Making Some Skins Red

Today I noticed that it has been over a month since I’ve written and posted to this blog. Well, for the past six weeks or so I have had an unusual number of things on my plate. As many who read my missives know, I like to relate to what is going on in the nation state and world, or, quite often, what went on in the past that seems relevant to our condition today. As it happens, this weekend provides that occasion.

Monday is Columbus Day (actually it was Saturday, the 12th but officially designated so as to provide a three-day weekend for some). It’s a holiday celebrated in many parts of this nation to celebrate the feat of the Italian navigator in the service of the queen of Castile in discovering the Western Hemisphere for Europeans. Today, coincidentally, the professional football teams Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins play each other in what has become a famous rivalry.

For anyone to whom it is not obvious how these two events might relate, let me clue you in. Christopher Columbus, once a noncontroversial historical figure, has during the past several decades become somewhat declasse, if not the embodiment of evil, to the politically correct crowd. I suspect some of those believe it appropriate to place poor Chris on the level of Adolf Hitler. His sin, of course, was enabling the conquest of the supposed paradise that was America (before they were dubbed that terrible Italian appellation) and extermination of the indigenous inhabitants, mainly by diseases unknowingly brought by Europeans. Celebration of the day he landed on a currently unidentified island in the Bahamas is regarded akin to celebrating (as opposed to merely commemorating) the anniversary of Presidential assassinations or 9/11 (though I’m certain that the latter is celebrated by many of those of a certain religious persuasion). Columbus’s legacy, at least to a good number of academics and loudmouth race-baiters, is centuries of oppression of Amerindians.

The football game seems metaphorically reminiscent of the once common childhood pastime known as cowboys and Indians, played with (gasp!) toy pistols and involving a minimal amount simulated violence. Maybe not a big deal except that recently many in the media on the Coasts have come to deem the Washington team nickname, Redskins, to be a slur of a certain racial or ethnic group. These folks never seem to get tired of looking for some group that they are concerned might be hurt by certain figures of speech – in this case, a synecdoche – that they deem offensive.

I for one have never thought that the word “redskin” was a slur; it seemed a mildly uncomplimentary term at worst. A leftist would doubtless chalk that up to my insensitivity. I plead guilty to that character flaw, if it is one.

Before going much further, however, I have to mention one term that is really offensive to me. That is “Native American” when applied to identify someone who has some ancestors who immigrated to this land before Columbus arrived. By definition, “native” to a location means having been born there. Anyone born in the United States of America is a native American. Those persons, as well as those who were naturalized as provided by law, have the same right to be here as those whose distant forebears came prior to some arbitrary date in history. Calling the latter “Native” Americans a special category implies otherwise.

Columbus, and others, called the indigenous people he found on the islands he visited “Indians” because he believed he had found a westward route to India. Some historians maintain that Columbus was never disabused of that belief. This appellation nonetheless has been hard to shake. It can be confusing, particularly because of the more recent arrival of immigrants from India. The British have long distinguished by referring to descendants of pre-Columbian Americans as “Red Indians.” I have heard in recent times that some use the distinguishing terms “dot” and “feather” though I suspect that usage drives the politically correct crowd up the wall. I have settled on the use of the portmanteau “Amerindian” as a descriptive term coined by the American Anthropological Association. I believe, however, it is only necessary to use that term for historical purposes, when a legal issue quasi national status of certain tribes comes up, or when someone else wants to play identity politics.

The speech police generally do not get upset about epithets or slurs applied to white males of European descent. Perhaps that is because they are not perceived as needing the protection afforded by PC speech. There does not seem to be any outrage over use of “honky” or “ofay” as slurs. The left justifies their unconcern in this regard because white males have always been dominant and are thus fair game. Nonsense. Every one of us has ancestors who were oppressors, or who were oppressed. It is true that Amerindians were often treated unjustly and even brutally by European colonists and their descendants. The Romans mistreated the Carthaginians, the Visigoths mistreated the Romans, Attila and the Huns (not the ‘60s rock band) mistreated the Franks, the Normans brutalized the Anglo-Saxons, and so forth. The lesson to be learned from all of that is not to feel ashamed and wring our hands over an earlier generation’s injustice, either on the giving or receiving end, but to take special care to insure that injustice doesn’t happen on our watch, in our nation. To that end, a slur loses its impact, not by being banned, but by becoming commonplace and unremarkable. This was the case with “redskin” until some seized upon it as a political wedge opportunity.

Back to the main point. It should not be necessary in other contexts to define who is and who is not an Amerindian. For one thing, the use of the one-drop rule has resulted in the total uselessness of that definition for physical identification purposes. The absurdity of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren claiming Amerindian status on that basis to make her academic employers appear to be on board with affirmative action quotas is a case in point. I suspect that most of those today who could qualify as Amerindian using the one-drop rule have assimilated into the American genome and would never be regarded as anything but “white” persons.

Anyway, this might be a moot point. The owner of The Washington Redskins has said he will not change the name under any circumstances. Whether the NFL could force him to, assuming it had the collective will, is legally doubtful. I suspect this will blow over after a while, and possibly raised again at some time in the future. Perhaps it will not. We have a lot more serious problems to be concerned with.

Like maybe banning Aggie jokes?

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