Washington, DC — My good friend, Dick Gregory has been involved in so many great causes that I could never list all of them. I’m blessed that he often shares his involvement in these great causes with me, and knowing that I am always eager to participate where my presence might make a positive difference, he invites me to do so. Recently he traveled to Minnesota to participate in a press conference of the National Coalition against Racism in Sports and Media (NCARSM) called “No Honor in Racism”. The NCARSM was planning a rally to be held on November 2nd. When invited, I knew I wanted to be there, and made my plans to participate.
You see, there was a time when Black people were bombarded with offensive names that others knew were offensive, but continued to use them. Still on occasion there are some who continue to use those names even when talking about the President of the United States! I saw the ad that was run at the Super Bowl game to show that not all Indians think the word “Redskins” is offensive. I thought about how racists can always find a Black person who will dispute the offensiveness of some of the terms used against us. That does not change how the vast majority of us see it.
All of our lives we’ve had to work to deal with racism against ourselves; but the problem’s much bigger than racism against Black people. A case in point is the racism in sports and media regarding not only us, but against our American Indian/Native brothers and sisters.
The late Solomon Burke, a popular Black American artist, sang a song called “None of Us Are Free Until All of Us Are Free”—a gentle reminder that racism hurts all of us and that we are so much stronger when we work together to end it. For that reason, I decided to travel to Minnesota as the Washington Football team takes on the Minnesota Vikings. I learned that Indian women were playing a lead role in protesting to change the name of the Washington Redskins. I went out of a need to stand with the women and their families in their plea for justice. I felt that being there was a way to share the pain of injustice and to say that there are Black people who understand and want to be a part of making the change needed to bring about justice not just for ourselves, but for all people.
Black people who were torn away from our native land and had our stories left out of history have had to tell our own stories. Native Americans also pass down stories to preserve their history and heritage because we aren’t often told their positive stories. Like our culture, so much of their culture has been decimated, mocked and used to denigrate them. It’s up to the elders of Black people as well as Indians to tell our own stories. One of the stories told by a Native American mother was that the term “Redskins”, the mascot of the Washington Redskins, would be a gory, bloodied crown from the head of a butchered Native American that was sold for cash. These bloody scalps were called “redskins.”
I don’t find that something to celebrate at a football game, just as no Black person would find a team to be called the “Lynch Mobbers” something to celebrate. No matter what the arguments are about not removing the name from the team, it’s time to change the name! We, Black Americans, should be helping our Native brothers and sisters to lead the charge. Lynching of Black people and exterminating Indians are shameful parts of America’s history and we should not perpetuate the memory in any celebratory way.
Many Black people have differing amounts of Indian blood. My mother has Choctaw and Cherokee blood—tribes that were forcefully removed from the Deep South where I grew up. That means I have ancestors twice removed from their places of birth, so I take any insults of Indians personally just as I do denigration of my Black ancestry.
I traveled to Minnesota because the Vikings would be playing Washington, and what better time to support the name change. Changing the logo and mascot for Washington’s team is about justice and decency. Maybe you never thought it was offensive, but now you know. When you know better, you are charged with doing better. If you know the history of the word “Redskins”, there’s no way to look at the word without calling it offensive, derogatory and a perpetuation of injustice.
Lord knows Black people have been called enough derogatory names to support anyone who is defamed. Nobody’s mascot should be offensive, but a team from the nation’s capital with an offensive name is especially egregious. When they knew better, other teams changed their offensive names. Let’s not give up the fight until we get a respectful name for our football team in Washington, DC.
(Dr. E. Faye Williams is National President of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc. www.nationalcongressbw.org. 202/678-6788)