We Are Not Your Mascots

01 June 2016 //
Once again, I thought I’d have a week off where I wouldn’t have to become very opinionated about some issue in Indian {Native American} Country. You could say,” well, Jersey, you don’t HAVE to write about an issue!” But if I don’t, then who will? In this instance, there seems to be a large percentage of Native American people who are very opinionated on the subject of the Redskin’s team name, and don’t have a platform as great as Odyssey for expressing their distaste.

I don’t feel like I speak for ALL NATIVES, but apparently, Washington Post seems to think who they interviewed about the Redskins team name DO speak for all Native Americans. As the twitter backlash has shown, they do not.

As a little bit of a backstory, according to a Washington Post poll showed that nine in 10 Native Americans don’t find the Washington Redskins team name offensive. 504 Native Americans spanning every state were polled.

This problem is not a black and white issue-- more like a red and white issue. I personally don’t feel offended by the term “Redskin” or “Skin”, if a Native American comes up to me and says something like “What up, skin?” It's like a way of acknowledging they are the same as you in some way. It’s sort of like how if you are not African-American, you should absolutely not say the N-word, but sometimes African-American people say it to each other as a term of friendship. Some people of both African-American and Native American heritage believe that we should not be saying this to each other either, but that is another issue; an issue for those communities to figure out amongst themselves, not by some outsiders.

Back to the issue at hand, are we really arguing on whether a racial slur is offensive? It doesn’t matter who finds it offensive or not! It’s a derogatory term that anyone with common sense would realize is clearly a problem! If you would not go up to a Native American and call them a Redskin to their face, it should ABSOLUTELY NOT BE A TEAM NAME!!! It still baffles me that we have to continue this conversation in this modern era.

There are three general arguments I have heard as to why this poll is ridiculous. Self-identifying Native Americans or Native Americans who have very little Native American blood are speaking for the rest of the Native American population as if they know exactly how we feel. Many people who are so far removed from Native American and reservation life are speaking for us. Eventually you have to decide whether you are a Native American or a person of Native American heritage, the same way an American of Irish descent cannot speak for the people of Ireland.

The other argument is that this mascot issue is the least of our problems, and we should focus on the others before we focus on something so petty. This mascot issue is perpetuating negative stereotypes. I do not see why we are the only racial group that is “honored” by having a football team named after them. If you really wanted to honor Native Americans, you should acknowledge that the first president of the NFL was Native American. Jim Thorpe was Sac and Fox from Oklahoma, but apparently that fact is left out of sports history. Anyway, the stereotype of chanting Indians, with red faces, covered in eagle feathers and drinking all the time, is clearly false, but that won’t stop sports headlines from reading “Cowboys slaughter Redskins, 28-7.”

Some Native Americans actually like the Native American mascot. My own dad used to rock his Redskins Starter jacket, and I have many friends who are fans of the Cleveland Indians. It’s more about being able to relate to something than it is, because when asked, they told me they just liked the idea of being recognized, even if it was because of an offensive caricature. I asked if they were at an Atlanta Braves, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians or Kansas City Chiefs game, would they actually join in with the chanting of the Tomahawk Chop. They all said “hell no!” or “F*** No!” When I asked them, “Why not?” they basically all said because it was not our way and it would be stereotypical.

I’m sure that we can all agree that Redskin is a racial slur. What I can’t understand is why we are still arguing on whether or not it offends actual Native Americans or not. Because somehow, that makes it okay? It doesn’t. We need to change the name of the team, money should be the deciding factor on whether or not we perpetuate stereotypes. Put simply, its fucked up and wrong, and we need to change it.