On Thursday, the Washington Post published a poll that found nine in 10 Native Americans are not offended by the term “redskins,” the nickname of the Washington NFL team.
Unsurprisingly, these results are now being used as a case-closed rallying cry for those who thought the entire movement to change the team’s mascot was simply “P.C. hysteria” to begin with.
Washington NFL team owner owner Dan Snyder said he was “gratified” by the poll results and the the team “will proudly carry the Redskins name.” Robert McCartney, a prominent associate editor at the Washington Post, dropped his long-standing protest of the name.
“Most of my fellow fans will feel relief and vindication that nine out of 10 Native Americans judge the name to be innocent — just as team owner Snyder and the National Football League have said all along,” McCartney wrote in an op-ed Friday morning. “With this distraction behind [Snyder], at least for the foreseeable future, he can devote more attention to another priority for this fan: winning a Super Bowl.”
This is just an investment in white supremacy, plain and simple.
For Native American leaders who have been fighting for the Washington team to change its name — and making strides, at least on the local level — this poll felt like a slap in the face.
“This is just an investment in white supremacy, plain and simple,” Dr. Adrienne Keene wrote on her website, Native Appropriations. “It is an attempt to justify racism, justify the continued marginalization of Native peoples, justify divide-and-conquer techniques that are pitting Native people against one another. It devalues Native voices, stories, and experiences.”
Joel Barkin, a spokesman for the Oneida Nation and the Change The Mascot campaign, agreed.
“To start with, here’s what’s objective fact: Every major tribal organization in America, over 100, have come out and supported changing the name. They represent Native Americans across the country,” Barkin told ThinkProgress. “And it is a dictionary-defined slur. So, what are we going to do now, change the definition because of a 500-person survey? What are we really talking about?”
Barkin cited a few problems with the poll: The fact that it allowed participants to self-identify as Native Americans, the majority of the Native Americans (56 percent) included in the survey didn’t have a tribal affiliation, and the way the questions were framed.
“It’s not a nuanced poll,” he said. “And for a story that tried to frame this as some sort of rejection of the change the mascot movement, I think it’s very odd that they wouldn’t have simply asked, do you support changing the name?”
— NCAI (@NCAI1944) May 19, 2016
While the Washington Post did ask nine questions, none of them were specifically about changing the name. Rather, they ranged from “Do you find the name offensive, or doesn’t it bother you?” to “How important is the issue of the Redskins’ name to you personally?”
Barkin’s biggest issue was with the fact that the Washington Post decided to devote its resources to “poll morality.” Barkin agreed with Wade Henderson, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, who told the Post, “the fact that we’re poll-testing racial slurs against Native Americans shows how much we’ve ignored their basic humanity to begin with.”
While defenders of the name want to preserve the history of the Washington football team, the truth is, it is a football team that was built on racist ideologies. George Preston Marshall, the founder of the Washington team, was a renowned racist. His grandaughter, Jordan Wright, now condemns the team’s name.
You’re referring to a person’s skin color, and a trophy of war.
“It’s about respect,” Wright told the Washington Post in 2014. “If even one person tells you that name, that word you used, offends them, then that’s enough. That should be enough.”
Even people who were influenced by the Post’s poll, such as McCartney, recognize that the name is still problematic.
“Personally, I remain deeply uncomfortable with the word, which I’ve long thought to be a racial epithet,” he wrote. “The poll suggests that about 1 million Native Americans object to it, and I see no reason to offend them. I won’t be buying a jacket emblazoned ‘Redskins’ to replace the one I discarded. I’ll continue to avoid saying the word on air.”
In other words, McCartney says that he is comfortable with one of the most prominent sporting franchises in the country having the name, but he’s not comfortable saying that word out loud.
“You’re referring to a person’s skin color, and a trophy of war,” Barkin said. “Social science is very clear that this word has a negative impact on children’s self image.”
“The reason we, those of us who have been working so hard on this issue, have been making the strides that we have, is because we’re at the right side of a moral issue. That hasn’t changed.”