I wrote a similar story last year when the then Nepean Redskins youth football team was forced to change their name following a challenge to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. The pushback on the idea was reflexive and, for the most part, stupid and ignorant. And I have to admit, the current argument over the Washington Redskins name, occurring on a much larger scale, is making me want to rip my hair out. Listening to all the uneducated, nonsensical rhetoric of the people dismissing the idea that the name is racist makes me want to punch a kitten. And in fact, the anger over this is quite revealing. I honestly have to tip my hat to members of North America’s First Nations community; they have handled this with grace and extraordinary patience, because by now I would have gone off the deep end at warp speed. And make no mistake, this argument isn’t going away. President Obama said if he owned the team he’d change Washington’s moniker and in May fifty American Senators signed a letter to team owner Dan Snyder imploring him to change the name based on its history as a racial slur. Things heated up this past Tuesday when the United States Patent Office cancelled Washington’s trademark of the Redskin name based on the fact that it was a racial slur when it was copy written in 1967 (the name was first used by the team in 1933, the final year they played in Boston). Washington has filed an appeal of the decision, buoyed by the fact that a similar decision was overturned in 1999 and so far NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is leaving Snyder on his own on this (the fact that NFL has issued no formal statement on the subject is telling). But instead of offering a thoughtful, rational breakdown of the discussion, I’m going to look at the most popular excuses the name’s apologists use and mock them until they cry for their mothers.

It Isn’t Racist: Yes. Yes it is. I’ll wait over here while you look it up in your favourite dictionary. The simple fact is that any dictionary not written by a guy with a Swastika tattooed on his forehead defines the term Redskins as a racially derogative term used to disparage North America’s Aboriginal and First Nations communities. End of freaking story.

They Don’t Intend It To Be Racist: Really? What do they intend? That as tribute to a people us white folks tried really, really hard to wipe out, we use a proven racist slur? Is that what they mean? As for everyone trying to dismiss this because it lacks “intent,” what would you do if your kid was playing in the park one day and started shouting the N word at the top of their lungs? Obviously the kid has no intent of being racist and probably has no idea what the word means, but are you just going to shrug your shoulders in a “what are you gonna do” kind of way and let the little rascal keep it up? If you do, you suck as a parent.

Words Only Have the Power We Give Them: Seriously, if I hear this one once more I’m going to pray that the person who says it gets their ass kicked by baby Jesus. Newsflash, words do indeed have meaning, that’s WHY HUMAN BEINGS USE THEM AS THEIR PRIMARY FORM OF COMMUNICATION. But tell you what, as a little experiment in verbal communication, try walking up to your wife or girlfriend, give her a kiss on the cheek and then say “your looking lovely today you little bitch.” Or walk up to security at the airport and yell BOMB at the top of your lungs. Assuming you survive either experience (and there’s a good chance you won’t), do get back to me and let me know how understanding either the woman in your life or the armed security officers at the airport were when you tried to explain to them that they’re just words, only possessing the meaning people invest in them. As an aside, please include instruction on how to properly communicate while you’re getting your teeth knocked down your throat.

Its Tradition: Really? You’re going to make me do this? OK. You know what else was “traditional” back in 1933? Polio. Pogroms (look it up, it ain’t good). Racial segregation that bordered on Apartheid. Residential schools, victimizing thousands of the people who the Redskins name disparages. The Klu Klux Freaking Klan lynching African-Americans, all of that was pretty traditional back in the day. Care to bring back any of those historical goodies based on the virtues of tradition (although polio, along with a handful of other nasty little ailments, is making a fashionable comeback thanks to the anti-vaccination crowd)? Any time anyone claims that challenging or changing something is a threat to “traditional values,” it’s usually a thinly veiled attempt to preserve a racist or bigoted stereotype. Its like when someone says, “I’m not a racist, but” it’s a warning that something horribly racist is about to fall out of their mouth.

Its Political Correctness Run Amok!:  Shut. Your. Mouth. A) There’s a difference between rabid political correctness and common sense and B) could you imagine the deafening outrage if a professional sports team used a racial slur against whites as its name? FOX News would literally combust with apoplectic, righteous rage.

But here’s one of this my own. Context. Come with me on a little journey through history. The history where anywhere between 90 and 110 million First Nations were slaughtered over the course of three hundred or so years by white colonists conquering the lands that would become known as North America. Go back and read that again. Between 90 and 110 million. Want a little perspective? That’s up to 22 times the number of African-Americans estimated to have died during the barbaric age of American slavery. It’s 15 to 20 times the number of Jews who lost their lives in the Nazi death camps of the Holocaust. It could be 10 times the number of people who starved to death during the Holodomor, the Soviet Union’s systematic murder of millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930’s. It is without a doubt the greatest crime in the known history of the Human Race, but we don’t like to talk about it because we’re Americans and Canadians and we can’t possible be guilty of such atrocities (think again). If you need proof the bloody legacy of that genocide is painfully apparent today, just remember that the reservation systems Canada and the United States used to “shelter” their First Nation populations were studied by South Africa as models for Apartheid and were even admired by Hitler. Enough said.

Having said ALL that, where exactly do white people get off telling a group of people who were the subject of the world’s longest ongoing genocide (at our hands) what they can and can’t find offensive? It would be like a German soccer team naming themselves the Dreidels or a baseball team in Georgia calling itself the Southern Slaves and then being surprised when Jews or Blacks are justifiably pissed off. Most of the people who passionately defend this name are whiter then the driven snow (not all, but most) and it’s well past time that us white folk took a long look in the mirror and asked ourselves how we can tell a group of people who our ancestors murdered, assaulted, maimed, raped, and murdered lots, lots more, what does and doesn’t offend them. Because boiled down into a wee little nutshell, that’s what many whites, the vast majority of whom have never faced genuine discrimination once in their life, are doing. And those of us doing it need to shut it.

Shayne Kempton


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