Saturday, September 21, 2013

Name Change?

This season (this actually started back in May) there has been some words exchanged between the United States Congress and the National Football League (recent Facebook posts have prompted this post). What have they been discussing? Well, as was reported by Mike Jones of The Washington Post, Congressman Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (American Samoa) sent a letter to Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder (along with similar letters to NFL Comissioner Roger Goodell and FedEx President and CEO Frederick Smith as well as the owners of the NFL’s 31 other franchises) urging the owner to change the name of his franchise. Joining Faleomavaega in the effort were fellow representatives and co-chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus: Tom Cole (Oklahoma) and Betty McCollum (Minnesota) as well as Raul M. Grijalva (Arizona), Gwen Moore (Wisconsin), Michael M. Honda (California), Donna M. Christensen (Virginia Islands), Zoe Lofgren and Barbara Lee (both of California) and Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District.

Keep in mind that this is a letter from a politician so the original is quite lengthy. However, in summary the letter stated the following: " Native Americans throughout the country consider the 'R-word' a racial, derogatory slur akin to the 'N-word' among African Americans or the 'W-word' among Latinos… Such offensive epithets would no doubt draw wide-spread disapproval among the NFL’s fan base. Yet the national coverage of Washington’s NFL football team profits from a term that is equally disparaging to Native Americans… In this day and age, it is imperative that you uphold your moral responsibility to disavow the usage of racial slurs. The usage of the [“R-word”] is especially harmful to Native American youth, tending to lower their sense of dignity and self-esteem. It also diminishes feelings of community worth among the Native American tribes and dampens the aspirations of their people.”

This is a debate that I personally have gone back and forth on for some time now. On one hand you have the points outlined above but on the other you have the fact that the term, however vile it may be, which serves as a reminder of a people and a battle that is still being fought for respectability and, in many cases, simply an acknowledgement of existence (you can read more about that fight in a few of my previous blogs). We can’t bury our history and sometimes we need such abhorrent reminders of the work that still needs to be done.

For now, I think the name should stay with the hope that sometime in the future such a visible reminder is not needed. We need all the help we can get to keep the fight in the minds of the general public. This debate should serve as a stepping stone to bring to light the struggle for recognition and the need to expose everyone, young and old, to the history of a people blotted out of the textbooks. When that day comes, then I will support such a name change.

What is disturbing in this matter is not the debate at hand but the fact that so many members of Congress are shifting their focus away from the issues that this country is facing right now. There are many other things that need to be done and many other problems that need to be fixed. Add to the fact that there is such little support in the general population for a proposed name change (21 percent to be exact) and you have a waste of time. If this is truly an issue that you are passionate about don’t start by going after the NFL, start by recognizing tribes that represent thousands of people in this country that have been fighting for generation to be considered Indian (American Indian to be exact). If you want to impact the lives of the people you care so much about, that is the fight that needs to happen not this headline grabbing waste of time.