Friday, August 16, 2013

Is the term "Redskins" a racist description of Indians?

You know what?  I'm not sure that the term "Redskin" is a racist term.  I know that is a common view, but I think it's also entirely possible that it is a common misconception.  I've always been fascinated with Indian history, and as far as I can tell, they originally coined the term.  Additionally, I think they used the term in a neutral fashion, much like we throw around the terms "white people" and "black people" to this day.  Many others used the term in a neutral fashion as well, and even in today's "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words are the worst thing that ever happened to anyone" climate, the use of the term in a neutral or positive fashion is still commonplace.

There is no real evidence that the term has anything to do with bloody scalps as many claim, and when the owner of the Boston Redskins established the name in 1933, he did so as a tribute to the coach,  William "Lone Star" Dietz.  There is a lot of controversy surrounding Dietz's background, but he claimed to be an Indian and the name was meant to be a tribute, not a slight. 

Are there examples that the term was used in a negative fashion over the years?  Sure, but I don't know if any common description of any group of people could ever exist in our world without similar examples of prejudice popping up.

It's a complex issue and  I could be totally wrong here, but there is ample room for various interpretations.  Having said that, I think anyone who thinks it's simple case of prejudice should dig a little deeper.  Here's one of many interesting takes on the topic for anyone who is curious about the origins of the name and the history of the term itself:  The Origin of Redskin c/o Bill Poser

At some point, I think we need to take more interest in intent than what those squeaky wheels who are always clamoring for attention tell us we should deem offensive.  I understand that the term has been used in a racist fashion and I understand many consider it an insult.  Yet I can't understand why we're so willing to define terms by the worst examples of how they are used, particularly when it would be so much more logical to weigh such language by the manner in which it is used and the effect the speaker is striving for.

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