Magazine article New Internationalist

Let's Stop 'Playing Indian'

Magazine article New Internationalist

Let's Stop 'Playing Indian'

Article excerpt

The time may soon be coming when

Americans are finally ready to stop 'playing Indian'.

But it hasn't come easy.

In the past year, efforts pressuring the Washington Redskins professional football franchise to change its name have made significant headway, with Native Americans rallying under the slogan #NotYourMascot.

In 2014, 50 US Senators signed a letter to the National Football League commissioner arguing that the sport can no longer 'perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur'.

The US Patent and Trademark Office agreed. Last summer, it moved to cancel the Redskins' trademark registrations, endangering millions of dollars in merchandizing revenue. The team's appeal against this decision is pending, with a high court set to rule this summer.

Regardless of the outcome, the case has drawn renewed public attention to the issue. California is now considering a ban on using 'Redskins' as a team name by public schools in the state, and the Associated Press may list it as an offensive slur in its stylebook for journalists.

Defenders of the Washington team name insist that 'redskins' is a term of 'honour and respect'. Yet organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians have begged to differ, passing resolutions calling for change.

'The argument has always been the same,' leading activist Suzan Shown Harjo explained to the Washington Post.

'"We are honoring you," they say.'

'"No, you're not," we reply.'

'"Shut up," they say.'

Let's give the defenders of the 'Redskins' franchise the benefit of the doubt. The great majority of them likely have no racist intent. They are loyal fans who have positive associations with their team's name and are reluctant to give up a deeprooted tradition.

Even so, these holdouts are simply not listening to Native Americans who say that seeing people paint their faces red, put on feathered head-dresses, give impassioned 'war whoops', or demonstrate their best 'tomahawk chops' are hardly behaving respectfully.

Instead, such fans are tapping into a long tradition of racial stereotyping and degradation.

Into the early 1900s, Americans were enamoured with live 'Wild West Shows'. Like later film and TV Westerns, these depicted indigenous people either as noble savages or vicious warriors who threatened innocent (read: White) settlers on the prairie frontier. …

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