Who Decides – Considering the Offensiveness of Language


A few weeks ago there was a discussion on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” specific to the nickname of the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Originally the team was called the Braves but roughly 80 years ago it was changed to Redskins, a word which The Free Dictionary defines as:

  • Used as a disparaging term for a Native American.
  • (Linguistics / Languages) (Social Science / Peoples) an informal name, now considered offensive, for an American Indian [so called because one particular tribe, the now extinct Beothuks of Newfoundland, painted themselves with red ochre]

Some sports writers have ceased using the term Redskins when referring to Washington’s NFL team as they feel the term is just as offensive as the word nigger. It is a sentiment shared by a number of people if you read recent news stories, message boards or any social media outlet. However, there are also a good number of folks who disagree, fact which is cited per a recent AP poll in which 79% of respondents did not favor Washington changing their nickname. It is worth noting that the survey did not give a break down of how many of those in favor of changing the nickname were of Native American descent but per this USA Today response to the survey the data is confusing:

But among the two-thirds of adults who said the team shouldn’t change the name, 56% of those said “Redskin” is an inappropriate way of to describe a Native American. The numbers for Redskins fans were 79% in favor of keeping the name and 53% who believe in the word’s inappropriateness, respectively.

The question of offense in this context has been debated for some time. St. Johns University and Miami of Ohio University are examples of institutions who have dropped Native American nicknames while many more continue using them, some with approval from the tribe for which the team is associated with. The Chicago Blackhawks, for example, are not a target by any majority to change their nickname as is detailed in the Chicago Tribune article. In fact, as John Keilman writes, white Americans of the late 19th century associated Black Hawk (who was a leader of the Sauk and Fox Indians) with “courage” and “nobility”.

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Two Tuesday Quotes: Bogado and Smith


The George Zimmerman trial has forced the national dialogue on what is racism. Without going into detail over the requirement of perspective as it relates to how we approach an event with racial under or overtones I found these two quotes very important. Who we are and how we live as individuals must necessarily frame how we initially evaluate anything. It does not, however, speak to the validity of that opinion in light of available facts. Here we then must decide how much we trust that which supplies what is presented as facts. As Michael Eric Dyson notes, “When the people who rig the definition and the litmus test have a bias to begin with, it’s not going to be proof positive for you when you come along testing whether race or bias exists…

What is below might be hard to read but even if it offends us we should stop to consider why it is being said. That is where the dialogue must start.

When Zimmerman was acquitted today, it wasn’t because he’s a so-called white Hispanic. He’s not. It’s because he abides by the logic of white supremacy, and was supported by a defense team—and a swath of society—that supports the lingering idea that some black men must occasionally be killed with impunity in order to keep society-at-large safe.

Aura Bogado

Justice needs to be more proactive. It should consist of an entire society doing everything it can to ensure that what happened to Trayvon never happens again. This includes a commitment to seeing the humanity in black men and boys, and letting go of the entrenched idea of their inherent criminality. It means divesting from the racist ideology that would have us believe black men are preternaturally violent creatures seeking to wreak havoc on America. Justice is black boys not having to grow up with that hanging over their heads. Justice is support for their potential. Real justice is this country truly believing that the killing of black boys is a tragedy

Mychal Denzel Smith

Who are they?

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