Tuesday, October 8, 2013

All workers should support a Washington Redskins name change.

Source: Sinuous Magazine
by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Ray Halbritter is a spokesperson for the Oneida Indian Nation and is a leading figure in the campaign to get the NFL's Washington Redskins to change their name.  Washington Redskins owner, Dan Snyder says that he will never change the name.

Lanny Davis is a former special counsel to former President Bill Clinton.  He says he is an Obama supporter and Obama has come out in support of changing the name.  According to the dictionary, to refer to people this way is classified as a "racial slur."

Davis is defending Snyder's decision to keep the name.  CNN said that Davis is defending the "Teams" decision but I don't think a place kicker has the same clout as the team owner on this one. Davis says the use of the name is meant as an honor not as a disparagement.  I had a guy who was using the term "cunt" on Facebook claiming in Scotland it is a term of endearment (he wasn't referring to women) . Coming from Britain, I know what he means as it was a common term I used myself, only with reference to men.  I can't recall using it in a disparaging way to women.  But that's not the point, it's not one's usage of it, it's not how I intend it it's how those who it has been historically used against take it.  The decision on it is not mine to make and in these situations when we don't listen to people and undertsand their point of view we are being disrespectful, harmful and racially insensitive putting it mildly, not to mention an idiot when it comes to history.

Those who argue for keeping the name,  point to the Atlanta Braves, the Blackhawks and the Cleveland Indians.  My own personal view is that this is a bit different as these reference people or a tribe.  It's like supporting the "Fighting Irish" as opposed to the "Fighting Paddies" or even the "Fighting Whiteskins". The main point is not to call someone something they don' t want to be called.

Every worker should come out in support of the Oneida Nation and all Indian people in demanding this name be changed.  I am English of Irish background.  The Irish in England were victims of racial and economic/social  prejudice. I can remember in my lifetime seeing signs for rent in windows that said, "No blacks no Irish", and sometimes no dogs would be included.  When I was in Ireland for the first time I was in Galway and asked a store clerk about Shannon Airport, "Oh it's closed between noon and three." she told me. (I think that was the hours)

"What sort of rinky dink airport closes during the afternoon?" I responded.

Then I immediately reminded myself that I was an Englishman by all accounts and that this country was occupied for 400 years or so by the British and six counties in the north still are, that the land was stolen from the native people, that their language was forbidden as were other aspects of their culture like their mode of dress and that in the course of this invasion, hundreds of thousands of them starved to death as food was exported for sale. I reminded myself that they suffered tremendous racism in England being labelelled dirty, lazy, stupid and that they bred like rabbits.  Back then being poor and Catholic in Catholic Ireland, they had large families like most poor people tend to do to cover the losses and to work to help keep the family as they got older.

I apologized to the woman and I think she appreciated it and I meant it. It's not like she was crushed by it, but it had the potential to divide us, not make it easy to feel solidarity with each other. There is a history with two sides to it. Although my comment was harmless in and of itself, I had to think about who I was, she was, where I was and the history between the two countries.

There is a similarity here with the term "Redskins" for a football team.  By most accounts, the arrival of the Europeans in the Americas led to the death of some 70 million of its inhabitants, about 95% of the population within 100 years.  I realize some of this was indirect in the sense of diseases that the native population had no defense for but that's not real comforting either.  But the slaughter, betrayals, driving off of their land, all this is part of fairly recent history, not like the crushing of Britain's indigenous people some 2000 years ago. 

So for me I look at what it means for Native Americans to remove this term and what it means for the rest of us.  For us its simply a name of a team, it is a nothing issue in the wider sphere of things, I'm sure lots of people mean no harm by supporting it but that's not the point.  To Brother Halbritter and to most Native Americans I'm sure, this term and everything it means in history is despicable to them. There has been an American holocaust here and they were and are the victims of it.

To lose it for the rest of us, even Washington Redskins fans it means nothing when compared to those who were referred to in this way who it must surely mean a whole damn lot.

Every worker should support the Oneida's and all Indian and people of Indian descent on this issue.  If we are in a Union we should raise it there and get our unions to support removing it. If we belong to a church or club we should raise it there. The NFL player's union should make an issue of it and demand it be changed.  Working people should not let the likes of Obama or other representatives of the 1% take the lead on this issue. As for the owner of the team, he is no friend of workers anyway.

I am not a white liberal. I don't feel guilty for being a white male and I don't feel responsible for what people that look like me outwardly did to others in the past; guilt is a pointless emotion.  My responsibility is to understand history and the truth and join with all workers in the struggle for freedom and a human society free of exploitation.   The most important thing joining with Brother Halbritter and all Indian people who take issue with this would be an act of solidarity with them. It would show that we care more about the relationships between all workers of all races and religions, that we care about the relationship between native and non native people. It will show that we understand history that is is not what we were taught and not what Hollywood brings us. It will strengthen our ties with them. 

"It's divisive, it's origin was hate, it's used as hate, it was the name that was used against our people whom were forced off our lands at gunpoint, it was a name used when our children were forced out of our homes and into boarding schools. So it has a sordid history, and it's time for a change," Halbritter told CNN.

It will cost us nothing as workers to openly join in condemning the use of this term and push to have it removed, but it will mean a great deal to Native Americans.  Besides, it's the right thing to do.

1 comment:

Richard Wilson said...

I bought my first Redskin season ticket in 1959, however I agree it is time for a team name change. What I truly don't understand is why the tribes involved are giving the Atlanta Braves and that God awful "tomahawk chop"a pass. Perhaps the rumors of ant-semitism toward Mr. Snyder are valid?