Reading list: Redskins as insult and brand

C. Richard King, Redskins: Insult and Brand (2016)

Passionate, if somewhat repetitive (as perhaps all moral calls to action are), argument about the poisonous nature of the Washington football team’s name. King argues that the name isn’t just about insulting Native Americans, but about white people owning them, propertizing their images and getting to decide what “counts” as a real problem, and that this ownership itself is one of the benefits the name provides in bolstering white supremacy. Claiming Indianness becomes a privilege of white masculinity, the mascot now a trophy. (Notably, the team was famously racist towards African-American players and the last in the NFL to integrate, with an anthem that not only stereotyped “braves on the warpath” and used mock pidgin but also urged the players to “fight for old Dixie.”) The name, and the images with which it is associated, combine a “paradoxical love of imagined Indians and a loathing of actual, embodied Indians that continues to this day.” That love is indifferent to the fact that, for example, the team currently plays on the ancestral territory of the Piscataway Tribe, or that DC is where the Patawomeck used to live. And as hard as the team tries to remove the stereotypes and leave only tribute, as late as December 2014, fans ran a “Scalp Out Cancer” fundraiser. When defending the name, team fans speak of their own hurt and pain—what King calls “playing Indian and playing the victim.” It’s their power to name and claim that’s threatened, and that’s all they see—as when fans consider protesters inauthentic because they don’t look “Indian” enough then claim that they have 1/16 Cherokee blood.

Along with the privileging of whiteness, King also discusses the harms directly done by stereotypical images: making Native Americans feel worse and triggering disparaging stereotypes in whites. I learned that owner Dan Snyder’s Original Americans Foundation, while launched to huge hoopla, appears to have gone completely dormant in terms of carrying out any charitable activities. I also learned more about the history of the term that arose “to accommodate an increasingly racialized European and European American view of the world which was imposed on a broad range of peoples who only gradually developed a sense of a collective identity in response to it.”

King also discusses Native Americans who don’t mind the team name, or like it. It’s a useful point: “how could there not be some American Indians who support it?” There’s a lot of diversity among any group of people; some don’t think about it; some have family connections to the team; and, “in a society that offers so few images of American Indians, … that has so fully erased living indigenous people in favor of imaginary versions of them, why wouldn’t some number of Native Americans come to accept, endorse, and even identify with” the team? King further suggests that Native Americans living on reservations experience racism differently than Native Americans living in large cities, who see the logo regularly and don’t have the insulating counter-narratives that might surround them in their communities. So, while three high schools with a majority Native American student body still use the same name, their communities and audiences wouldn’t use the stereotypes that white football fans do.

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