When I was in South Carolina last year, I watched a debate on CNN about Native Americans protesting against the Washington 'Redskins' football team. There was a panel of four men (three white guys and an African American) discussing whether it was right for the football team to change their name, the term ‘Redskin’ being offensive to the Native American community. All were from a sporting background but to me, there was an obvious error: shouldn't a debate involving Native Americans invite a representative from that community? I recognise that the term 'Native American' or 'American Indian' is very broad and can encompass many different tribes, but the absence of someone who could be (and frankly, is) involved in the debate was glaring.
According to the team's management, the name is a badge of honour. It respects and admires the Native American community and is no way offensive. Some commentators have argued that all of this debate is just 'political correctness gone crazy.' The problem with this defence is that the people the team are meant to be honouring ARE offended by it. But of course, they're choosing to ignore that awkward situation.
In February, the National Museum of the American Indian held a daylong symposium on the use of Indian mascots by sports teams. Museum Director Kevin Gover, of the Pawnee Nation, said the word "redskin" was "the equivalent of the n-word” and the Oneida Indian nation in New York has launched a campaign against the name. Even if some people aren’t bothered about the debate, the majority of Native Americans believe that the term itself is offensive: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/07/washington-redskins-racist-native-american-thoughts”
The Washington Post conducted a poll to ask fans what they thought of the name. 8 out of 10 did not want the name to be changed, despite the fact that most believed the term is disrespectful towards Native Americans. Confused? Yes. Especially since most of the fans would continue to support the team if the name was changed:
The basic fact is, the term 'redskins' is racist. It was used in a racial context to discriminate against American Indians, and there is no way around the fact it is an offensive term. It would be like calling a team the Washington Niggers. Racism is horrible and a stain on global humanity in general, but why is discrimination against Native Americans treated in a different way to African American racism? The scandal over Donald Sterling caused international outrage - which was a good and necessary thing - but why can a football team parade around an offensive term? The team is using a racial slur to sell merchandise - from T-Shirts to mugs - and it is completely unacceptable to discriminate against and marginalise an ethnic group. It reveals a lot about the nature of American society and how discrimination and the past has been swept under the carpet.