I’ve been following the news surrounding the controversy over the name change of the Washington Redskins (one of few American sports teams with Native American nicknames and monikers). Native American activists and advocates have been working to get the team to change its name, but so far, the team’s owner Daniel Snyder continues to refuse. Big surprise.
Most people don’t understand why people, especially Native Americans, are upset over the names of these American sports teams, professional, college, high school and possibly middle and elementary, who carry Native American nicknames and offensive, sometimes cartoonish, stereotypes as mascots. One woman (presumable white or at least whitewashed) Linell Broeckner makes it clear that she doesn’t see why there is such a fuss. Instead, she sees it as an ‘honor’. Here’s what she says in a letter to the editor of the Washington Post:
I am from Wisconsin, but I went to high school in Richmond. Our mascot was the Rebel, and our school song was “Dixie.” Growing up in a more naive time (I graduated in 1964), I was unaware of how politically incorrect we were. I was even called “Yankee” by my classmates.
When I went to college at William and Mary, our mascot was the Indian, and we were (and still are) proudly called the Tribe. Because of political pressure, the school changed the mascot to the Griffin, a ridiculous, imaginary creature. I would rather be called the Fairies, Elves, Ogres or Hobbits.
Let’s stop here for a minute.
First off, I can imagine Broeckner’s high school’s mascot looking like a confederate soldier. And while she admits that she was naive and political incorrect, she’s still completely clueless how she should feel the same way about teams based off of racist depictions of Native Americans. Then again, I guess mocking the Old White South is worse than mocking a people who were brutally destroyed by European American settlers.
Second, as expected, Broeckner’s college confused Indians with Native Americans. They are NOT the same thing. It’s like saying that Chinese and Japanese people are the same people. But I’m willing to bet she grew up being taught that inaccuracy.
History suggests that the first Europeans (including that cutthroat Christopher Columbus) who arrived in the West thought that the people they encountered, and abused, raped and murdered, were the inhabitants of the West Indies. Thus, this would set the misnomer for generations to come.
Third, Broeckner ‘s upset that the college changed their mascot to a “ridiculous, imaginary creature”. I would like to ask her what she sees when she envisions a Native American, or in her case, an Indian. I’m willing to bet all my money that what she thinks is similar to what mainstream (white) America, past and contemporary, projects – a racist, offensive, white supremacist picture depicting all Native Americans with little or no actual knowledge about them. Yet, Broeckner’s vexed that the team changed their mascot to a Griffin. Whatever.
The letter continues:
I wish that Native Americans would recognize the honor of having a sports team named after them. Teams choose Native Americans as mascots and role models because people admire these people. We view them as strong and courageous with many other positive qualities, not as negative stereotypes (although, admittedly, “Redskins” is on the edge). Sorry, Maryland, but who wants a turtle for a mascot?
As a white woman, I cannot walk a mile in the shoes of Native Americans, but I admire their way of life and religion more than those of most groups I see today.
Society is fraught with division. There are more important issues for us to tackle.
I can not speak for those of the First Nations. I don’t feel it is my place to do so as they are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves. Yet, the ignorance in this short letter is so staggering that this person feels that even though Broeckner can not walk a mile in their shoes, she still thinks it is her place to tell them what to think and what to feel.
She needs to realize that not all team names are meant to ‘honor’ Native Americans, if there was any intention of honoring them to begin with. The current problem with the term ‘Redskins’, for instance, is that it refers to scalps of Native Americans that was removed from their heads and sold for bounties in the 17th and 18th centuries. Male scalps were the most paid for with women AND children not far behind. So, ‘Redskin’ is not “on the edge” of hurtful, it is downright deplorable. Period.
Yes. Society is heavily divided. But the problem most white minded people can’t seem to want to grasp is that whiteness is the divider. We can never become a post-racial society unless white racism is dead and buried, and right now, white minded people don’t want an execution. It is the reason why team owners like Dan Snyder refuses to change the name of his team no matter how many people demand it.
People like Broeckner think that Native American people are too sensitive. She thinks that just because she doesn’t see a problem with the naming issue, they shouldn’t as well. Broeckner’s whiteness doesn’t understand their outrage. So, she used her privilege to tell them what’s wrong. What’s more arrogant is that she thinks she is better than other groups of people because she supposedly admires their culture and religion.
If she does have a fondness for Native Americans, then she should know better than to criticize their outrage. She should’ve double-checked her white privilege from the start before writing this letter. Otherwise, her letter is nothing more than a testament to explain why racial progress is not allowed.
Oh, and if Maryland was smart, they would choose a turtle over a racist stereotype any day.