Tag Archives: racism

Redskins: A Black And White Issue?

I jim_thorpeam just as annoyed as anyone by our nation’s propensity for political correctness, because it is frequently condescending and spoken by people who believe their careful words can hide their true feelings.  But there is a difference between political correctness and sincerity.  There is also a difference between placating people and bestowing honor.

This year, coinciding with the annual dispute over the celebration of Columbus Day, President Obama once again stirred up racial divisions by inserting himself into the debate over the use of the name “Redskins” by Washington’s NFL franchise team.  In an AP interview, the President said he would “think about changing” the name if he owned the team.  Many people, Native Americans especially, consider the term “redskin” a racial slur and highly offensive.  Leaders from various Native American groups have called upon Redskins owner Dan Snyder to change the team’s name, but Snyder has been defiant, saying he will “never” change the name, citing the team’s storied eighty year history.  While it’s hard to see how a football team’s eighty year history trumps thousands of years of indigenous culture, most Americans remain opposed to a name change.

The Washington Redskins are just one of countless sports teams across the nation, both professional and academic, which have appropriated Native American cultural symbols: arrowheads, war bonnets, tomahawks, feathers, etc. and paired them with “native” names like “Indians”, “braves”, “savages”, “chiefs”, “warriors”, etc.  The result is an amalgamation of cultural confusion not unlike that which occurs in the aftermath of any culture-clash.  History shows us that a variety of reactions always emerge from cultural conflicts.  There are always groups calling for a return to traditional ways, those urging an adoption of the dominant culture, and those seeking a middle-ground of mutual understanding, respect and co-existence.   In America we find all of these, including the descendants of European settlers co-opting Native traditions.  As a descendant of European settlers, it’s bothersome for me to see my people adopting the trappings of Native culture in their desire to be more “spiritual”, “tribal” or otherwise “in tune” with the Earth; hanging a dreamcatcher from your rear-view mirror doesn’t solve that problem.  In their ignorance, they believe this somehow honors Native people.  When it comes to football, many people believe the Redskins name honors Native Americans.  But it’s hard to make that argument when the very people they claim to be honoring say the name does not honor them.  And I’m pretty sure dressing up in war paint and feathers for a game, getting drunk and mocking traditional spiritual songs with chants of “hey-ya-hey-ya” doesn’t honor them either.

While I agree with Alex Jones that President Obama pounced on the mascot debate as a way to exaggerate the prevalence of racism in America and distract from the government shutdown debacle and the disaster that is Obamacare, I disagree with Jones’ belief that the team name honors Native Americans.  In a recent Infowars broadcast, he compares the Redskins to other NFL teams like the Minnesota Vikings, believing the name Redskins similarly conveys bravery, honor and strength.  There are a couple of problems with this comparison however.  I staunchly defend Alex Jones against accusations of racism, but I believe he is misinformed in this case.  Native American tribes are sovereign nations and they exist as such to this day.  The Vikings were an ancient, seafaring people, who’s culture has since been absorbed by modern society over the centuries, much like the ancient Celts, Saxons, Hittites, Vandals, Moors, etc.  The term “Viking” is from the Old Norse and means roughly, “one who takes part in an overseas expedition”; unlike “redskin”, there is no derogatory association.   Although, if any modern-day Vikings existed, they might very well protest the romanticized image of a gruff, blonde-haired warrior, complete with horned helmet, which historians conclude was only used in religious ceremonies, not in battle.  They might also protest their entire culture being reduced to a football mascot.  “Redskin” is a slur, the same as “nigger” or “wetback” or “slanty-eye”.  Yes, so we’re told Native Americans called Europeans “paleface”- arguably also a slur.  Personally, I’m not offended, but I might be if a Native-owned football team called themselves the Plymouth Palefaces and made the likeness of say, a crazed Reverend Dimmesdale spiking a football their logo!

So what about other teams, like the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame?  Their mascot is basically a bare-knuckled boxing leprechaun.  Pretty offensive if you’re of Irish decent, right?  In this case, maybe not.  Why?  Because the Irish people have become part of the dominant culture in America.  I suspect the case might be different if the team was owned by an English lord in the sixteenth century.  So, it’s also a matter of setting.  Native Americans are not part of the dominant culture; they continue to suffer the devastating effects of European colonization and a great many live in startling poverty.  What becomes lost to history is the fact that each tribe of the Americas had a unique culture; for a long period of time, their collective way of life was officially targeted by the U.S. government for complete eradication.  Dan Snyder didn’t personally conquer the Natives, but he certainly profits from their “brave” legacy.

With that being said, not all Natives are offended by the team’s name.  Not all Natives take offense to being called “Indians” or “American Indians”, despite the fact that the term originates from Christopher Columbus’ faulty conclusion that he had landed in the East Indies when he came ashore in the Caribbean; he called the indigenous people he found living there indios.  I live on a reservation in Montana and have personally witnessed tribal members wearing Washington Redskins jackets and Cleveland Indians hats; for some it is a matter of pride.  Many call each other Indians.  Whether or not that should be discouraged is not really for me to decide.  Similarly, in the song Sucka Nigga (1993) by the group A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip raps, “And being that we use it as a term of endearment” in reference to the word “nigger”, pointing out that for many young Black people, the word serves as an expression of friendship.  The song was part commentary on the heated debate over the use of the word at the time. Some African-American people are offended by the word, others are not.  Some prefer to be called “Black” instead of African-American.  For most, whether or not an offense has been committed depends entirely on whom is using the word and whom it’s directed at.  I don’t recall ever hearing a Native call another Native “redskin”.  It’s not necessarily the wording you choose, but what’s in your heart that matters; that’s the general consensus.  But that wording can still evoke pain.

I have to agree with Obama and Bob Costas here, who called the team’s name an “insult” and a “slur” during NBC’s Sunday Night Football broadcast (featuring the Washington Redskins vs. the Dallas Cowboys ironically), although the manner in which these types of political distractions are disseminated to the people (frequently through NBC) is questionable.  The political pressure is on and the media is gearing up.  We don’t need the government to step in here; we should leave it up to the people to protest or boycott the Redskins or the NFL if they see fit.  But I do think Dan Snyder, the NFL and much of the conservative media need to lend an ear to Native people’s objections.  I’m sure most Natives feel there are more pressing issues concerning their people that they’d rather have the President address, and Bob Costas never took issue with the name Redskins before that I can recall, but changing the team’s name would serve as an important gesture of respect, nonetheless.


One American (An Introduction)

we_the_peopleWith politics more divisive than ever, it’s nothing special when another political blog pops up featuring the hallmark, “I want my country back!” rant.  It’s just another red-state, right-wing, rifle-toting redneck who somehow managed to figure his way ‘round the internet, right?  Or, it’s one of these regular, disenfranchised, middle-aged white guys just looking out for their families, who turn into raging xenophobes when their wallet is targeted.  Except, if you read a little further, you’ll see I don’t quite fit these profiles, and that’s important.  Because those who seek to control you want you to believe there is no common ground among the American people; they want our country polarized and divided, because it serves their purposes.

I was born in 1975 and grew up in a working-class family in the San Francisco Bay Area.  My dad was a Portuguese immigrant and my mom was born in Mississippi to Scotch-Irish parents.  Upon their families converging in California, they met and married.  My dad was a Teamster and drove a forklift.  My mom became a teacher and also worked at a semiconductor fab in Silicon Valley.  Our household was white, blue-collar and Democrat.  Ours was that mythical, normal, suburban life.  You know, Cub Scouts, soccer, skateboards and Nintendo.  We shared that lifestyle with families from many different backgrounds:  Black, Filipino, Korean, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc.  And on Independence Day, we would all have block parties, barbeques, water balloon fights and shoot off fireworks together.  We were the melting pot.

As a teen, I was repulsed by politics and politicians.  I was spiritually minded, introspective and non-competitive; I leaned about as far left as possible in my manner of thinking.  Eventually, I reasoned I should be a good citizen and participate in the election process, so I cast my first vote for Bill Clinton, who defeated Bob Dole (and Ross Perot) in 1996.  In the 2000 election, not impressed with either George Bush or Al Gore, I voted for Ralph Nader on the Green Party ticket.  The events of September 11, 2001 changed my trajectory.  I remember wondering to myself that day why our jets weren’t in the air within hours.  Why the delay?  I started to open my eyes, but not in the way you might be inclined to think.  I didn’t develop a fear of Osama Bin Laden or Muslims.  Living in the Bay Area gifted me with great cultural diversity.  I had friends and classmates who were Muslim.  I studied world religions in college and as a personal interest.  I read poetry by Rumi.  When the Bush Administration decided to invade Iraq in 2003, despite no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, I started having serious doubts about the true motives of our government.  I remember the distinct feeling that something was wrong while watching the media coverage of the “shock and awe” bombardment of Baghdad.  In 2004, I voted for John Kerry and in 2008, I voted for Barack Obama, disillusioned with the declining state of the nation under Bush, but hopeful.  In 2012, I decided not to give Obama my vote for a second term and instead voted for Gary Johnson, candidate for the Libertarian Party.

The truth is, I’m not a Libertarian.  I’m not a Liberal.  I’m not a Conservative.  I’m not a Progressive.  I’m not a Democrat or a Republican.  I’m not the Tea Party.  I’m not a Socialist, a Communist or a Capitalist.  I’m not an environmentalist.  I’m not Occupy.  I’m not Anonymous.  I’m not an anarchist.  I’m not a conspiracy-theorist.  I’m not LGBT.  I’m not a Portuguese-Scotch-Irish-American.  In other words, I don’t have an agenda.  I am One American.  And I don’t own a gun… yet.

Without disparaging these groups, I have to ask, why are we, as a nation of individuals, so inclined to identify ourselves so narrowly?  Liberals are not liberal and Conservatives are not conservative.  I started this blog, in part, to demonstrate that despite our differences and contrary to what the media conditions you to believe, we all have a lot more in common.  And, we all have a lot at stake.  I am proud to be an American.  I love American culture.  I love American values.  I don’t believe in “tolerance” I believe in celebrating and embracing diversity.  I love all people.  I believe in family.  I believe in humanity.  I believe in love and compassion.  I believe in freedom.

Fully acknowledging the many blemishes on the history of the United States of America and the imperfections of the men who founded our country and wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the ideals that we, as Americans, value and aspire to are noble and unmatched in the history of Western civilization.  The values of liberty, truth and justice are worth fighting for.  The errors of the past and present should be held up to this light and made right.  Even if one argues that the Constitution was not originally meant to protect Natives, or Blacks or women or immigrants, it shall, by will of the people.  The problem is, the idea of “government of the people, by the people, for the people” is rapidly being washed awayOur ability to function as a free nation will end if we do not identify the true enemies of freedom and stop them.  In America, the idea of representative government has been usurped by subservience to special interest groups, the military-industrial complex, multi-national corporations and banks.  In this type of society you are not a citizen, you are a subject.

The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees my freedom of speech.  Despite this, for what I have just written in these few paragraphs, I can now be targeted by our government as a potential terrorist.  That should be disturbing to anyone reading this blog.  In fact, to be considered a terrorist, you no longer need to express disdain for the government, you merely need to proclaim support for the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.  If you’re a veteran returning from war or you proudly display the American flag, you’re dangerous.  I have always been an independent thinker.  As such, I have witnessed my own philosophy and world view morph several times.  Now it’s beginning to crystallize.  My core values and beliefs, those which have been constant throughout, have triggered an alarm inside me.  I am distraught.  Even I, not being a member of any Tea Party group, not owning a gun, not being particularly religious, can see the injustice of the IRS targeting conservative groups.  Perhaps you think this is ok, since you don’t agree with Tea Party politics.  But the fact of the matter is, wrong is wrong.  It is not politically relative.  They’re coming for everyone, eventually.  They’re coming for you too.

Those crying “I want my country back” can’t be so narrowly categorized anymore.  We’re not all “bitter clingers” or “joe sixpacks”.  We are students, engineers, laborers, farmers, veterans, journalists, police officers, taxi drivers, scientists, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, truckers, doctors, teachers, designers, athletes, mechanics, small business owners- people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds.

Ironically, in 2004 I stood on a street corner in Northern California with my wife, who is Lakota, and our newborn daughter holding a sign reading “Iraq Lies Cost Lives”.  Even in “liberal” California I was cursed at and threatened.  It distresses me to see people who so vehemently opposed the Iraq War and then President George W. Bush, now lining up in support of President Obama, when he has only extended and deepened Bush’s abuses of executive power.  We are a label-handicapped society.  Is this irrational support of Obama because he’s a Democrat?  Is it because he’s a Liberal?  Is it because he’s Black?  Now, as I witness liberty groups, defenders of the Constitution, gun owners and people opposing President Obama’s policies being labeled as racists and potential terrorists, I have to wonder, who do they think we are?  If you and I are the enemy, who are they?