Carbone: Washington Redskins’ Name Insults Every Native American

Saturday, November 16, 2013


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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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