Slate announced yesterday that it will start referring to the Washington Redskins as “Washington’s NFL team.” David Plotz explains his magazine’s rationale:
Americans think differently about race and the language of race than we did 80 years ago. We now live in a world, for instance, in which it’s absolutely unacceptable for an NFL player to utter a racial slur. Changing the way we talk is not political correctness run amok. It reflects an admirable willingness to acknowledge others who once were barely visible to the dominant culture, and to recognize that something that may seem innocent to you may be painful to others. In public discourse, we no longer talk about groups based on their physical traits: No one would ever refer to Asians as yellow-skinned. This is why the majority of teams with Indian nicknames have dropped them over the past 40 years.
He says the term’s “relatively innocent history” doesn’t excuse its current usage:
As Smithsonian linguist Ives Goddard has shown, European settlers in the 18th century seem to have adopted the term from Native Americans, who used “red skin” to describe themselves, and it was generally a descriptor, not an insult. Over time, it became a more ambiguous, and less benign term, sometimes used as a slur. When Washington owner George Preston Marshall – who was admittedly a racist, refusing to integrate his team until 1962 – chose the name in the 1930s, he was almost certainly trying to invoke Indian bravery and toughness, not to impugn Indians.
But time passes, the world changes, and all of a sudden a well-intentioned symbol is an embarrassment.
Update from a reader:
Color me unimpressed. If Slate started nurturing Native American journalists or ran a new, substantive article on Native American issues once a week (whether by a Native American or non-Native American journalist), I’d be impressed. Please publish something along those lines, if you have it in you. It’d be nice if they got a little embarrassed by their cheap, easy sanctimony.
For more on the long-standing controversy, check out the comprehensive Dish thread, Do Mascots Need Modernizing?