Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
From the LA Times:
A War on Words Loses Sight of What Matters
January 7 2002
Let's look at it from Dale Atkeson's point of view.
The guy plays pro football for the Washington Redskins in the 1950s, scores a rookie touchdown on a 99-yard kickoff return, and rides through the twilight 40 years later in a little Toyota pickup with a plate that says "1 REDSKN."
There he is in Manhattan Beach now, 71 years old, and it's been seven years since wife Wanda sprung the vanity plate on him as a Christmas present. Then one day before Christmas past Dale opens a letter from the DMV, which is never a good idea, and finds out the "1 REDSKN" has got to go because it's been deemed racially offensive.
In a culture that's ever-more crude and indecent, the long arm of the law had reached past Howard Stern, hard-core gangster rap, and prime-time sex to whack Dale Atkeson for innocently celebrating a brief moment of his own history. All it took was one complaint by an American Indian, and suddenly the DMV was more efficient than you've ever seen it, as my colleague Peter Hong reported in Friday's Times.
Forget the Delta commandos and the rest of the troops that have been sniffing after Osama bin Laden in caves. We should have sent the California DMV after him.
"I'm not gonna hire no lawyer," says Atkeson, who figures he's got a better chance of returning a kickoff in this year's Super Bowl than winning his appeal to DMV bureaucracy. "My main idea was to just complain about this political correctness stuff."
Dale's wife, Wanda, who may get the next DMV target letter (her license plate is "RDSKN2"), is right behind him on that. With all that's wrong in the world, she says, who would go through the trouble to chase after a 70-something guy in a Toyota?
Wanda says she and Dale are afraid to take their grandchildren to the movies, they're so worried about the offensive language and carryings-on the youngsters might be subjected to. How many kids, by comparison, are going to be corrupted when Dale hits the streets of Manhattan Beach in his pickup?
"It's too bad these people have so much time on their hands," Wanda says. I assumed she was referring to American Indians, but maybe it was the DMV. Or both. "And it's a shame they couldn't put it toward something more productive."
Makes sense to me. But we've only heard one side of the story, so I got hold of the guy who made the complaint. And now let's look at Dale Atkeson's "1 REDSKN" plate from Eugene Herrod's point of view.
Herrod, 50, is a retired private investigator living in Buena Park. He's a descendant of a Muskogee-Creek family from Oklahoma, and he's hooked up with Advocates for American Indian Children, crusading to enlighten the public on slurs.
"If you're familiar with the etiology of the term redskin, its derivative is when bounties were collected on American Indians," Herrod says. "The bloody scalp was referred to as the redskin."
The DMV banned Redskin derivatives in 1999 after a complaint by Herrod, and the ban withstood three appeals. In one, a judge found a "REDSKIN" vanity plate offensive to good taste and decency.
In November, Herrod found Atkeson's "1 REDSKN" while scrolling the DMV Web site and filed the complaint that got the dogs barking after the former football player.
"You wouldn't call the Washington team the Wetbacks, would you?" Herrod asks. "Would you have the Brownskins, the Blackskins, or the Atlanta Negroes?"
Herrod says he doesn't suspect Atkeson means any ill will with his license plate. But he's not inclined to let him off the hook, regardless.
"A racial slur is a racial slur, and when people are enlightened, they won't be as inclined to make them. Martin Luther King said it best when he said the most dangerous thing is sincere ignorance."
Bigotry endures in a thousand ways in America, and Herrod's intolerance of it is certainly commendable. But he doesn't speak for all American Indians on the subject of what is and is not a slur. Cal Codynah, of the Southern California Indian Center, says he's on Herrod's side and believes most of the community is. "But some have said they see Redskins as a source of pride, back to when the team was in its heyday. And others say who cares, big deal, let's move on to other issues."
In Washington, D.C., the Wizards used to be the Bullets, but some people thought the bullet was a negative image. I don't know whether, on a hot summer day along the Potomac, polite people are now inclined to say someone is sweating wizards. But whose standard are we supposed to use in deciding what's insensitive, and do we really want to ban everything that might be offensive to anybody?
If so, how far back should we go? Should statues of George Washington come down because he owned slaves?
If the nation's capital can have an NFL franchise called the Redskins in 2002, a geezer who played for the team almost 50 years ago ought to be able to sport about with a "1 REDSKN" license plate.
In the war on the ugly and profane, there are far, far bigger targets.
Steve Lopez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
I e-mailed the following reply to Lopez on 1/8/02:
"Redskin" is the same as "nigger."
Hm, that didn't take long. Now I'm off to "more important" subjects, as you suggested.
P.S. Nice of you to include an Indian viewpoint...but then you undercut it by saying not all Indians agree. What you should've said is that most Indians oppose the use of "redskins" and so do many non-Indians, like me.
Steve Lopez's reply to me (1/8/02)
i did say most, or at least allowed cal codynah to say it. read the column again.
i don't buy the comparison to nigger. there is no question among anyone that it's a slur. on the other hand, i don't know of anyone who uses the term redskin as a slur. as herrod suggests, ignorance is no excuse. but it still makes for quite a difference.
More replies to Lopez (1/8/02)
Dear Mr. Lopez: After reading your article, I felt I had to reply. I am the Grandmother of 10 children and great grandmother of 3. We know all about racial slurs, prejudice and bigotry. We are mixed blood Lakota (Sioux) and Tsalagi (Cherokee). It is hardest on the children that do not "look indian". They know who and what they are and they see the world through indian eyes. They are taught at home what you won't find in the history books. They know full well where the term "redskin" came from. They know about all the broken treaties and the great Chiefs of their nations. They know about bigotry. They also know about the conquest of their native land. They live it...first hand.
I grew up in a time before the civil right movement. The days when you could get away with calling people niggers, wops, dagos, jews, wetbacks, kikes, redskins, japs, slant eyes, etc. Any of those words sound familiar? Any of them in your vocabulary? How about some of the newer ones? Do you ever use the words sand nigger, prairie nigger, raghead? They are all the same types of words used to classify and demean...yes, DEMEAN a person. Somehow it seems to make them less than human, so it is OK.
We don't use any of those words, Mr. Lopez. And it has nothing to do with being politically correct. It has to do with respect. Respect for another human being.
I am sorry a great football player like Dale Atkeson had to suffer because he played for a team that has a racist name. I don't blame him, but I do blame the owners of the Washington Redskins. They have long known the meaning of their name. They have tried to justify it in many ways. There is no justification for bigotry and racism.
I realize that it may seem like an inconsequential thing in these times of turmoil. But to use a racial slur IS a big thing, especially in these times. Ask any Arab american.
She:kon Mr. Lopez,
Let me introduce myself; my name is Farwalker (Innudesdagafasur) Q. Howard. I am a fifty-five year old Mohawk, of the Turtle Clan, who resides at present in Hooksett, NH. Today I opened an e-mail from a Ndn news source that contained your article.
It is this article that I wish to address. On the surface you certainly seem to make your point. How inanely trivial and ridiculous to deprive this senior citizen of his well intentioned vanity plate ("human interest" ploy at work here)? Surely there are "more important" issues at hand— i.e. the War on Terrorism.
But, I wonder, is not "terrorism" an "ugly and profane" extension of bigotry? Do we not have the mandate to fight such on every front? How can we lead the struggle to free the World from the yoke of Terrorism, if we are not ready to examine our own subtle forms of it? (...and take affirmative steps to rectify such?)
Most people who do not grasp "the Big Picture" fail to do so, because they have overlooked details, or perceive them as inconsequential. I maintain that it is in the details that the origin of "the Big Picture" lies and that to overlook, or dismiss any, or all creates not a true representation of its reality, but a rather an out of focus view.
Subtle forms of bigotry are the most insidious forms of all. They instill on the subconscious level the roots that allow full fledged bigotry to manifest in reality. We, all, must learn to recognize them and eliminate them from our consciousness.
In the case of Mr. Dale Atkeson, I am sure that if the argument was properly presented to him, his true sportsman's nature would prevail. No offense was initially intended, but one does exist. For that matter, I do not feel that in all likelihood the owners of the Washington "Redskins" intend any form of racial slur, when they chose that name. The reality of the slur does exist, however. And so, without pointing accusatory fingers, it needs to be amended.
In closing, one must be mindful not to loose sight of the importance of the issue at hand, we are not speaking of a case of "political correctness". We are engaged in redefining our views in terms of "respect". Should the Washington Monument be torn down, because he owned slaves? Probably not, but the fact that he did own them should be included in all historical accounts of his life, including school text books.
Niyore wahtsi ok, Innudesdagafasur.
"Oyate nimkte wacin yelo..."
There is no question that when I have gone to reservations, I am overwhelmed at the problems so many people face. I always feel a little silly when I tell Native people on reservations that I am involved in the mascot issue. They look at me like I am fighting invisible dragons when stark reality is staring me in the face. But in my heart I know that if the dominant culture can't, or won't, understand the mascot issue, how will they ever pay attention to the bigger issues? To me the mascot issue has always been the tip of the iceberg, a place to begin to bring understanding to the many issues that face Native people. Once I can get people to understand the mascot issue, it's easier for them to understand other problems. It is easy for me to see how a person surrounded by the big issues sees the mascots as piddly and insignificant. However, for those of us who are seek to bring recognition to those bigger issues, I have always seen the mascot as the key to a very big door.
Here's my two cents...
I truly believe that even if it's offensive to one person, it's wrong. Plus, you bring up another sore spot with me..."Urban Indians." I had a real eye opening experience in Washington DC a few years back and I got to see first hand how some "respected tribal leaders" wouldn't even come into our conference session to say "hi" because we all represented "Urban Indian Centers" from across America and they said we weren't "real" Indians. I could go on and on, but I know its true every reservation, urban group and tribe has their own separate yet formidable problems to address, but that doesn't make one larger or smaller than the other. At least that's how I see it. Everyone has their own particular style and talent, so I think that once we decide to enter the arena for a particular cause it should not diminish or lessen the burden on other issues.
Saying all of that, I will continue my fight. I look forward to talking with other Indian people who disagree with me and my positions because hopefully I've become a better listener over the years, so I figure I can still learn. But then again, I kind of expect the return, that people who don't agree with me will listen and we can get a dialog going.
But it still amazes me that not all Indians agree with the mascot/logo issue. Of course, if everyone did agree that might make things too easy or non-eventful. That's why I always try to remember the teachings: balance. There's good and bad and we should always try to be aware of this.
Urbanization of Indian people does not make them any less Indian, and when there are problems back home I hurt, sometimes I feel guilty that I am not there. I feel that sometimes you have to be on the outside, to see the big picture. The mascot issue is but a stepping stone to bigger things and letting America know that we have a voice is important. I get angry sometimes at Indian people who have never lived on a rez, and then tell me how lucky I am to have gotten out! Some of my best memories are from the rez. Today 75% of Indian people live off the rez, this is according to the U.S. census, When we keep our sites focused on one area we never see the sacredness of the whole, we never see the suffering of all the peoples of the world, our circle gets smaller and smaller and does not include the many relations who hunger everyday. I can understand our brothers and sisters who feel we have abandoned them, we need unity, and it will come, and only the creator knows when. So until then we need to look ahead with clear eyes,and not let resentment cloud our visions.
"I truly believe that even if it's offensive to one person, it's wrong."
Richie, You hit the nail on the head. It's not for others to tell us what offends us. WE know. To me, it's so simple, yet, for some reason, this concept is foreign to those who oppose our fight.
I've heard all this all before.
If you "redskin" friend has no problem with mascots, that's just fine.
What he does not have is an understanding that others are insulted by the use of American Indian mascots and symbols and the nasty words used to describe them.
That should be enough. That someone feels insulted is good enough for me to keep working until all these mascots are gone.
The stereotype here is that slurs and stereotypes are unimportant—not worth our time to protest. Many have addressed that claim before. See the end of Fighting Sioux vs. Fighting Irish for one of my responses to it.
For more of Lopez's thoughts on Indians, see The Critics of Indian Gaming—and Why They're Wrong.
Red·skin n. Dated, offensive, taboo
Team names and mascots
The harm of Native stereotyping: facts and evidence
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