The Washington R*dskins, after pressure from one of their major advertisers, said they would review changing their name, and after a week of “review” have decided to change their name. This may seem like a big leap forward to you and great news. It is in a way but it’s also a sign of how money speaks louder than anything else in this country.
Indigenous people have been after the NFL team to change their name for as long as I can remember, which is why I thought it was pure douchebaggery to announce they would “review” changing their name. They’ve known their name is a slur. They’ve known Indigenous people object to it. What’s to review? Whenever it makes news the organization pushed back as did fans, claiming some weird version of “but muh feels” and pointing to the one or two or three Indigenous people who claim it doesn’t offend them, as if they speak for all Indigenous people. Remember the internalized racism I brought up in the last post. This where the power structures capitalize on those in the in-group who have internalized racism. “Look, that small group is not offended so we’re not going to change.” That then leads to the continued institutional racism and reminders of violence inflicted upon Indigenous people.
In order to understand why the name is a slur for Indigenous people, thereby the name being akin to using the N-word for a team name, you have to understand the history of it. While some people get that it’s a slur without being told why, others need the full picture.
Officials in Connecticut and Massachusetts offered bounties for the heads of murdered Indigenous people during the Pequot War (1636-1638). Later, scalps became the way bounties were paid for. It made it easier for Rangers (men specifically organized to fight Indigenous people using wilderness warfare, often trained by European veterans in irregular violent tactics) and regular settlers to carry. By the mid-1670s, scalp hunting had become an organized system and the bloody corpses left behind were called r*dskins by the settlers.
The use of the slur as a team name is a reminder of the genocidal violence committed on Indigenous bodies. It’s weird how after decades of Indigenous people being told the change was impossible, that it could never happen. Yet after advertising dollars are put on the line it’s suddenly possible? (note: sarcasm in the last two sentences)
Now the Cleveland Indians are looking at changing their name, which could’ve been done when they changed their mascot but fans were enraged by just the mascot change. Note that the change in their mascot wasn’t Paul Dolan’s decision. He was pressured by Major League Baseball to change it as they were looking to build diversity. They still sell merchandise with the Chief Wahoo logo though because of the “connection” fans have to him. So still a “fuck you” to Indigenous people. Yes, I know the history of the logo. Again, refer back to the internalized racism part of my last post.
I’m all for progress but it’s hard to look at this as progress when Indigenous voices were ignored for so long when money won out in the end.
And it’s not just their voices.
Quaker is finally retiring Aunt Jemima even though her original “mammy” depiction was known to be problematic. Mars and Conagra are going to rebrand Uncle Ben’s and Mrs. Buttersworth respectively. But how? They don’t know yet. It would be better if they retired them as Quaker is because there is no amount of rebranding that can destigmatize those brands and their roots.
Lady Antebellum is finally dropping the Antebellum from their name, despite knowing how problematic is was for years. Only now they’re suing a Black woman who has performed as Lady A for decades. And to think that they can destigmatize their name by just shortening it to Lady A when we all know what the A stands for? You cannot shorten a problematic name and POOF, everything is just peachy. It doesn’t work like that. White privilege much? It’s right up there with Mark Zuckerberg suing Native Hawaiians under quiet title law over land on Kaua’i. You know, the state that became a state after the land was stolen and monarchy overthrown in order to gain the land for sugar businessmen. Neocolonialism anyone?
We’re finally seeing Confederate flags coming down and institutions banning their display. Confederate monuments are being taken down and have been for the past few years, but there is now a surge in removing them after decades of Black people telling us that the flag and the monuments were reminders of enslavement, family separations, threats, and violence their ancestors suffered. With those Confederate monuments, we’re also seeing ones of Christopher Columbus, Junipero Serra, and Juan de Onate coming down. Thomas Jefferson’s descendants are supporting his statues being removed from public areas.
With all this change are the cries, “BUT HISTORY!” In all my time in school, never once did we take a field trip to a statue or monument to learn about history. My best friend taught history and she never took her students to a statue to teach history. We already have a problem with whitewashed history being taught in schools, we don’t need statues and monuments that whitewash history to preserve history. What we need is honest curriculum that humanizes the victims of our colonialism and imperialism. We need to be honest about how we’ve othered entire groups of people different than the White Europeans that first settled here and have continued this trend to this day. We need to teach how our systems are based on racism and we need to admit that we aren’t great, not while we allow systemic racism, sexism, and xenophobia to exist while ignoring the wall we’re supposed to have between Church and State. We go to other countries and meddle in their politics and government structures that ends up creating unrest yet when unrest happens here we have people screaming, “VIOLENCE NEVER SOLVES ANYTHING!” This country was colonized on violence, created a new government through violent revolution and we’re taught at a young age that these are great things that happened in our past. Yet, whenever the oppressed show an ounce of the uprising that the colonists did people get their undies in a twist. “Peaceful” protest but no, don’t kneel like that; don’t wear an “I CAN’T BREATHE” t-shirt; don’t cup your hands in front of your face in prayer. No, not like that. Now is not the time. That’s all BIPOC ever hear because nothing is ever good enough for some people. There is no “right” way to protest for them other than to not protest at all because protest means rocking the boat and they don’t want their boat rocked. They want the status quo because they benefit from it.
Are these the changes we want to see? Yes. Are they the ones that have been asked for? Yes. Are they the ones that are going to change the systemic racism that led to George Floyd’s death and that of so many Black adults and children? No.
We can acknowledge the progress while not giving accolades to the organizations, institutions, companies, governing bodies who are finally doing right when money is on the line and they had ample opportunity to make changes when asked previously by the marginalized groups affected. While FedEx and Nike leveraged their privilege to get the name changed, we need to ask ourselves while working for justice and antiracism, why do we continue to need privilege to intervene instead of doing as oppressed people ask for in the first place? Why is it their lives continue to be worth less than advertising dollars?
Resources (by no means an exhaustive list of articles/books I’ve read):