Would He Mind If I Called Him Stupid?

Let’s review: “redskins” is a pejorative for “Native Americans,” right? I’ve always understood it to be disrespectful, at least. About the only time I ever heard it used was in films, where the White People had all the dialogue and the “redskins” were extras who were very skilled at falling gracefully out of trees or off their galloping horses whenever the White People shot rifles in their direction. In context, “redskins” never seemed complimentary.

There are some who disagree, saying it is just slang. But most pejoratives were “just slang” until the group who felt disparaged by the slang spoke up about it.

Some guy at the Washington Post writes that it’s just as bad for the military to name helicopters after Native American ethnic groups — Apache, Comanche, Chinook, Lakota, Cheyenne — or even people, Black Hawk. “Why do we name our battles and weapons after people we have vanquished?” he asks.

To which I ask, who’s “we”? Are “we” not all Americans? I don’t keep up with these things, but I know they used to name tanks after generals — Pershing, Sherman, Sheridan. Thinking of Sherman’s march to the sea makes “Sherman” an especially appropriate tank name. They used to name battleships after states. Aircraft carriers are named for Presidents. I know enough about the military to know that the military guys don’t name their “stuff” after people they think are losers. Names are supposed to evoke something that’s, you know, fierce and warrior-ish. I thought it was supposed to be an honor to have some military thingie named after one.

For that matter, Sherman himself was William Tecumseh Sherman. He originally was just Tecumseh Sherman, but his stepfather added the William when Crazy Bill was eight or nine, as I recall.

OK, so if we’re going to assume that any use of an ethnic or tribal name is supposed to be a slur, let’s talk about the Minnesota Vikings or the Boston Celtics. Josh Marshall brought this up a few days ago; I regret I don’t have a link to that. I suppose Vikings aren’t around to object. As a Celtic-American I have no issue with “Celtic” as a team name, however. It could have been worse — the Boston Paddies?

But I could do without the leprechaun mascot. Leprechauns irritate me. Lucky Charms commercials make me cringe. There are all kinds of fierce and warrior-ish characters in Irish history and myth. Why is it always leprechauns?

Anyway — seems to me the name “redskins” is intrinsically belittling. It began as a slur and it’s always been a slur. Just because some people weren’t sensitive to their own racism doesn’t mean it wasn’t a slur. So what about the Kansas City Chiefs? Sometimes “chief” is used as a kind of put-down. But the word also carries a connotation of authority and dominance.

Anyway, the Washington Post guy speaks of the Native American groups/tribes/nations in the past tense, and says, “If the native tribes did not stand a chance, this does not imply lack of resistance or of courage; regardless, it doesn’t much matter in this context. Whatever courage they had, the U.S. military is not heir to it.” Perhaps not, but members of “native tribes” (I’m not sure “tribes” is the right word) are still here and have served in the U.S. military for some time. Do we not need to get past the idea that all institutions belong by default to White People unless stated otherwise?

I may be getting myself in trouble here. This guy quotes Noam Chomsky, “We might react differently if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes ‘Jew’ and ‘Gypsy.’ ” But they wouldn’t have, because the military guys don’t name their stuff after people they hold in contempt. They just don’t.

For that matter, not even the Irish want to go into a terrible battle in something called The Cute Little Leprechaun. They want to be in something called The Cú Chulainn or The Fionn mac Cumhaill. Fierce. Warrior-ish. Proud.

Update: The CC Patrol (CC=Conservative Correctness”) are responding to the op-ed as if the author of the Washington Post piece speaks for all liberals. No, dears, it’s one guy, and I don’t know that he speaks for ANY liberals. He doesn’t speak for this one, and I’m not sure how “liberal” the author is himself. In a lot of ways he still seems caught up in the white privilege trap of assuming whiteness as the default norm.

19 thoughts on “Would He Mind If I Called Him Stupid?

  1. Dunno, is there any killing machine, vessel, whatever, named Azteca? Blood spillers and glorifiers of conquering and warrioring in general, that “tribe”.

    • el mago — Maybe the Mexican military used Azteca for something. They were so nasty the other mesoamericans hated them, though.
      Update: It’s not military, but there are the San Diego State Aztecs! Their mascot is a hunky guy dressed up as an Aztec warrior. I personally don’t have a problem with this, but I understand some do.

  2. The team’s attorneys and linguistics experts argued that this demonstrated that the term had never really been disparaging—just a “robust informal synonym” for “American Indian,”

    Enhanced interrogations, sidewalk counselors, robust informal synonym.. “There they go again! “

  3. “Why is it always leprechauns ?” they’re magically delicious !
    I get annoyed over weapons named specter, reaper, and predator. This from a guy who uses fringes or his handle. Go figure.

  4. The Washington Patawomecks it is, then. Unless you prefer the Washington Quiripi-Unquachogs.

  5. Yes, many American Indian tribes are stilled called tribes. I am a member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians from Tacoma, Washington. My blood quantum of American Indian blood is 3/4; yet, I am a good example of the Mendelian laws of inheritance. Both my parents were brown-eyed and had coal black hair. However, there is a Scotsman running around our family tree–hence, the last name of Matheson. As I am one of four children (back to Mendel), I have blue eyes and brown hair. Nevertheless, my family is well-known in this part of the country since both my Dad and his younger brother served at different time periods as Chairman of the Puyallup Tribal Council–essentially Chief. This has resulted in my having been called “redskin” many times throughout my life. I can assure you that not one time was it ever used as a compliment–not ever. I do not like the use of the term “redskin” at all. It is equivalent to the “n” word in my book. I also do not like any other reference to my race used for sports nicknames; e.g., warriors, savages, etc. The Cleveland “Indians” would be tolerable if it weren’t for the Chief Wahoo caricature. The Florida Seminoles is tolerated as I do not know if the Seminole nation gave them permission to use it. However, I think staying away from actual tribal names and violent nouns (e.g., warriors, etc.) is the best thing for non-Indians to do. I have been told (which may or may not be true) the “Celtics” was considered okay because it was not pronounced properly as when you reference the Celtic culture. As Maha stated, there are no longer Vikings around to be offended. However, in addition to the term “redskin” being an epithet, more insulting behavior occurs when non-Indians take parts of our culture; e.g., headdresses, dances, etc., and use them in a disrespectful manner. Trying to keep this as short as possible; but, hoping I also add clarity to this situation. The Seattle Seahawks organization has taken the American Indian motif and used it well. And, they are Super Bowl Champs, too. 😀

  6. erinyes ..What do you use fringes for? 🙂

    Auto correct is my friend.. It brought my IQ up to over 70 points.

  7. One more thing about the Washington pro football team: They have a fight song with lyrics that so very offensive to me and other American Indians. As long as they use that name, they will use that fight song numerous times per game. That song needs to go to rubbish heap with the name. I do not wish to link to the lyrics; they are insulting. I know you are all capable of doing that for yourselves if necessary.

  8. The Washington Redskins.
    The Detroit Blackskins.
    The LA Brownskins.
    The Yakima Yellowskins.
    The Atlanta Paleskins.
    The Kansas City Quarterons.
    The Oklahoma Octoroons.
    The Kokomo Quintroons.

    The color of people’s skin, should never be the nickname for a team.
    ‘Nuff said.

  9. “Fringes or his handle” — Auto correct, I’m tired of your shirt!

    Thanks for your insights, Bonnie. By the way, I am envious of anyone fortunate enough to live in the Tacoma/Seattle area.

  10. Auto correct once changed my sick call in text from “I’ll be in late, had a bad night” to “I had a two Della night”. This brought back memories of “George of the jungle” with Della and Ursula. The boss was amused.

  11. I’ve always found it odd that “we” gave names to bombs and weapons, as if they were held so dear they had to have personalities.

    • “I’ve always found it odd that “we” gave names to bombs and weapons, as if they were held so dear they had to have personalities.”

      Military warrior-culture contains a lot of mysticism, seems to me. The naming of things invokes the spirit of the name and gives power to the ship/tank/whatever. Military guys may not admit that’s what they’re doing, but it’s what they are doing, and it’s a consistent behavior among soldiers going way back.

  12. I might have him wrong, but I don’t think he’s concern trolling over the football team so much as using that as a segue to make an honest complaint about the military naming platforms after Native American tribes/peoples. I don’t know how much anyone cares about that, but intellectually I think he has something of a point about the superficial grossness of naming your war machines after peoples you’ve used the same military to perpetuate a genocide/massive land theft against.

    • I might have him wrong, but I don’t think he’s concern trolling over the football team so much as using that as a segue to make an honest complaint about the military naming platforms after Native American tribes/peoples.

      Yes of course that’s what he’s doing, and I believe I have made it clear that I think he’s being an idiot. Naming a football team the “redskins” and naming a military helicopter “Apache” are entirely different contexts. One is racist and the other, seems to me, is intended much more honorably. But that’s what I already said.

  13. Also, many of our states are named for Native American tribes — Illinois, Ohio, Dakotas, to name a few. Although I suspect these names came about as to identify territories by the tribes that originally dwelled there.

    That said, “Redskin” is offensive, and to insist otherwise is a way of saying those peoples who are offended don’t matter.

    I for one plan to submit my entry to the upcoming contest to rename the team — “The Washington Honkies,” complete with the face of a white man in the logo with a Starbucks crest.

  14. Bonnie, I recently read that the Seminole tribe has endorsed the use of their name for the football team.

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