WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — “Perhaps the strongest unifying symbol of the Washington, D.C. community and the most tangible proof that this is a real place is called by a name that is disrespectful and derogatory to native people.”
That was the opinion D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff shared at a daylong symposium where hurtful names and racial stereotypes were discussed and dissected Thursday. The event was hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, only a short stroll from the U.S. Capitol and right in the heart of Washington Redskins country.
Other attendees weighed in about the District’s football team, too.
As a Native American, former Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell lists four nicknames he finds offensive: savage, squaw, buck and redskin.
“There’s certain words you can’t cover up and hide,” Campbell said. “They’re wrong to the beginning and they’re wrong to the end.”
The Redskins, in particular, took a beating from panelists and audience members in a packed auditorium that included many Native Americans and others joining them in solidarity. Organizers say the Redskins did not respond to an invitation to participate, and no one from the audience defended the team name as the discussions continued into the mid-afternoon.
Washington, D.C., native and University of North Florida professor E. Newton Jackson got a round of applause when he said he stopped using the nickname decades ago. The Redskins have often said that their name and logo honors Native Americans, but he wasn’t buying that argument at all.
“How does one person tell another that they honor them, when I’m telling you that what you’re saying is not honoring me?” Jackson said.
Then there’s the point Campbell said he often makes to African-American Redskins fans: “How you would like for us to change the name of that team to the Washington Darkies?”
Momentum is on the side of those advocating a change, although Redskins owner Dan Snyder has been adamant about keeping the name, a stance reiterated last week by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. On Tuesday, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray specifically avoided saying the name of franchise in his State of the District speech and instead referred to “our Washington football team.”
The best chance is likely to hit Snyder in the pocketbook by getting the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to void the trademark. A group of American Indians made progress on that front during a 17-year court battle that came to a halt in 2009 because it was ruled that the plaintiffs waited too long to file their original case. There is now a new case filed by younger plaintiffs that is due for a hearing next month.
Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Washington-based Morning Star Institute, an advocacy group, said there are some 900 troublesome nicknames and mascots across the country, down from a peak of more than 3,000. Among the first to go in the early 1970s was “Little Red,” who used to dance at University of Oklahoma games.
The latest to make the change are the students at Cooperstown high school in upstate New York, who voted this week to ditch their “Redskins” nickname. The school, located in the hometown of “The Last of the Mohicans” author James Fenimore Cooper, is considering “Deerslayers,” ”Hawkeyes” and “Pathfinders” instead.
Among the other nicknames and mascots to come scrutiny Thursday was a red-skinned image named “Mr. Yakoo” used by the North Quincy Red Raiders at a high school in Massachusetts.
“We consider it racial profiling,” Campbell said. “I think more and more people are recognizing it.”
One speaker wondered where to draw the line with such political correctness, questioning whether the Boston Celtics name and leprechaun logo might rankle the Irish.
“Leprechauns really don’t exist,” Jackson replied quickly, eliciting a roomful of laughter.
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