I recently engaged a reader’s question about the on-and-off controversy over the NFL name Redskins. P.T., a friend of both the reader (A.K.) and myself, responded. His letter, greatly edited for space, follows in bold face, with my rejoinders …
Throughout history, you’ll find a pattern of vanquishers discovering courage, bravery and nobility among the vanquished, where they attach a certain mystique, fear, and respect to the defeated tribe. We don’t name our sports teams after animals or people or phenomena that we feel are weak. We name them after those things that instill fear, respect or dread. We wipe them out and then hold them up as worthy of being sports team mascots. Vandals, Vikings, Mogols, Huns and Republicans are examples of tribes that once thrived but are now remembered only in legends and myths.
Tucking Republicans into that list was pretty funny.
I think you make the George Carlin Point here, which I appreciated in the first column. And to your list of vanquished mascots, you might well add Rebels and Volunteers, mascot names of the vanquished, seceded South. Will you agree with me, however, that the tradition of feared/respected mascot names is flagging? I mean, the New Orleans Pelicans?
If we named our teams after things we looked down upon, the one in D.C. would long ago have been named the Washington Hopelessly Incompetent Politicians.
P.T., you could make me laugh at my mother’s funeral.
I disagree, A.K., that what’s behind this is “thinner skin” among generations of children. I believe it has much more to do with generations of indoctrination by racial “arsonists” who profit (in terms of money and political power) from creating a social environment that promotes a victimization mentality among real or contrived “groups.”
That great and noble causes of justice could devolve into propaganda and ideology advanced to acquire, retain and defend power, when gross imbalances of power and egregious, evil abuses of power were what was originally identified as the enemy – it’s true. And beyond ironic.
A word of advice, A.K. — please understand that in the current socio-political environment, you aren’t allowed to even suggest that you, as a straight white middle-class U.S. male Christian, might ever have been the target of discrimination. Whatever your beef, it never compares with the plights of others. Never.
P.T., I know you’re quite cross these days about such issues, but here you’re starting to sound less like a critical thinker and more like a Glenbeckian. I mean, apples and oranges, don’t you think? I wasn’t scolding A.K. for “even suggesting that a straight, white, middle-class U.S. male Christian might ever be the target of discrimination.” I was asking him to step back and consider the (pick a word: naivete? arrogance? ignorance? absurdity?) of comparing some adolescent peer spoofing Jesus with a government deciding to strip an entire peoples of its religion in toto, and then deciding to inculcate those same peoples with a new religion, the God of which is a huge supporter of paranoid xenophobia. Or, they can get killed.
Hardly the same plight.
Mr. Kalas, a couple of things …
Your setup to deflate A.K.’s thinner skin argument is better than your evidence of disproof. Citing two surveys only two years apart that may or may not be conclusive and noting a 75 percent result in one and “even higher numbers” in the next is not in the least scientific and hardly refutes his argument at all. This is how yellow journalists often go about “proving” their point, and it’s beneath you. I’m personally suspicious that our children are educated to be overly sensitive to issues of ethnicity and discrimination. Is it possible to be too sensitive to these important topics? Yes, if it comes at the expense of truth.
The first survey was from Sports Illustrated. The Annenberg Public Policy Center survey (which thinks of itself as scientific), prompted almost entirely by criticisms of the first survey’s flaws, cited 91 percent of American Indians polled in 48 states saying they did not object to the name Redskins. I’m not aware of any research since then suggesting much otherwise. Yes, some people have thin skin. But, apparently not American aborigines at large. At least not about a football franchise name.
So, how does saying that make me a “yellow journalist?”
I agree with you about the plight of American education.
I also personally shudder at your use of the term “historically oppressed groups.” It’s a nebulous term implying a historical consistency of oppression that is neither fair nor accurate. For example, the African slave trade worked as well as it did because certain dominant tribes (skin black) in Africa traded tribal captives (skin also black) to unscrupulous English sea merchants (very white) as a more cost-effective and manageable alternative to the 300,000 or so Irish slaves (even whiter) who had been taken and sold since the mid-1600s to work in the new world sugar plantations. So blacks in Africa were oppressing other blacks in Africa to be later oppressed in America alongside their oppressed Irish counterparts who themselves had oppressed the early Irish inhabitants. Meanwhile, the oppressive English had themselves been oppressed by the Romans (brownish mostly) and Vikings (really white) at different times in history. My point in all of this is that there is no such thing as “historically oppressed groups.”
You got me. I was sloppy and careless with language.
Your point (which I’m extrapolating) is one with which I agree: racism and oppression is not a Caucasian disease; rather, a human disease. Peoples (of any tribe or ethnicity) wielding gross imbalances of power and/or unjustly acquired power, tend, historically, to oppress those with less power.
Is that better?
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or email@example.com.