The politics of money and privilege collide as the Washington Redskins owner defends the use of the name as “heritage.”
Cultural insensitivity is nothing new. My goddaughter who grew up attending predominantly white schools recently shared a Buzzfeed post that parodied being the only black person in class. Some of the things on the list referenced the many statements and behaviors that Blacks (and other minorities, I’m sure) endure in a majority world, including the use of degrading language in our presence, culturally inappropriate questions or comments about textures of hair or skin tones and being made to be the token. I hope to live to see the day when it’s not the case, but for now, I’ll keep dreaming.
Cultural insensitivity has been a topic of national conversation lately as President Obama was asked whether the Washington Redskins should change their team name. His response and the discussion over whether the name is inappropriate have been on Sunday morning news shows, newspaper headlines and, of course, sports shows since.
The debate has been one that has been going on for decades, but recently, the Oneida Nation has been putting increased pressure on the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, to change the name that they feel is offensive. The Nation received support from ten Congressional members who sent a letter in May of this year to the team ownership and the Commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, that said the name was offensive and should be changed. Daniel Snyder has said he will not change the name.
As a Black woman who has experienced the degradation of being called offensive names, I can only imagine what Native Americans must feel. To be berated on a one-on-one basis is trying, but to have a sports team that receives national attention use a name that brings hurt and fury is belittling and robs Native Americans of their dignity. Their history in this country is a hard one and to this day, they have not received their just due for the wrongs they’ve endured. They are still so marginalized that people like Daniel Snyder can actually come out and say that he’s not changing the name and while there are protests outside the game, his pockets never feel the pinch.
In a recent letter issued by Snyder, he referenced the team’s 81-year history as a reason that he’s not changing the name. “Heritage” he said, as if the Native American heritage of centuries in this country is somehow less meaningful. His blatant disrespect and disregard for a group of people who have called this land home since before his ancestors knew of its existence is infuriating. I’m surprised that he, as a Jewish American, is not more sensitive to the type of cultural thoughtlessness that he’s clinging to. I think of it from my perspective. I would be enraged if a team was calling itself the “Detroit Darkies” or “Birmingham Blackies” and had their fans dancing around in black face. There’s nothing worse than telling someone that something is bothering you only to have them dismiss it. There’s also nothing more condescending than telling someone you don’t care about how your actions impact them. Daniel Snyder is dismissing the effects his team name has on this community and telling them he doesn’t care. Maybe he needs a lesson in empathy in order to do what’s right, because at this very moment, he’s all the way wrong.
Janaye Ingram is the National Executive Director of the National Action Network.