the point. The problem isn’t that some people might find the Redskins’ name offensive. It’s that the term “redskin” is undoubtedly a racial pejorative, something Snyder and his legions can’t seem to grasp.
This is a pretty sound argument considering the term “redskin” is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as a “dated or offensive” term for an American Indian. That’s the dictionary, folks. I’m not quoting WIkipedia here. There’s not a whole lot of room for discussion. It is a racist term.
I’m assuming no one (outside of full-fledged racists) would be okay with calling a team the Washington N-words (but not N-words) or Washington Crackers. So, why is it okay to haphazardly throw around terms that are obviously offensive towards a group of people?
The pro-Redskins crowd counters that the name has been around a long time and is a part of the team’s storied history. They’re proud of the history of the team and don’t want to change that. I’m guessing these are the same folks that would be pissed if Warner Bros. came out with a remake of The Jazz Singer that didn’t include black face.
But, still, I kind of get their argument on an extremely basic level. Plenty of people grow up as fans of the same teams their parents and grandparents loved. You’ve got something invested in the team.
They’re not racist, they say. They just love them some Redskins. This argument is monumentally ignorant at best and grotesquely racist at worst.
Despite their emotional ties to the team, no Redskins fans should be proud of the team’s history when it comes to the name itself. The team’s founder George Preston Marshall was a notorious racist who named the team Redskins because he thought it was funny.
But, everyone was racist in the 1930s, right? Many people were, which is why Marshall was allowed to name his team Redskins in the first place. However, that’s not an excuse to let it stand now.
Marshall was a real bigot’s bigot. According to a Daily Beast article from last year reported when he died in 1969, Marshall left a lion’s share of his money to start a foundation with the edict “that the foundation, operating out of Washington, D.C., should not direct a single dollar toward “any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form.”’
It doesn’t get much more racist than that. And that was the guy who named the team. Anyone arguing in favor of the proud or honorable history of the Washington Redskins football organization is really arguing in favor of that legacy, whether they realize it or not. And, with the mass media coverage surrounding the name recently, any fan who doesn’t realize this is suffering from wilfull ignorance.
That also means that anyone arguing on behalf of the Redskins keeping the name is a racist. Because ignorance isn’t an excuse. You can try and separate the the name of the football team from the definition of the term or the team’s racist roots, but all you’re doing is using bullshit semantics to cover up the fact that you’re a racist.
And, you’re not alone. Plenty of Americans still used Monday to celebrate Columbus Day. That’s despite the fact that it is well-documented that during his several landings in the New World, Columbus and his crews brutally enslaved and murdered local populations in order to steal their land and resources.
This is all documented in Columbus’ own journals from his journeys. Yet, our children are still taught the glorious history of Columbus and how he discovered the New World. The only part they’re leaving out is the New World was already discovered. There were already people living on the islands in the Bahamas. Columbus didn’t discover anything. He was just the first European to get there, enslave the inhabitants and write about it.
These two situations may seem inherently different, and they are. One involves the racist name of an arbitrary team that plays an arbitrary game and the other involves the enslavement and near extinction of an entire peoples.
However, our reactions to both situations show a fundamental error in how our modern society synthesizes information, understands history and sympathizes with victimized peoples. Rather than accept the errors of the past and do our best to overcome them, we choose to fashion our own history and wallow in dangerous racially-charged ignorance.
Wayne Schutsky is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine.
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