Friday, August 9, 2013

"Washington's Football Team"- Why 'Slate' is Awesome

I'm just going to lead with the punchline: Words matter, and choosing what and how you say whatever you're trying to say can unwittingly encourage discourses of oppression and marginalization. 

So Slate ran a piece today, announcing they'll no longer refer to the Washington Redskins  as the Redskins, but rather say things like, "Washington's NFL team" and the whatnot. I'm kind of glad their editor suggested they  replace "Redskins" with  "Griffons," too- that's actually something I've thought of in passing a few times, and brought up with people in person (that, you know, didn't see what the big deal is or were more focused on the fact that it probably won't change any time soon, so why think about future names, than even the possibility of a change) (yeah, assholes).

It's prolly no surprise I'd be totally into this idea from Slate, of simply refusing to use "Redskins" (unless quoting something else of necessity). Refraining from using negative language is just as important as calling out and naming forms of subordination. Doing either is the opposite of sitting on your arse. 

And I think that, like the editor says, the meanings we give to things change over time. So while sure, "Redskins" may have been nonoffensive back in the day, the term is offensive now. And  even though the logo hasn't been too caricature-ee, the use of the imagery is still a form of cultural appropriation, something else I've written about before.  I get more upset by seeing this  guy than Washington's logo, even though the name of the team is less offensive in and of itself. 
How, White man! Me Cleveland  Indian,
love baseball heap big  much!
And it has  never been very good for this mascot, either. While "redskin" is indeed more offensive  than "Indian," I still don't really dig this all that much. The Atlanta  Braves have also been kinda  shady before, and I could go on and on and on...

My point, though, is that using a "tribute" to indigenous peoples  as the name  of a sports team isn't a straight-forward thing. There are reasons for changing them and reasons not to. And I won't go into all of them.  

But I will say that allowing a racial slur to continue to be the name of a professional football team for this long is deplorable on the part of the franchise itself. And Slate has the right idea in defying the team's owner. By demonstrating the power of  words, even if not also blocking the imagery of the indigenous guy the  team uses, Slate is making a statement about power and hegemony. And while yeah, I'd be even happier if, somehow, Daniel Snyder came around and decided to change the name, I'm at least glad Slate is being proactive in going against the status quo. In my perfect world, there would be no more Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Blackhawks, or any other team with indigenous iconography or name.

And let tell you a brief story. I once had a dude defend the Cleveland Indians chieftan dude up there to me by tossing the Minnesota Vikings at me.  In case you don't know, here's the mascot logo:

The guy said that if the Indians logo is offensive, so is this one.


Yes, really, because it's appropriating the heritage of lots of people and using a caricature of it for media purposes, so said this guy.

Bull fucking shit. 

The most basic refutational argument is that white dudes are in charge of the NFL, so that's their thing. And the white people that get all excited about the team and its mascot and iconography are, very likely, getting  excited of a celebration of their own culture. If white people want to make fun of themselves, that's their business. It's not appropriation if you're caricaturing your own damn culture- and the WASPS in charge of the NFL are descendant (some, at least) of the Anglo-Saxons. But the face in the Indians logo is of a person of color, as well as the name of the team itself, and those, too, were selected by white dudes. And it's mostly white people that are okay  with it- if you look carefully at those Wiki articles, you'll see various polling results, and when it's a poll aimed at Indian Country, the results are against Indigenous iconography for sports teams; and even when it's a general poll, indigenous sports mascots may have approval of a majority, but  it's a very small one. Barely over half. I think that says a lot.  

Which makes me think the two main reasons for the resistance to change are the resistance to change in  itself that institutions get stuck in, as well as the fact that these are all, essentially, businesses, and  short-term economic interests always trump long-term ones when a corporation or business is involved.

"Tradition, blah blah blah." Slavery was a tradition. Stoning was (and still is, in some places) a tradition. Marital rape was (and still is) a tradition. Sure, tradition can sometimes be fun. But it's also a tool for oppression. And even if that's not the goal, oppression can often be  an unintentional  outcome.  As a collective, we're so afraid of change, we freak the fuck out whenever it gets proposed. And if we think about NFL franchises like bureaucracies (which, yeah, they kinda are), you'll notice the only people that really seem to change things are the players themselves- it's why you see the same old campaigning and ads, and the same old defensive and offensive strategies, even when execs and coaches rotate and change out. There's a reason they  say, "That's a real Chargers offense!" or, "That's a perfect example of a Bears defense!" The linking verb is "a," not "the," and that means they're being general, as if the thing being discussed is an example of a plurality, not an individual. As if that thing can has copies out there. 

And "it's too expensive".... Really? I place claims it'd be to expensive to change mascots in the same category I do ones that it'd be too expensive to provide accommodation for disability- one of false claims. Yes, I recognize there may be a large up-front cost, but in the long-run, it wouldn't matter. And a huge, reputable franchise like a sports team would  get investors easily that would help pay for a revamping of the label. The problem with paying for a brand change is it would probably mean lightening the bonuses of the execs in charge, and that's the last thing they'd agree to do. 

And I guess, ultimately, I hate excuses about costs because I hate how capitalism is an exacerbator and enabler of oppressive and selfish desires in people. Like with the whitewashing I've discussed, or the isms, since it makes a profit, it's the status quo, and Heaven forbid we try to change the quo's status.

While Slate prolly won't be able to change  the logo or iconography, I'm glad they're taking the initiative to not use "redskin" whenever possible. And as the article says, they aren't the first to make that choice about D.C.'s team. As an NFL fan, I hope this means something to other NFL fans. It's bad enough the NFL thinks I and other persons of my sex are terrorists; it'd be nice if they stopped objectifying my heritage, too. If more media outlets took a stand like this, perhaps D.C.'s franchise will change, and others in different sports (and their fellow Chiefs) along with it. 

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