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Carbone: Washington Redskins’ Name Insults Every Native American

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Reducing people to a stereotype stamped onto a football helmet is not an honor; it is an insulting attempt by a dominant culture to redefine a diverse, accomplished people in order to white-wash an American Holocaust, believes Gerald Carbone.

The Oneida Indian Nation finds the name “Washington Redskins” offensive, and wants the team to change its moniker.

Daniel Snyder, the man who owns the team, says, "We'll never change the name. It's that simple. NEVER -- you can use caps."

An Associated Press poll taken in April found that most Americans, 79 percent, agree with Snyder. I appeal to those 79 percent to reconsider. The logo of the Washington Redskins is a cynosure of the silencing of an American Holocaust; it erases from history one of America’s gravest wrongs. It not only insults Indians, it also sells all Americans short by erasing from history some of this land’s greatest contributions to civilization.

Now the basketball team in Boston calls itself the Celtics, and despite the logo of a leprechaun with a pipe and shillelagh few Irish-Americans – of which I am one, on my mother’s side – find this offensive.

Let’s place that team in London. Instead of calling its players the Celtics, let’s call them a pejorative name for Irish, such as the Micks. The fightin’ leprechaun logo of the London Micks would not play well in the Catholic wards of Belfast, and would fare even worse in the south of Ireland.

Let’s move the team to Turkey, and call its players the Istanbul Armenians.

Let’s move it to Berlin and call it an offensive name for Jewish people, the Berlin – choose your hurtful stereotype here.

Irish-Americans felt the sting of discrimination in America, but it never was the policy of governments in America to attempt to exterminate the Irish. It has been the stated policy of many governments established on American soil to exterminate the Indian.

After massacring the Pequot Village at Mystic in 1637, the governments of Connecticut and Massachusetts declared that the surviving Pequot could no longer speak their language or refer to themselves as Pequot.

In 1763, Lord Jeffrey Amherst wrote in favor of a plan to spread smallpox among Indians by giving them pox-infected blankets: “You will Do well to try to Innoculate the Indians by means of Blanketts, as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race.”

In the mid-1800s the United States Department of the Interior embraced a policy of slaughtering buffalo to near extinction in order to drive the Plains Indians off their lands.

In January 1881, Rhode Island declared the Narragansett Indian tribe extinct. Neither the Narragansett nor the Pequot got the message that they were extinct; happily, both are still with us today.

I almost called a few local Indians to ask how they felt about changing the name of the Washington football franchise. Lord knows there are plenty of them around – despite attempts to extirpate them. But Indians did not name a football team the Redskins, and it’s not their responsibility to correct this insult. That duty falls on all Americans.

Indian removal and African slavery are America’s twin holocausts. We prefer to forget these inconvenient truths of our history, to blot their stains from the historical record. We rewrite history in cultural touchstones that portray Indians as foolish savages or stealthy warriors like the one pictured on the Redskins logo. But in our willful ignorance of Indian history we overlook the great contributions the Americas have made to civilization.

Yes, some Indians made and make great warriors; they also were and are great farmers and civil engineers. Indians in the Americas developed 60 percent of crops now in cultivation: corn, potatoes, tomatoes, squashes, and beans. On the Mississippi River they built a city of 20,000 in 1200, 500 years before London reached that threshold.

As Americans we should honor, not obliterate, the history of our land and the shared histories of its people. Reducing people to a stereotype stamped onto a football helmet is not an honor; it is an insulting attempt by a dominant culture to redefine a diverse, accomplished people in order to white-wash an American Holocaust.

Indians and non-Indians, all of us as people, deserve better.

Gerald M. Carbone is the author of Nathanael Greene, and was a journalist for twenty-five years, mostly for the Providence Journal. He holds a Master's in Public Humanities from Brown University and has won two of American journalism's most prestigious prizes--the American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award and a John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University. He lives in Warwick, Rhode Island.


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What's next, Mr. Carbone? Going after the Patriots because the name is too warlike? Don't dismiss that comment; there are already people trying to get rid of the National Anthem for the same reason. It is interesting that this "controversy" arises just as our Fearless Leader fails to get his "signature achievement" off the ground successfully. He stepped into it, too, as he is so wont to do. This is a manufactured crisis. Let's take a look, if you want to honor Native Americans, at how little the Administration has done to make conditions better on the varios reservations that are out there in our country.

Comment #1 by Michael Trenn on 2013 11 16

I did like the way, though, that you actually used all caps for "NEVER". By the way, it looks like the "Signature" is in crayon.

Comment #2 by Michael Trenn on 2013 11 16

Michael, I would indeed change the National Anthem that a 1930s Congress saddled us with: It is a poor poem about a minor battle in a divisive war set to an un-singable drinking song. There again, we can do better.

Comment #3 by Gerald Carbone on 2013 11 17

Lanny Davis and dress stains wont be able to turn the tide on this one.. Snyder isn't an idiot. Major sponsors love to show how politically astute they are and will begin to distance themselves once they feel this issue has reached its peak and they will derive the most press for their "bold plan" and departing company. At the same time, Snyder will look like a hero when he caves and "see's the light", changing the name to something more palatable. Sponsors win because they effected change, Snyder wins because, a relentless as he was, gained an "appreciation" for the Native Americans and the hardships they have endured.. At the end of the day... its a wash with everyone walking away looking like tough guys...

Comment #4 by Bob McCay on 2013 11 17

Bob, then changing the name is a win-win.

Comment #5 by Gerald Carbone on 2013 11 17

Agreed.. I think I took the long way home and lost track of the point.. Yes, a name change would be the way to go but only after much acrimony and chest pounding..

Comment #6 by Bob McCay on 2013 11 17

I don't see how the war of 1812 was "divisive," unless one wanted to be re-colonized by Britain. We were invaded by the British, who burned many seacoast-area towns, including Bristol and Washington DC. As far as the artistic merits of the Star-Spangled Banner are concerned; let's see you, Mr. Carbone, do better while detained on a hostile ship in the middle of a battle. Nothing that I have ever seen in your writing leads me to belive that you could improve upon what Francis Scott Key did. What would be your choice, anyway? America the Beautiful? This Land is Your Land? Those are usually what liberals propose.

Comment #7 by Michael Trenn on 2013 11 17

The governors of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts refused to comply with the federal request for militia troops to fight the War of 1812. Northeastern states seriously discussed secession over the issue, and the controversy ultimately led to the demise of the Federalist Party. That meets the definition of divisive. And if you like Key's poetry you are right, you would not like mine. As far as a better anthem goes, how about something by Aaron Copland?

Comment #8 by Gerald Carbone on 2013 11 18

why is there no discussion of the Chicago black hawks? cleveland Indians? Florida Seminoles? Atlanta braves? kc chiefs?

last I heard, the nfl was a private enterprise.

ps.. I know of many restaurants that serve steak as a "tomahawk" cut. should they be forced to change the name?

no--if you don't like it, don't go there or don't root for them or don't buy it. if enough people stop going to the games or supporting the team, then they will change, if not you are stuck with it.

no mention that some native Americans don't care about this issue.

the brown university was built with slave money- what could be worse than that? the school should change its name. why aren't you calling for that?

the libs--we know what's best for everyone...but remember, there are rules for us, and rules for everyone else!

Comment #9 by john paycheck on 2013 11 18

Mister Paycheck, if you are sincerely interested in the Brown family's ties to the slave trade, I'd suggest reading this report: http://brown.edu/Research/Slavery_Justice/report/

As far as other Indian-themed teams, there has been discussion. On reflection Dartmouth, no bastion of liberal thinking, changed its Indian name because it was the right thing to do.

Here's another suggestion: Let's name the next the NFL franchise the Blackskins. Its logo will be a composite of African-American features to create a stereotypical black male. The team's fans will paint their faces in black face. Is this okay?

I have attempted to persuade you to rethink a position. You have branded me a "lib," and raised tangential issues, but have made no effort to explain why you feel it is okay to appropriate Indians as team mascots. Please show me your thinking.

Comment #10 by Gerald Carbone on 2013 11 18

I don't always agree with you Gerald, but I will say that you are always ready to argue and support your position with people (myself included) that begin by tossing rocks and personalizing the issue rather than examining the issue objectively. I give you credit Gerald.. you keep your head and offer education.. I like your style. I haven't gotten too deep into the 109 pages of the report. I chuckled before reading much of it, expecting Brown University, the author of the study, to spin it. So far, the report is brutally honest. We all read in second grade how so many Pilgrims died on the voyage over, never giving a seconds thought of the travel over for slaves which by Browns own account, the majority died, some by their own means, others by disease, etc. Appreciate your approach.. I may not agree, but I always walk away having learned something.

Comment #11 by Bob McCay on 2013 11 19

Thanks Bob! This might have been the last column -- I'll be spending the next 18 months researching and writing a history of Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing. Look for the book in 2015!

Comment #12 by Gerald Carbone on 2013 11 19


I strongly disagree with your rationale.

First, as an Irish-American, I am insulted at the drunken depiction of the Irish around St. Patrick's Day. Those images originate from the early 1900s, when the rising number of Irish immigrants would take to the streets to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Newspapers would portray them in cartoons as "drunk, violent monkeys." Really? I'm not a monkey. Neither were my ancestors.

It would seem to me that America is getting more bland by the minute. Things that were once held historically sacred are now being called into question, simply because someone's feelings might get hurt.

Take, for example, the famed Christmas tree. Surely this argument will rear its ugly head this season, though I hope not. What upsets me is that it's a symbol of Christianity that's being targeted. What about the Menorah? Or better, why do public schools get Good Friday off? Most government agencies (at the local level) get the day off as well.

Rather than barring people from exercising their free right to speech and expression, we should be celebrating our rights to do so. We can't continue to be the watchdog for historically offensive material. Washing away that symbolism quiets history, rather than generates discussion.

Comment #13 by Christine Joiner on 2013 11 27

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