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Racism in Perspective: Resistance to the Washington Redskins’ Mascot

• October 22, 2013 • 2:00 PM

Redskins on the field in 2005. (PHOTO: BRYANGEEK/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Are those who object to this professional American football team’s mascot just victims of “the tyranny of political correctness”?

The Redskins have been in the news lately—on the front page of the Times, for example—and not for their prowess on the gridiron. It’s their name. Many native Americans find it offensive, understandably so. “Redskins” was not a name they chose. It was a label invented by the European-Americans who took their land and slaughtered them in numbers that today would be considered genocide.

President Obama offered the most tepid hint of criticism of the name. He did not say they should change their name. He said that if he owned the team, he would “think about” changing the name. But that was enough for non-Indians to dismiss the idea as yet one more instance of “political correctness.”

Defenders of the name also argue that the name is not intended to be offensive, and besides, a survey shows that most Americans are not bothered by it. I would guess that most Americans also have no problem with the Cleveland Indians logo, another sports emblem that real Indians find offensive.

In response the National Congress of American Indians offers these possibilities. The Cleveland cap is the real thing. The other two are imagined variations on the same theme.

redskins-caps

The pro-Redskins arguments could also apply here. The New York Jews and San Francisco Chinamen and their logos are not intended to offend, and a survey would probably find a majority of Americans untroubled by these names and logos. And those who do object are just victims of “the tyranny of political correctness.” This last phrase comes from a tweet by Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, an African American. His response seems to make all the more relevant the suggestion of years ago by the American Indian Movement’s Russell Means: “Why don’t they call them The Washington Niggers?”


This post originally appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner site.

Jay Livingston
Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University.

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