January 11, 2000
following football long ago, so I didnt care one way or the
other when the Redskins finally made the playoffs. But it was an occasion
for downright gloom for a Muskogee Indian woman, who the
Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy says has
Guess how? She takes strong exception
to the team nickname Redskins. Its so racist
and reminds her of genocide. She takes umbrage at seeing a
team mascot, a black man, dressed in what Milloy describes as a
white mans version of an Indian outfit, implying, I suppose,
that real Indians never wore feathered headdresses and war paint.
What then does the Indian woman think
the team should be called? Wild Hogs, because they suggest the
real sport in Washington, which is pork barreling. This cynical joke
inadvertently touches the real point: that team nicknames are supposed to
suggest admirable qualities. It would be hard to root for the New York
Swindlers, the Chicago Butchers, or the San Francisco Misfits.
Our local team used to be the Boston
Braves, till the owner changed the nickname to the Boston
Redskins to distinguish it from the baseball Braves, then also in
Boston. When he moved the team to Washington in the 1930s, he kept the
new nickname, which has persisted through several changes of
Redskins is a colloquialism that
wouldnt be picked today. But for that matter, no ethnic
organization founded today would say it was fighting for colored
people. Yet nobody seems to object that NAACP still stands
for National Association for the Advancement of Colored
Once upon a time, colored people
seemed preferable to the usual slang term, which, as Mark Twain attests,
caused little offense. But in time politesse came to prefer Negro.
Then, in the late 1960s, we were told that Negro had somehow
become offensive, so everyone adopted black (which
had formerly been considered rude). In the 1990s (remember them?)
black was widely replaced by the clumsy
African-American, in keeping with the vogue for pride in African
Why Africa should be
sentimentalized by the same people who damn the Confederacy remains a
mystery, since Southern slavery was imported from Africa, where slavery
still persists. But of course we are supposed to believe that Africa was
the Garden of Eden the land of the Afro hairdo, the dashiki, and
Kwanzaa while the white man invented slavery and genocide and
We are dealing not with genuine
refinements but merely with revolving stereotypes. For all we know, the
phrase African-American, may, in its turn, join the long roster of
offensive epithets, when the descendants of American
slaves realize that their ancestors were originally enslaved by their
African brethren, who realized they could be swapped for the finest fruits
of European civilization, such as whiskey.
But far from being univocally racist, the
white man has romanticized the American Indian since the days of
Fenimore Cooper, naming baseball and football teams Indians,
Braves, Redskins, Seminoles, Cherokees, Hurons, et cetera in honor
of the Indians prowess as a warrior. The notion that such names
are ethnic slurs is one of the many absurdities of this era of victim
politics. Whod have guessed that the descendants of those stoical
braves Sitting Bull and Pontiac would become such whiners?
It does honor to both races that even
during the era of violent hostilities between them, the white man could
see heroism in the red man. The noble profile of an Indian used to grace
the nickel. Even little English boys used to love pretending to be Indians;
they seldom pretended to be African warriors.
As we all know, the American Indian has
no roots in India, so Indians have lately become
Native Americans. But American is a word of Italian
derivation, so there may be more trouble ahead when it sinks in with
Native Americans that they have been renamed
irony of ironies! after a European paleface.
At this point let us pause to thank our
Scandinavian-American friends for not allowing their little feelings to be
hurt by the fact that a certain Midwestern football team is named after
the Vikings. The sons of the Norsemen never caught onto the silly fads of
the twentieth century, and they are the better for it.
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