Do we really think we can get off that easily?
As football fans have heard, there is a movement afoot to stop calling the National Football League club in Washington, D.C., by their team name, the Washington Redskins.
This is just the latest move to wipe out what some feel are degrading and insensitive nicknames that insult to the native peoples of North America.
Many high schools and colleges have already changed their team names — Stanford going from Indian to Cardinals in 1972 being one of the first. Some have been forced to get rid of their mascots — witness the demise of Chief Illiniwek at the University of Illinois.
But other names are OK. The University of Florida teams are the Seminoles, but for some reason, that name is fine.
There are always complaints abut the Atlanta Braves and their old time screaming Indian head logo, and Chief Wahoo, the laughing face which graces the hat of the Cleveland Indians.
President Clinton refused to wear the Chief Wahoo hat and wore the big “C” hat when throwing out the first pitch in Cleveland one baseball season.
Sports columnist Rick Reilly took on the proponents of deep-sixing the Redskins name in a column last week. He claimed that the native peoples still remaining just aren’t offended by it. He cited high schools in the west of mostly native student enrollments who were proud of their Redskins team names.
Besides, native languages are descriptive and redskins is a descriptive term to distinguish native people from the invading whites, or the “pale faces,” if you prefer.
That logic reminded me of when the kids were little and my daughter described her new friend next door as the black girl. Awash in white guilt, I asked Oak Park’s diversity director, who was black, if I should talk to my daughter about describing her new friend that way.
“Heck no,” she told me. Kids are descriptive. It’s natural for them to take a distinguishing feature to describe someone. It’s only a problem when the descriptive is used to denigrate or belittle people. Don’t make a big deal out of it.
The issue wasn’t how a 6-year-old described her new playmate. The issue was how I felt about whites relating to black people.
It was my problem.
And so it is with this whole team names debate.
The issue isn’t what we call the Washington, D.C., football team, or that my high school is the Lane Tech Indians.
The issue is how majority whites relate to native people. And no matter how you look at it, that’s a real big problem. It was honestly debated during the Grant Administration, when Pres. Ulysses S. Grant put forward a peace policy aimed at sheltering Indians on a reservation and eventually assimilating them. The other position was extermination, a term we haven’t heard since World War II.
If you recall, the Grant policy sort of won out, but not before a whole lot of extermination.
So if we really want to confront how whites relate to native people, a team name is the teeny tiniest of issues possible.
I don’t think we can get off that easy.