I quit following football long ago, so I didn’t care one way
or the other when the Redskins finally made the playoffs. But it was
an occasion for downright gloom for a Muskogee Indian woman, who the
Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy says has “sensitized” him.
Guess how? She takes strong exception to the team nickname Redskins.
It’s “so racist” and reminds her of “genocide.” She
takes umbrage at seeing a team mascot, a black man, dressed in what
Milloy describes as “a white man’s version of an Indian
outfit,” implying, I suppose, that real Indians never wore feathered
headdresses and war paint.
What then does the Indian woman think the team should be called? “Wild
Hogs, because they suggest the real sport in Washington, which is pork
barreling.” This cynical joke inadvertently touches the real
point: that team nicknames are supposed to suggest admirable qualities.
It would be hard to root for the New York Swindlers, the Chicago Butchers,
or the San Francisco Misfits.
Our local team used to be the Boston Braves, till the owner changed
the nickname to the Boston Redskins to distinguish it from the baseball
Braves, then also in Boston. When he moved the team to Washington in
the 1930s, he kept the new nickname, which has persisted through several
changes of ownership.
Redskins is a colloquialism that wouldn’t be picked today. But
for that matter, no ethnic organization founded today would say it
was fighting for “colored people.” Yet nobody seems to
object that NAACP still stands for National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People.
Once upon a time, colored people seemed preferable to the usual slang
term, which, as Mark Twain attests, caused little offense. But in time
politesse came to prefer Negro. Then, in the late 1960s, we were told
that Negro had somehow become “offensive,” so everyone
adopted black (which had formerly been considered rude). In the 1990s
(remember them?) black was widely replaced by the clumsy African-American, in keeping with the vogue for pride in African “roots.”
Why Africa should be sentimentalized by the same people who damn the
Confederacy remains a mystery, since Southern slavery was imported
from Africa, where slavery still persists. But of course we are supposed
to believe that Africa was the Garden of Eden — the land of the
Afro hairdo, the dashiki, and Kwanzaa — while the white man invented
slavery and genocide and stuff.
We are dealing not with genuine refinements but merely with revolving
stereotypes. For all we know, the phrase African-American, may, in
its turn, join the long roster of “offensive” epithets,
when the descendants of American slaves realize that their ancestors
were originally enslaved by their African brethren, who realized they
could be swapped for the finest fruits of European civilization, such
But far from being univocally racist, the white man has romanticized
the American Indian since the days of Fenimore Cooper, naming baseball
and football teams — Indians, Braves, Redskins, Seminoles, Cherokees,
Hurons, et cetera — in honor of the Indian’s prowess as
a warrior. The notion that such names are ethnic slurs is one of the
many absurdities of this era of victim politics. Who’d have guessed
that the descendants of those stoical braves Sitting Bull and Pontiac
would become such whiners?
It does honor to both races that even during the era of violent hostilities
between them, the white man could see heroism in the red man. The noble
profile of an Indian used to grace the nickel. Even little English
boys used to love pretending to be Indians; they seldom pretended to
be African warriors.
As we all know, the American Indian has no roots in India, so “Indians” have
lately become “Native Americans.” But American is a word
of Italian derivation, so there may be more trouble ahead when it sinks
in with “Native Americans” that they have been renamed — irony
of ironies! — after a European paleface.
At this point let us pause to thank our Scandinavian-American friends
for not allowing their little feelings to be hurt by the fact that
a certain Midwestern football team is named after the Vikings. The
sons of the Norsemen never caught onto the silly fads of the twentieth
century, and they are the better for it.
Copyright © 2011 by the Fitzgerald
Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This column was published originally
by Griffin Internet Syndicate on January 11, 2000.
Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio
and archives of some of his columns.
Watch Sobran's last TV appearance on YouTube.
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during the FGF Tribute to Joe Sobran in December 2009.
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