Opinion | Sports

James Giago Davies: Washington team insults the first Americans

The following opinion by James Giago Davies appeared in the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.

James Giago Davies

Please loan us your honor
Receive our contempt in return
By James Giago Davies

It is hard to imagine how people could argue in favor of a flagrantly racist nickname like the Redskins, but that a majority of White people don’t find it offensive is fact, and must mean they have an argument why. In the interest of fairness, I want to present that argument as best I can.

While the Wasicu will see the Lakota part of a scruffy breed, he will also see the Wasicu part, and this is fundamental in justifying their argument for Redskin. Years ago, I got to talking to a guy, and he got to liking me, but he had something that was nagging against that liking he had to reconcile. He asked me if I was Mexican, and I said, no, my mother was Lakota. He then figures he’s complimenting me by saying, “You sure don’t look Lakota.”

Meaning, you look like me, so you’re okay.

He then adds, “My grandmother was half Cherokee.” If I had a dollar for every Wasicu claiming to be Cherokee or Choctaw I would be a multi-millionaire. But the unlikelihood she was Cherokee is immaterial; he was claiming to be part Indian.

Meaning, part of you is in me, so you’re okay.

In his mind, he was validating me, honoring me, by incorporating the identifying characteristic of each into the other. We were now brothers in our shared humanity.

White people did not call Indians savages, bucks, gut-eaters, blanket-asses, prairie-niggers or redskins because they liked them. These terms dehumanize, and are designed to free a person up from the moral obligations of his humanity, empowering him to justifiably violate yours, with impunity.

In the 1941 Alfred Hitchcock classic “Suspicion,” Cary Grant is trying to fix up Joan Fontaine’s mousey hair, and he says, “You look more like a monkey...what does the family call you, ‘Monkey-Face?’” For the rest of the film he calls her by that name, eventually saying, “I love you, Monkey-face.”

Had he just walked up and called her Monkey-face she probably would have slapped him.

Critics hail the 1955 British WWII flick, The Dam Busters, as one of the best movies ever made, and it gets a consensus of 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. I watched it one night on late night cable, and even though it was corny, in black and white, and with primitive special effects, it was so well made I was riveted from start to finish.

However, an actual historic event included in the film is a jaw-dropping embarrassment. Bombing sorties had to cross the English Channel to destroy dams in Germany. One of the pilots had a black lab, and his name was Nigger, a common name for black dogs in England back then. The dog died and so one of the sorties was code named “Nigger,” in honor of the dog the pilots all loved, but wait, it gets worse.

Radio contact with the sorties is agonizingly haphazard. No one knows for sure if the dam has been blown, or if it’s all another abject failure. Command is crowded into a small room, chewing their fingernails off, waiting for the radio operator to convey the outcome, and then a communications officer bursts into the room, and dramatically belts out the words they have all been dying to hear—“Nigger did it!!”

Yes, the dam got blown, the mission was a success, the movie is at the top of every critic’s list, presumably even Spike Lee’s, but there is no denying that scene should be edited for propriety’s sake. You just can’t do it without ruining the movie, more importantly; you just can’t do it without flagrantly misrepresenting actual history.

Luckily, they weren’t naming a London football club after the dog...

In 1932, it was common for the NFL to name a franchise after the local baseball team, hence the Brooklyn football Dodgers and the Boston football Braves, because baseball was king, and the NFL needed to ride reputable coattails. However, the baseball Braves hit rock-bottom competitively at the time, so a year later George Preston Marshall changed the name of his NFL team to something similar, the “Redskins.” In 1937 the Redskins relocated to Washington, D.C. That year they won the NFL championship. Football “Redskins” were honored champions.

All across the country teams started changing their names to ethnic tributes, similar to Redskins. There were the Buffalo Beaners, the St Louis Spics, the New Jersey Jigaboos, and who can forget the Toronto Jew Blaze.

Obviously, the above paragraph happened in an alternate universe, but it illustrates why actual Indians find the moniker “Redskins” so insulting and objectionable. Granted, people don’t name sports teams after racial epithets. Redskins had to have a seriously positive competition connotation, or they would have never settled on it.

The man who told me he had a Cherokee grandmother, do you think had I been Black, he would have told me he had a Nigerian grandmother?

The Wasicu has a love/hate relationship with Indians; he hates them because they are not a part of what he is, but he loves the romantic idea of the historical Indian, so much so he brags he is part Indian even when he isn’t.

“Redskins” was meant as a positive symbol of martial prowess, and in the context of history, it genuinely resonates as such. But contexts change, and “Redskins” is an anachronism, painfully out of place in 21st Century America, and to dismiss the objections of First Americans who are insulted by the name, negates the honor prompting the name itself back in 1932.

Had Joan Fontaine said—“I love you Johnnie, but please don’t call me Monkey-face.”—but Cary Grant persisted in calling her that anyway, the name would no longer be an endearment, no longer be sweet, would no longer be acceptable.

Redskins were not selected as a team name to honor actual redskins; they meant it to honor themselves, and they wanted only the romantic imagery, they had no use or respect for the humans behind that imagery, and they still don’t.

(James Giago Davies can be reached at skindiesel@msn.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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