By Elaine Magliaro
NOTE: I originally posted the following article at Res Ipsa Loquitor on February 9, 2014.
Here is one ad that never aired during this year’s Super Bowl:
The Proud to Be video was made by Change the Mascot, a national campaign that was launched by the Oneida Nation. The video was released by the National Congress of American Indians a couple of days before this year’s Super Bowl. Change the Mascot’s aim is to end the use of the term “redskins” as the mascot for Washington, D. C.’s NFL team. The campaign “calls upon the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell to do the right thing and bring an end the use of the racial epithet.”
Not being a wealthy organization, the National Congress of American Indians couldn’t afford to “buy a television slot during the Super Bowl to run its ad.”
Writing for ThinkProgress on January 31, 2014, Alyssa Rosenberg said the following:
It’s a gorgeous ad, and it’s a strikingly effective illustration of why the word “Redskin” is so troublesome. It’s not just that the term has evolved from its origins as a basic explanation of physical difference, to a slur that was used to reduce Native Americans to the value of their skins, for which literal bounties were offered. In a less violent but no less significant sense, “Redskin” collapses the remarkable particularity of Native American experiences into a single identity and set of attributes.
The NCAI ad is a forceful and often beautiful reminder that Native Americans aren’t a monolithic community. That’s a term that subsumes hundreds of specific identities, a huge range of cultural and artistic practices–and yes, as the ad doesn’t neglect to leave out–specific sets of social and political issues.
“Native American” may be a blanket identity category, but it’s one that invites curiosity, asking hearers to consider what came before the political and territorial consolidation of the United States, and the fact that American identity is rich and multifaceted, rather than a single way of being. “Redskins” is both a slur, and a term that invites the listener to skip over the work of thinking about what it means. “Redskin” reduces Native Americans to simply the color of their skin, and to the attributes we associate with football (a practice that’s also a product of a very specific marketing history, as my colleague Travis Waldron reported in his epic look at the fight against the Washington football team’s name): physical strength, maybe speed, and not much else. Not only is that kind of thinking profoundly lazy and racially reductive, it’s a tragedy both for the people who are subjected to it, and the people who deny themselves the experience of more of the world by practicing it.
The NCAI ad is a reminder of precisely what they’re missing out on, making all of these points without having to spell them out the way I do here. That’s great advertising, in service of a critically important message.
Last May, Daniel Snyder, owner of Washington, D. C.’s NFL team was quoted as saying, “We will never change the name of the team.” He then repeated himself when a reporter followed-up on his comment, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
Then last June, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that the Washington Redskins‘ nickname was a “unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”
Clem Ironwing (Sioux) doesn’t think the word “redskin” is a term of respect. In 1996, he spoke at a public hearing in Wichita, Kansas, on the subject of Wichita North High School’s sports mascot. He talked to those present at the hearing about having been removed from his family by the government when he was a young child and forced to live in a Catholic boarding school. Matthew Richter posted the comments that Ironwing made at the hearing. Here is an excerpt of what Clem Ironwing said:
“When my hair was cut short by the priests, I was called a “redskin” and a savage. When I spoke my native tongue, I was beaten and called “redskin”. When I tried to follow the spiritual path of my people, I was again beaten and called a “redskin”. I was told by them to turn my back on the ways of my people, or I would forever be nothing but a dirty “redskin”.
“The only way “redskin” was ever used towards my people and myself was in a derogatory manner. It was never, ever, used in a show of respect or kindness. It was only used to let you know that you were dirty and no good, and to this day still is.
Is it time to change the mascot? What do you think?
SOURCES & FURTHER READING
An open letter to Dan Snyder (Grantland)
The Harmful Psychological Effects of the Washington Football Mascot (Change the Mascot)
Redskins, NFL Take Heat From Congress Over Team Name (Only a Game)
Members of Congress urge Redskins to change name (Big Story)
NFL is ‘listening’ to those who oppose Redskins’ name, Roger Goodell says (Washington Post)
Native Americans Tackle Redskins at Press Conference: On the heels of an NFL conference, the Oneida Indian Nation confronts the organization for its use of what the deem a racial slur as a mascot (Time)
Bob Lutz: North High, it’s time to change the nickname (The Wichita Eagle)
The Other Redskins (Capital News Service)
The Super Bowl Ad You Never Saw (Huffington Post)
ICTMN Exclusive: NCAI Releases R-word Video Ahead of Super Bowl (Indian Country Today Media Network)
ENDING THE LEGACY OF RACISM IN SPORTS & THE ERA OF HARMFUL “INDIAN” SPORTS MASCOTS (National Congress of American Indians)
The Best Ad You’ll See This Super Bowl Weekend (ThinkProgress)