Tuesday, August 5, 2014

NFL Team Names are Lame, Especially the Racist Ones

"Washington Redskins" is an offensive name for a football team, but that's not necessarily why it should be changed. You can him and haw all you want about political correctness. You may even claim that it has "run amok." You're wrong, and that's fine, but god forbid anyone try explaining why. I believe that's one of your many fundamental flaws as a human (I certainly have multitudes of my own, so calm down).

But you control the dialogue. Your insistence that overly offended people are the problem is evidence of your control of the situation and the language we use to approach it. Our nation's history, particularly the racial and ethnic bits, further substantiate my claim. White people conquered and pillaged, and now control society in this part of the continent. Is that an oversimplification? Yes. Are oversimplifications only problematic when they make you look bad? It's a lot like how when you're the one who is offended, suddenly political correctness isn't ruining everything, and people need to be more respectful, right?

If you're from the United States, and you are reading this, there's a good chance you're white. I am not guilting you (us) or holding you (us) responsible for the mistakes of your ancestors. After all, it's not your fault you were born with privilege simply on the basis of your skin color. You also can't blame someone for being born on a reservation. You may fault indigenous peoples (which is a very condescending, Whitey McWhiterson term, but why bother saying it differently, right?) for failing to assimilate. But this is actually where I do blame you, person-who-cares-too-much-about-other-people-caring-too-much. A world society that allows a professional sports team to be called the Washington Redskins is not necessarily one that is fit for assimilation. It's almost as if it's actively resisting it, by so nonchalantly making light of the fact that we very recently attempted to exterminate Native Americans, people otherwise identified as having red skin. We've named cities after the president who signed the bill that made this happen. Maybe we didn't name them after him because of that, but still, holy fuck. And yeah, none of our ancestral politicians were innocent (they were politicians, after all), and that includes our founding fathers. But we still control the dialogue. I won't bother beating you over the head with the irony of our capital city's football team having the name it does. I will point out that its ownership claims the name honors natives (who, again, are the ones we know as having red skin). Intentions are great, but unfortunately reality doesn't stop there.

Changing the names of cities and schools and parks seems tedious and difficult, but so what? It can be done, if but gradually, so long as people are educated. I know I'm asking for too much.

So instead, let's focus again on the NFL, something we're all accustomed to doing instead of whatever we're probably supposed to be doing. A lot of team names are silly, and bear only the shallowest of symbolic connections to their city's respective culture and history. You could also argue football is silly, and you'd be right. But there exists a spectrum of silliness, some forms of which are more significant and more important than other forms of silliness. Isn't it silly how I said it like that?

The teams themselves may have forever carved their existence into their city's identity, but a lot of them also may have not. Lest we not forget, these teams are franchises. The NFL is a business. We Americans love business. We're okay, generally, with businesses bending over backwards to cater to the lowest common denominators of American society (so long as we are not inconvenienced, of course).

But maybe the Washington Redskins team name is not bad for business. I'd argue that financial success is not a metric for ethical decision-making, but I'm not entirely sure how else to communicate with you anymore. I'm also not claiming to speak on behalf of any racial minorities. I only claim to speak on behalf of those who have empathy and are in favor of actively utilizing it.

The Washington Redskins existence as a brand is symptomatic of greater social problems, and you could argue that merely changing the team name is not going to solve those problems. You'd also be acknowledging (however tacitly) that those problems do, in fact, exist. And holy shit, now we have some common ground to work with. This seemingly inane "politically correct" conversation regarding a very large football brand's offensive name has now spawned another conversation about how we can be technically correct. Maybe there aren't millions of people who are offended to the point of boycotting and protesting the organization. Maybe there would be if so many natives had not been "removed." The point is that more people should naturally be in favor of, or at the very least be un-offended by the idea of changing the team's stupid name. 

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