Madrone sunrise, Point Lobos

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Name Game

There's been a lot of back and forth on the propriety of names of sports teams lately, obviously the Washington Redskins moniker causing the greatest consternation. I have heard all the arguments and could give you for and agin on both sides of the issue quite easily but think that after a bit of thought, I have to come down on the sides of the offended indigenous folks on this one.

There are various theories about when the term redskin actually came into being but it is indisputable that it was found in print at least as far back as 1813.
The earliest known appearance of the term in print occurred on October 9, 1813 in an article quoting a letter dated August 27, 1813 from a "gentleman at St. Louis" concerning an expedition being formed and to be led by Gen. Benjamin Howard to "route the savages from the Illinois and Mississippi territories." "The expedition will be 40 days out, and there is no doubt but we shall have to contend with powerful hordes of red skins, as our frontiers have been lined with them last summer, and have had frequent skirmishes with our regulars and rangers.
Some have made the claim that the term arose out of a bounty for native scalps. In any case, true or not, it was most often used historically as a slur.

I realize that at least three native american sports teams have adopted the sobriquet. No matter, many native americans are offended and I think that we should be more sensitive to their feelings than the wounded umbrage of fans of the Washington football team.

I think that you only need imagine someone invoking the Brooklyn Kikes or the Harlem Niggers teams to get a feeling for the impropriety of the name.


Having said that I think that we can take this mascot stuff way too far. Recently a group of San Diego State (the institution where I got my credential) students petitioned to do away with the Aztecs name and mascot.

A group called the San Diego State University Queer People of Color Collective has filed a resolution asking the student body to end its association with the term "Aztecs" as it mounts to racism and inappropriateness.

Come again? What is racist about invoking a name of a tribe of warriors? Why do we not hear similar outcries from angry groups of Spartans, Trojans or Fighting Irish? The latter definitely invokes bad stereotypes, the irish being known as drinkers and fighters. Nobody seems to have a problem with the Louisiana - Lafayette Rajin' Cajuns. Does it invoke the misimpression that cajun americans have anger issues?

What are we going to be left with, just animal names, or is Peta going to go after the Panthers, Lions and Bears too? Talk about ridiculous political correctness gone awry. From the resolution:
WHEREAS, the continued use of the name “Aztec” and the “Aztec Warrior” mascot perpetuate harmful
stereotypes of Native Americans, including the notion that Native Americans are innately violent,
dangerous, and “savage” which is demonstrated by the Aztec Warrior’s aggressive body language, the
Aztec Warrior’s use of a spear at special events, the use of a spear on the SDSU Athletics Logo which is
printed on uniforms and SDSU memorabilia, and the slogan “fear the spear...
The spear apparently really bothers the collective as they have also inserted this language:
5. Weapons Ban (The mascot will not be allowed to use, hold or operate anything resembling a man-made weapon)
What a load of crap. By the way, the University adopted the Aztecs as their mascot in 1925 and the Montezuma figure made his appearance in 1941.  The mascot enjoys a 95% popularity rating on the campus, engenders widespread support and pride amongst a large latino population and the sports arena received major sponsorship from the local Viejas Band of Mission Indians.

So what is my point and am I drawing too thin a line? My point is that adopting a name of a tribe of warriors, be they greek, native american or from who knows where is cool, invoking a name that has been used colloquially to degrade a people is not.

U. C. Santa Cruz Banana Slug


Anonymous said...

When asked 99% will allude to the football team when asked about 'Redskins' rather than the indigenous hordes. Word meanings change as do their pronunciations (witness the 'Gay' 90s). Acceptable team names might include 'The Fighting...(supply your own team name)...s'. But then you might get an argument from fighters.

Blue Heron said...

Appreciate and understand your viewpoint. Let me give you a counter argument. I went into a shop the other day and got an earful about a client "jewing" a vendor down. I said "really" to the shop owner and pointed out that I had always paid more than I owed to this particular person, was this a fair form of expression? He didn't even flinch. So 99% of the people think that the derogatory and racist insult means something else so I should just stfu and take it with your reasoning. Hmmm.