Peter d'Errico: Mascot poll reflects realities of historical genocide

A scene from the Washington NFL game on December 7, 2015. Photo from Facebook

Retired professor Peter d'Errico takes a closer look at the way "ordinary" Native Americans responded to The Washington Post poll about racist mascots:
The fact that Indians are legally subordinated by U.S. law, coupled with the long and continuing history of violence associated with the term "redskin," raises yet another problem with the poll: When a major national newspaper asks someone whether they are "bothered" by the fact that their existence has been caricatured by their skin color, their response cannot be separated from their effort to avoid physical danger and social ostracism. Their effort to "fit in" to American society skews their responses.

The Post's interviews accompanying the poll show that poll respondents were in fact concerned about "fitting in" to majority views about Indians and about the potential for violence against Indians. For example, the Post reported that Barbara Bruce, a Chippewa teacher, said, "I’m proud of being Native American and of the Redskins. I’m not ashamed of that at all. I like that name." But, the interview continued, "She and many others surveyed embrace native imagery in sports because it offers them some measure of attention in a society where they are seldom represented." In other words: "fitting in."

The Post quoted another poll respondent, identified only as a "New York resident," Judy Ann Joyner, a retired nurse whose grandmother was part-Shawnee and part-Wyandot, who said, "You’ll find people who don’t like puppies and kittens and Santa Claus. It doesn’t mean we’re going to wipe them off the face of the earth." Aside from the oddity of comparing Indians to puppies and kittens and Santa Claus (!), Joyner's remarks indicate her awareness of the genocidal efforts in American history—what has been called the American Holocaust—to wipe Indians off the face of the Earth. Such a respondent will understandably try not to emphasize her Indianness.

When we add to this that the poll showed more than half of respondents (56%) had heard "not too much or less" about the "redskin" debate, the significance of the poll diminishes further. An Indian (or Indian-related) person who has heard little or nothing about the issue will be that much more likely to respond from an underlying concern with "fitting in" and avoiding a repeat of historical genocide.

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Peter d'Errico: 'Redskins' in Media and On the Ground (Indian Country Today 6/1)

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