In a few weeks the Minnesota Vikings will face off against the Washington Redskins at the Metrodome. During the game and throughout the coverage one will see the Redskins name and logo all over, on the scoreboards at the field, in the newspapers and on TV. We should use this opportunity to have an honest discussion about why team names like the Redskins are offensive and why we should no longer use them. The ACLU-MN is encouraging all parties involved in the upcoming Vikings/Washington Redskins game to do the right thing and not call the team by the offensive name Redskins but instead call them Washington.
Now is the ACLU saying these names should be outlawed or illegal? No. Are we saying that the Washington Redskins should be sued and forced to change their name? No. What we are saying is that we should collectively, as a society, say that we reject the racism that these names convey.
To help guide the discussion we are responding to common statements that people make to justify using an offensive pejorative.
1. This honors Native Americans, therefore it is not offensive.
These names do not “honor” Native Americans. Unless the team represents a Native school or group, (which the vast majority do not), these team names were not chosen by Native Americans themselves. Instead they were chosen by people from the dominant white culture. When our allies at the American Indian Movement come out and ask for the name to not be used we listen, and we back them up. I mean, honestly, would most people be okay if you took the name of any other minority group and used it in the same way the Redskins would? The National Congress of American Indians did just that and asked what people would think of these logos.
If you go to a game with a native mascot you often see people in face paint, wearing traditional clothing in a mocking way, performing actions like the tomahawk chop, or even or doing offensive things like holding an impaled severed Indian head (trigger warning, violent image). This does not look like honoring people; it looks much more like appropriating stereotypes of Native American images to be offensive.
2. Most Natives are okay with these names so what is the big deal?
To the people that point to poll results that show that Native Americans overwhelmingly support the name, would challenge them to look again at the methodology of those polls. They have some glaring errors and have been pointed out before. Or you could look at polls done by other groups that have different results.
Furthermore even if a substantial portion of Native Americans are okay with the mascots there are still substantial portions that aren’t. You can read here, here and here about Native groups or writers that are offended by the names.There are plenty of team names that aren't offensive to anyone, why would you want to offend a large subset of people, especially people who have historically been marginalized, even if it isn't the majority?
3. What about names like the Vikings or Fighting Irish, aren’t those offensive to white people?
First of all, the term “Vikings” is not a slur like the term “Redskins.” Second, the way they use the Vikings image is not degrading. Third, while we are a diverse state, the majority of Minnesotans have Norse origins. The name is not the result of misappropriation and abuse of another culture; rather, it is a reflection of Minnesota’s predominant culture. The same is true for the “Fighting Irish”, at a school well known for being an Irish Catholic Institution. Lastly both names essentially refer to white people. White people, by and large, have not been historically oppressed in the United States and they are currently a part of the cultural and political power structure. It is awfully hard to oppress a group that is in the majority and controls most political and corporate structures in the country.
The United States has a storied history of mistreatment, cultural degradation, forced assimilation and racism against Native Americans. Now we are making up for that by naming professional sports teams after them? I do not think so. If we really wanted to honor Native Americans we would work on fixing problems of racism they currently face instead of thinking of them as an icon that we can dress up as when we see fit.
So what is the ACLU-MN asking exactly? We are asking that the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the media and the Vikings team all make a pledge to not use the name Redskins, and instead refer to the team simply as Washington.