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Our Undying Past

Is the "R-Word" Ever OK?


Thousands of American Indians and other activists have protested the team name.

The Huffington Post has just run a hard-hitting piece that looks at the continuing distress over the Washington pro football team’s refusal to change its name and drop that controversial American Indian logo. You know what we’re referring to.

It seems officials of a civil rights group recently met with team reps and were rudely shouted down. That, according to the opinion piece, is in keeping with the NFL’s apparent “playbook” for stiff-arming criticism of the team’s recalcitrance. Here’s how the writer, clinical psychologist Michael Friedman, analyzed the strategy’s apparent components:

“Reframe a dictionary- and government-defined racial slur as a term of ‘honor.’ ” The Washington team has actually done that, stating to fans that the R-word is really a “badge of honor.”

“Disregard protests of Native Americans and civil rights leaders.” As Friedman notes, “almost every major American Indian organization” has denounced the team name as a slur.

“Ignore science showing harmful effects of racism against American Indians.” Friedman cites studies showing that the presence of R-word images “results directly in lower self-esteem and lower mood among American Indian youth” and can “activate negative sterotypes” among non-Indians.

“Don't we have more important things to worry about?" This refers to the response that the team’s critics exemplify “political correctness gone awry” and should turn their focus to “more pressing” issues the native world faces such as poverty.

The entire strategy is “atrocious,” Friedman writes. “And just like the controversy regarding its handling of concussions and domestic violence, the NFL playbook of defending racist slurs against American Indians gives the impression that it does what it wants, when it wants, regardless of who gets hurt.”

I’ve blogged about this issue before, pointing out that a number of high schools in the region where my book Visions of Teaoga is based have dropped their Indian team names and mascots. Just as I applaud those moves, I agree here with Friedman. Team nicknames and cartoonish mascots may bespeak an earlier age and sensibility, when Cowboys, Indians, Patriots, Pioneers, Rebels, Explorers, Knickerbockers, Minutemen and other historical icons were common currency and the purveyors of popular culture didn’t give a second thought to caricaturing them. But it’s one thing to caricature a secure white group like Quakers or Cavaliers and quite another to lampoon a vulnerable minority group that our nation has oppressed and shunted aside. Especially in this day and age, and especially when that group is pleading with you to stop the insults.

In other words, I’d say it’s time Washington adopts a new name and the NFL gets a new playbook. What do you think?

The Huffington Post can be found at this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-friedman-phd/the-nfl-playbook-for-defe_b_6565470.html
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