Why Republicans Protect the ‘Honor’ of Offensive Team Names
Posted on Jan 14, 2014
By Jeremiah Goulka
Blinder 3: The First Amendment Right to Offend
No need to think about why a name or epithet might offend, when you can spring straight to the defense of the “right to offend.” Poke around Republican media and you will see many articles defending this “sacred” right.
Here’s the rhetorical formula: Sure, some people offend others on purpose, and yes they’re jerks, but most people don’t. It’s too bad if you’re offended, but what’s important is to protect the constitutional right to offend—because isn’t that what the First Amendment is actually all about? The real danger in this: letting some thin-skinned crowd destroy our collective liberties through intimidation. (Optional: insert comment about PC or liberal “fascism” here, or the slippery slope to Nazi Germany.) So toughen up. Sticks and stones, etc…
(This one’s easy for them because a 2004 survey suggested that a significant majority of Indians weren’t bothered by the name. Of course they don’t mention that the main survey had only 768 respondents, or that the groups fighting the name in court include the National Congress of American Indians, the largest intertribal organization—which represents more than 250 groups with a combined enrolment of 1.2 million—as well as the Cherokee, Comanche, and Seminole tribes. It’s not just the Oneida.)
Square, Site wide
There remains the frightening possibility that some Republican might try to imagine how a Native American might feel about teams or mascots appropriating (or insulting) his culture. Lest that nice Republican go off the proverbial reservation, there is a ready-made prophylactic that can be stated in these simple words: “Don’t be a sissy.”
This prophylactic is built into Republicans definitions of masculinity. One of the first things you learn as a boy in a Republican community is that manhood is of the utmost importance, and the prime way to be a man is to avoid anything effeminate. Feelings, emotions, and all that other irrational stuff like empathy are girly.
Republicans love to knock Bill Clinton for saying, “I feel your pain.” We are living in “The Age of Feelings,” wrote National Review columnist Dennis Prager, making fun of people who might take issue with the Redskins name. That magazine recently ran an article entitled “Against Empathy.” The implication is clear: Feelings are for losers—that is, liberals, those sensitivity-preaching, holier-than-thou, bleeding-heart, sad sacks of emotions. Grow a pair.
Shared Mental Roadblocks
There are, of course, other reasons why so many Republicans are blind to the wrongness of the Redskins name that can’t be blamed on the GOP. There are at least three big mental roadblocks in the way of Republicans coming to terms with the impact of “Redskins” (not to speak of racism itself). Unlike the blinders, these roadblocks are shared by white Americans across the political spectrum.
Roadblock 1: Naming Practices
There have been more than 3,000 teams with Native American-based names and mascots in this country. Of them, some 900 remain. They’re common and they’ve been around a long time; the Redskins team name dates to the early 1930s. Once something is in the vernacular, it becomes anodyne, and people don’t notice it’s wrong unless they feel the sting or someone makes a stink. And even then, people may think that it’s okay to use a word like “redskin” as a team name while also knowing that it’s verboten in conversation. (An article in National Review had this typical sub-headline: “The team name is an anachronism, but a harmless one.”)
Roadblock 2: A Myth-Based “Education”
It’s easy to say that a name honors a culture when you don’t know anything about that culture.
What are we taught in school? Children put on feathers and construction paper cut-outs in holiday plays that teach a mythology for Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. We whites were taught as children that “we” were the Pilgrims, the stars of the story, and “they,” the Indians, were the nice supporting cast who helped us get through a rough winter so that we could do our beautiful colonial thing. And so we said thanks over turkey.
Later on, I can recall a segment in social studies class on the Trail of Tears, and I’m sure there was some talk of treaties and reservations, but that was about it for my education. Did we delve into the size or nature of Native American communities here when “we” arrived? I came away with the impression that the land the colonists found was pretty close to empty, and not just because of disease—nothing like the estimated millions who lived in sophisticated civilizations in what became the United States. Did we talk about the Indian Wars? Not really, other than something about the battle of Little Bighorn and you-know-who. (Hint: he had golden hair and died gallantly.)
Not knowing anything other than this supporting-cast mythology, it’s all too easy to “celebrate” “our” Indian heritage. I could exult in lovely Indian geographic names, thinking that a name like Sioux City, Iowa, meant “City in Honor of the Sioux.” But it wasn’t until I scrapped my Republican blinders and stopped censoring myself from reading writers like James Loewen that I learned the Sioux don’t even call themselves “Sioux.” They’re the Dakotas (or Lakotas), meaning “allies” or “people.” The word “Sioux” is an abbreviation of “Nadouessioux,” which was how Canadian French colonists pronounced a word used by the rival Ottawa or Ojibwe tribes. It may have meant something like “foreigner” (as in “speaking a foreign language”), but the Dakotas think it meant “snake” or “enemy” and was a derogatory “term of hatred.”
How about “City Where the Enemy Snakes Lived Before They Got Wiped Out and Pushed Onto Reservations by Whites and Their Diseases”?
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