Rebranding Racism

Dan Snyder, Owner and Chairman of the Washington Redskins, recently released a statement reaffirming use of his team’s racist icon. Snyder’s subtext rebrands racism. Through sly advertising, it sprinkles shiny empathy on soiled ignorance. Instead of addressing the logo as the epitome of structural exclusions faced by Natives, he portrays his organization as a means for their salvation. When describing his creation of the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, Snyder writes:

“The mission of the Original Americans Foundation is to provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities for Tribal communities. With open arms and determined minds, we will work as partners to begin to tackle the troubling realities facing so many tribes across our country. Our efforts will address the urgent challenges plaguing Indian country based on what Tribal leaders tell us they need most. We may have created this new organization, but the direction of the Foundation is truly theirs”.1

Note to Snyder: the name Redskins is not truly theirs – you should’ve changed it! You could’ve taken a hint from your foundation and called the team the Washington Originals and switched their logo from a racial character to a symbol revered by Natives. More importantly, when our office received notice of Snyder’s snafu, Arthurine Walker responded with this gripping message:

“I am not questioning Mr. Snyder’s sincerity in the work that he has decided to do in Indian Country, but somehow the point of his original quest seems to have been lost.  He went out to find out how indigenous Americans feel about his team name and returned with a handful of requests for improving some of the conditions in Indian Country.  Yes, I am sure that people said to him that they were more concerned about the poverty in their communities than the name of a professional football team, but I contend that the two are related.  Part of the reason that we as a society allow poverty to persist is because we have dehumanized large groups of people.  Calling a professional team Redskins is just part of that dehumanization.

The history behind the term red skin has nothing to do with indigenous Americans’ skin tone, but rather dates back to Columbus, who determined that the Native people were docile and would make good slaves (this is in Columbus’ ships logs).  He had them captured and sent to Spain to be enslaved there—many of course died on the journey.  When the Native people began to fight back, they were slaughtered.  Initially, in order to be paid for killing the Natives, you had to bring their heads as proof of how many people you had killed.  As the killing turned into genocide, it was too much to bring the entire head, so the visitors to these shores began scalping the Native people, bring only the scalp and hair as proof of the murder.  When the scalp was removed, the excessive bleeding turned their skin red, which was the original use of the term red skin.

I don’t think it is possible to overcome that kind of history.  I don’t think it is possible to repurpose the term (and don’t get me started on the logo).  It makes me sad that Dan Snyder, however well-intentioned he might be, thinks that he can buy his way out having a racist team name. Continuing to have team names like the Redskins as part of everyday society makes people stop viewing the term as racist and thus racism becomes just a little bit more acceptable. I think one of the greatest problems with ending racism is that most people don’t even recognize it when they see it, and too often, we participate in it without recognizing it for what it is. If we are not part of the solution, then we are part of the problem. We must learn to recognize racism in order to end it.”

What do you think of Snyder’s message?





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Nathaniel Thomas

My interest in development initiated from witnessing issues of access during my upbringing in Boston’s diverse inner-city. When traveling the world, my multicultural upbringing has enabled me to see people as my neighbors rather than beneficiaries, which has enhanced my motivation to strengthen communities. As an Administrative and Project Assistant with Campaign Consultation, Inc. my project portfolio includes coordinating various aspects of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service and AmeriCorps VISTA projects. Read more.

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