In the midst of Stephen A. Smith’s perceived misogynistic comments and Michael Sam’s coming out as the first openly gay football player, one story has been relatively quiet. This story, of course, is Daniel Snyder’s (Washington Redskins Owner) refusal to change the name of the Washington Redskins. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, Redskin is defined as an “American Indian”. This definition includes a disclaimer that notes that the word Redskin can be perceived as a derogatory term. If you were to look at many other dictionaries, you would find this disclaimer in those dictionaries as well.
In addition, many Native Americans organizations have spoken out against Snyder’s usage of the term. Some Native Americans have even directly reached Snyder to discuss the discontinued use of the term. Facing all of this backlash, what does Daniel Snyder decide to do? He makes it his mission to go out and find some Native American “leaders” to openly admit that they have no problem with the usage of Redskin as a team name. Daniel Snyder has the temerity to pontificate to the rest of the Native American community that “I’d like them to understand that the name means honor, respect.” To Daniel Snyder, I’d like to pose the question: Excuse me, how do you define what that word means to them? What gives Daniel Snyder the mindset to think that he can tell others how to feel about this term? Especially when the people who made the term, the dominant society, admit that it was a derogatory term.
How does this situation makes me feel as an African American? Obviously I am not Native American. My ancestors were brought here on slave ships to “help” build America to become the superpower that it is today. So why in the hell am I speaking in defense of Native Americans? I am speaking in defense of Native Americans because they suffered and continue to suffer from the ills that my ancestors suffered and continue to suffer from: American Imperialism/White Nationalism. Whichever name you want to call it is fine, these terms are interchangeable as far as I am concerned. It has been the habit of the American Imperialist or the White Nationalist who invades your culture and tells you as well as others why you deserve the treatment you receive. To those who want to call me out as ignorant or disillusioned, don’t attack me. Attack my argument. Let’s look at my assessment of and see if I am justified in my statements.
First the American Imperialist instituted slavery as a means to accumulate wealth in this country. Everyone knew it was wrong. There were Africans who spoke out against it. There were white folks who spoke out against it as well. There were the John Browns of the world (white guy) who took up arms against the slavemaster and the Nat Turners of the world (black guy) who took up arms as well. Both faced death by lynching as a form of punishment for their actions. It was conspicuous that slavery was wrong. So what did the White Nationalist do? He found some “Negro Leaders” to calm the masses down. He had the House Negro keep the Field Negros in check. The House Negro told them to adapt and better themselves and maybe their situation would improve. Note how the Negro Leaders were in the minority.
Next the American Imperialist instituted incarceration as a means to accumulate wealth in this country. Now that slavery is no longer a force in the country, how do you exploit Blacks for cheap labor? Simple, criminalize what it means to be Black. The American Imperialist said “since the majority of them are unemployed, let’s make it illegal to be unemployed. We’re going to call it vagrancy.” It becomes conspicuous that African Americans are being incarcerated in disproportionate numbers. Again, how do you get away with this? You institute Blackface. BlackFace was stereotypical roles of Black people that were in plays to simply make black folks look bad. To be fair, BlackFace was instituted well before slavery was over. However, Black actors were not allowed to act in these plays until around this period in the 20th century. Now you have Black folks willing to play in these roles? Now they must really be criminal which justifies why so many of them are in jail. Again note how these actors were in the minority.
I would like to make a comment for those individuals who, at this time, will say “Here we go again. Why can’t they just get over slavery? These institutions are so old. Let it go.” Understand that the institutions are still in place, the tactics have just been modified. Is the NBA system not a modern form of slavery? Here you have a white majority of billionaire dollar owners and a black majority of millionaire dollar players who are encouraged to take pay cuts or be seen as selfish. The city (not just the team) of Cleveland lost a billion dollars when Lebron James left and he gets ridiculed for seeking a max contract of 2yr deal worth 42.2 million dollars?
Can you really argue that African Americans are not incarcerated in disproportionate rates today? Could you not argue that you have “leaders” like Bill Cosby demonizing the youth and trying to justify incarceration with a lack of personal responsibility? Could you not argue that you have commentators in the news saying things like “well it’s a badge of honor for children like these to go to prison. It’s in their culture.” But I digress…
In conclusion, the tactic that Daniel Snyder is using is nothing new. Essentially, he is a billionaire owner trying to protect an institution that has made him a fortune over the exploitation of a marginalized group of people. Nothing different from the institutions of slavery and the unfair incarceration of African Americans that accumulated so much wealth for this country. This is why I feel like the Native American situation resonates with me incredibly as an African American. Let me end by challenging Daniel Snyder with this: If this name is really such a badge of honor for Native Americans, then let a significant amount of money you’ll inevitably make as a result of using this name go to Native American reservations in the form of reparations for the insurmountable ills that plague their communities. We never received our 40 acres and a mule, it’ll be nice to finally see someone get theirs.