Our past haunts us.
The history of the United States has some ugly events that many in the dominant culture would rather forget. We would rather sweep away some of the genocidal events that occurred on this soil as if they never happened. If we do not forget, we end up retelling them in a distorted way.
To move forward, we cannot forget. This includes remembering the policy of genocide that white Europeans and white Americans had against the Native Americans. The policies, and the evil consequences they created, are rooted in colonialism. Colonialism tries to conform people into the beliefs and practices of the colonizer, in this case the beliefs and practices of white Europeans of white European heritage.
White Euro-centric Christianity played a role in this genocide as it spread the idea that the Native Americans who did not convert were in some way evil. The result was the near destruction of rich Native American cultures, spiritualities and religiosities.
"For almost 100 years, in the name of progress, Native children were forced into government-sponsored, denominationally run boarding schools where many were abused physically, sexually, emotionally and spiritually, and where many of them died. The rallying cry to civilize/Christianize Indigenous children was 'kill the Indian, save the child.'"
As we remember our past, we must recognize that some of the terms we use today are offensive and insulting. One such term is "Redskins."
The origins of the word are unclear. It may have ties to the European practice of paying a bounty for scalps of Native Americans. Scalping had been known in Europe and during different time periods. The leaders in power offered to pay "bounties" (cash payments). It was a way for the powerful to get others to do their dirty work. Europeans brought this cruel custom of paying for killings to North America. As Native American peoples were defeated and displaced, bounties were offered to those who killed Native Americans. Scalps were used to prove that Native Americans had been killed.
This is a gross indecent aspect of American history. We must remember this genocide of our past. We have grown up in a culture of "Cowboy and Indian" movies which distort our past history as a nation.
However it is related to the practice of scalping, the term "redskin" is widely viewed today as a racial slur. Adrian Jawort is a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe who wrestles with the relationship of the word to scalping, yet still he notes "it's hard to imagine a white person seriously saying it without at least some condescension."
Controversy swirls today around the Washington professional football team that uses the word as its name. The use of the word, and similar words describing indigenous peoples, leads to issues of racialized iconography, abuse of Native American symbols such as feathers, and inappropriate, racist behavior on the part of fans.
"Mascotism," as we might name the use of terms, stereotypes, and images, touches on the very difficult issue of colonialism, domination and racism that is so deeply entrenched in American history and society. Mascotism gives false images of our sisters and brothers. More dangerously, it aids white people in dehumanizing Native Americans. This dehumanization has even greater consequences as it reinforces racism and white supremacy.
Furthermore, mascotism reinforces and internalizes racism. Racism creates undesirable views against another racialized group that affirm the position and privilege of the dominant group. When members of the oppressed group come to believe those views it can lead to self-doubt and self-hatred. This has huge consequences for Native Americans as it can contribute to the self-destruction of proud histories, cultures, heritages, and spiritualities.
Therefore, it becomes more urgent than ever to stop the dehumanization of Native Americans. Such dehumanization works against the best interest of Native Americans, all people of color, and even white people. Each of us has to become an invested ally in the effort to overcome racism and its destructive, dehumanizing consequences. We must recognize the dignity of everyone and realize we are called to work together to extend equality and justice to all.
We begin by remembering the past and acknowledging how it shapes the present. From there we work to undo some of the wrongs that have been committed and work together to build a Beloved Community where everyone is honored, welcomed, and respected.
The end of mascotism is part of that effort. For the Washington football franchise to change its name it would not be a matter of turning their backs on their history; it would be a huge step toward a new future for us all.
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