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American Indians' Views of the Redskins:

Since the Redskins controversy is again in the news, I thought I'd report some data on the subject from three years ago. I realize that different people have different views of how relevant or dispositive such data is, but I just thought I'd note it.

1. A 2002 Sports Illustrated survey reports:

Asked if they were offended by the name Redskins, 75% of Native American respondents in SI's poll said they were not, and even on reservations, where Native American culture and influence are perhaps felt most intensely, 62% said they weren't offended. Overall, 69% of Native American respondents -- and 57% of those living on reservations -- feel it's O.K. for the Washington Redskins to continue using the name. "I like the name Redskins," says Mark Timentwa, 50, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington State who lives on the tribes' reservation. "A few elders find it offensive, but my mother loves the Redskins."

2. The Annenberg Public Policy Center National Annenberg Election Survey 2004 (conducted in 2003-04), reports:

Most American Indians say that calling Washington's professional football team the "Redskins" does not bother them, the University of Pennsylvania's National Annenberg Election Survey shows.

Ninety percent of Indians took that position, while 9 percent said they found the name "offensive." One percent had no answer. The margin of sampling error for those findings was plus or minus two percentage points.

Because they make up a very small proportion of the total population, the responses of 768 people who said they were Indians or Native Americans were collected over a very long period of polling, from October 7, 2003 through September 20, 2004. They included Indians from every state except Alaska and Hawaii, where the Annenberg survey does not interview. The question that was put to them was "The professional football team in Washington calls itself the Washington Redskins. As a Native American, do you find that name offensive or doesn't it bother you?"

3. There are obvious problems with polling American Indians -- the difficulty of getting reliable data from such a small group (which the Annenberg pollsters solved by asking a vast number of people, and which the Sports Illustrated pollsters solved by oversampling in census tracts which have a high fraction of American Indians, and then weighing the responses accordingly), the uncertainties about who really is an American Indian, the danger of undersampling Indians who are too poor to have telephones or alienated enough from white culture that they want little to do with pollsters, and so on. Nonetheless, while this may not be perfect data, it's the best data that I've seen, and it's certainly better than people's perceptions of what Indians think, which are of course prone to much more serious problems of representativeness (since such perceptions may be heavily skewed by one's own preconceptions, by one's circle of friends, or by the tendency to hear more from activists -- in any group -- than from rank and file members).>

4. Finally, while I'd have thought that most Indians would indeed be offended by the term "Redskins," given that it has often been used as a pejorative, the results that the surveys report are not at all implausible: Given that naming a team after some person or group is usually a sign of respect -- one would rarely name a team after something that one thinks is weak or contemptible (the U.C. Santa Cruz Banana Slugs are a rare and facetious exception) -- it seems quite reasonable that many Indians would focus on that more than they would on disrespectful uses of the same term in other contexts.

whit:

one would rarely name a team after something that one thinks is weak or contemptible


pj orourke makes that point in one of his books.

but in a funnier way :)
5.15.2009 6:04pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
I am reminded of the attempt in a British school to ban hot cross buns at Easter, lest the local Muslims be offended. The local Muslims said that (a) they enjoyed hot cross buns too, and (b) if they were offended they would let somebody know; no mind-reading required.
5.15.2009 6:18pm
Mori Kopel (mail):
No, banana slugs are not an exception to the rule of respectable, non pejorative mascots. Ariolimax columbianus are in fact awe inspiring gastropods with a most stately manner. They are the second largest terrestrial slug in the world. They are hermaphrodites, which is quite politically correct in central California, as is their vocation of composting soil. They secrete an amazingly versatile slime, which allows them to thwart predators and slither along a razor blade without being harmed, similar to many local politicians. And I can attest that in my long and varied relationship with these amazing creatures, I have never once found one to be facetious.
5.15.2009 6:39pm
Frater Plotter:
The banana slug is no more "facetious", in short, than is the yellow pig.
5.15.2009 6:55pm
Malvolio:
one would rarely name a team after something that one thinks is weak or contemptible (the U.C. Santa Cruz Banana Slugs are a rare and facetious exception)
"Dodgers" was originally a mocking name for the Brooklyn Bridgegrooms. The implication was they were "trolley dodgers" too poor to afford to ride the trolleys, let alone keep carriages.
5.15.2009 7:29pm
http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb :
Are only Native Americans "allowed" to weigh in on this issue? If so, why?

I can certainly understand that Native Americans' views ought to be considered, and are on balance more important than everyone else's, for fairly obvious reasons. But what if whitebread dudes like me think the use of the word is really racist?

Just wondering. I also wonder what would happen if I walked onto a reservation and called somebody a "redskin" to his or her face.
5.15.2009 7:51pm
Xanthippas (mail) (www):
I can tell you from personal experience that the Natives who are most offended by the name "Redskins" being used for a football team are generally younger, or more politically active. Whereas most Natives I've met at say, a Pow Wow, didn't really care all that much, Natives I've met in more political settings, e.g. student groups on college campuses, care quite a bit. So I think it just depends on who you ask. I'm Cherokee and I detest the name Redskins and that idiotic looking Chief Wahoo, but my dad doesn't really care all that much one way or the other.
5.15.2009 7:53pm
BT:
My highschool sent through this PC crap about fifteen years ago and changed their name from Redskins to Redhawks. My grandmother was a full blooded Indian from northern Mexico (Tarahumara), the name Redskin doesn't bother me at all, although my football allegience drives me to say, Go Bears!!!!

I have to admit, it would be kinda cool if a team took the name Running Caucasions or Groovy White Guys.
5.15.2009 8:01pm
Frater Plotter:
I have to admit, it would be kinda cool if a team took the name Running Caucasions or Groovy White Guys.
How about the Fighting Whites?
5.15.2009 8:07pm
AJK:


I have to admit, it would be kinda cool if a team took the name Running Caucasions or Groovy White Guys.


I always thought the Texans should have kept their name when they moved to Kansas City.
5.15.2009 8:28pm
Brubaker:
I was doing research on this issue at one of the premier institutions in the country. My advisor was on one side of the political debate, and I was on the other. Our conflict caused me to lose faith in the objectivity of psychological research, and leave graduate school 3 years into a PhD program. I now attempt to scratch out a meager living working a night job for $10 an hour.

BTW I believe you are very wrong in your contention that "naming a team after some person or group is usually a sign of respect." First, what teams are named after a person? The pirates? The deacon devils? Huh?

Second, mascots are chosen because the mascot has stereotypical characteristics that a school or team finds appealing. If you look at Native-American mascot imagery, they all convey the idea that Native-Americans are primitive, fierce, fighters, etc. This is of course all redundant to team names like the Savages, the Redskins, the Warriors, etc.

Your sports illustrated survey is a joke, but I have to ask if a team named itself the "Darkies" and the mascot was a congenial friendly-albeit-slow black tap dancer straight out of the 20's (a positive image one might say), would it really matter how offensive Blacks regarded the mascot?
5.15.2009 9:31pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
Brubaker,

I find your assertion about team names to be somewhat odd. The vast majority are chosen with some ideal of fierceness or strength in mind. Pirates as an example have many qualities in the same vein that you attribute to Amerindian imagry. Just because the imagry is different for each group is not an indication that these qualities are not being sought.

My understanding is that these same forces are a laerge part of why the Romans trained gladiators to use the weapons of foes defeated by the empire. "Look at how tough these people are, yet we defeated them. We are great."
5.15.2009 10:01pm
John Stephens (mail):
Depends on who's saying it, to whom, and how. My wife (Navajo) has wholeheartedly adopted many aspects of Southern culture, including the desire to display the Confederate battle flag.

I can get away with joking about "Redneck, Redskin, what's the difference?". I'm not sure anyone else could though.
5.15.2009 10:03pm
Brubaker:
Soronel,

I agree with John Stephens, and will add that, yes, mascots are certainly chosen with positive ideals in mind. The relevant question, for me (vs. my advisor), is not simply "Do mascots project positive images of Indians" -- which I think might very well be true. The other relevant questions are:

- Do mascots project stereotypes of Native-Americans (not so much an empirical question, as I think the answer is fairly obvious but I was willing to test this if need be)

- Does viewing mascots make one more likely to think about Native-Americans (a real, existing group of people who are very much unlike the displayed stereotypes). My advisor was open to testing this question.

- Does viewing mascots *reinforce* *existing* stereotypes of Native-Americans. (my advisor was not willing to test this, which I regarded as the central question of the Native-American mascot issue since I believe that this is the primary negative consequence of Native-American mascots).
5.15.2009 10:15pm
Brubaker:
Ugh, sorry, my second question should be "think negatively about" — not just "think about"
5.15.2009 10:16pm
Mike99 (mail):
When I was a relatively young pup. going to work in a midwestern city of some size with a sizable Indian population, I was determined to be sensitive, diverse and politically correct. Therefore, I did my best to call every Indian I came across "native American." To a man and woman, they would ask "what are you calling me that for?" I asked when they wanted to be called, and again, to a man and a woman, they replied "I'm an Indian." And so they were.

Perhaps we ought to listen to the Indians rather than those who wish to perpetuate eternal guilt.
5.15.2009 10:57pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
BTW I believe you are very wrong in your contention that "naming a team after some person or group is usually a sign of respect." First, what teams are named after a person? The pirates? The deacon devils? Huh?
Well, there's the Browns.
5.16.2009 12:46am
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
Your sports illustrated survey is a joke, but I have to ask if a team named itself the "Darkies" and the mascot was a congenial friendly-albeit-slow black tap dancer straight out of the 20's (a positive image one might say), would it really matter how offensive Blacks regarded the mascot?

I think the naming philosophy basically favors "things you don't want to tangle with" -- that's where "respect" comes in. Best of all are things that are powerful and/or deadly and unlikely to affect sports fans in real life, whether they're pirates, tigers, or thunderbolts. There needs to be an element of distance or safety. I don't know of any teams called the "New Orleans Floods," the "New Jersey Mafia," or the "Birmingham Klansmen," for example. (Let's not talk about the "Washington Senators" ...)

Face it, a team name that evokes the image of "friendly-albeit-slow" doesn't cut it. (I wouldn't call that "a positive image" -- why didn't you just name them the "Strawmen"?)

Rather than "Darkies," a more likely and acceptable team name might be "Zulus," after the African warriors who had a well-deserved reputation for being fierce fighters. A simple Google search turns up a number of minor league and school teams with that name ... including the "Zulu Cannibal Giants," a facetiously named baseball team from the days of the Negro League. Heck, "Zulus"strikes me as a more plausible name for a basketball team than "Celtics."

And how do African-American team members of the Notre Dame "Fighting Irish" feel about ethnic stereotypes?

In some of Larry Niven's SF stories set a couple of centuries in the future -- after 20th Century atrocities are mentioned only in history books -- there's a German football team named the "Berlin Nazis." I don't think that's too implausible, especially when you consider that England has soccer and rugby teams named the "Saracens." And look at all the high schools in the American Southwest with football teams named the "Conquistadores."
5.16.2009 2:30am
Brubaker:
I think the naming philosophy basically favors "things you don't want to tangle with" — that's where "respect" comes in

Do you not see the problem with a sports team or school expressing that "you don't want to tangle with an Indian"

Because my natural questions is — Why, what is it about Indians that makes me not want to tangle with them? Perhaps because they are fierce, unyielding, savage — a force to be reckoned with. (20 million of them were killed — guess they can't be that tough, eh?)

Face it, a team name that evokes the image of "friendly-albeit-slow" doesn't cut it.

I chose that stereotype of the "Darkies" because positive-yet-stereotypical depictions of Blacks were very common in America in the early 20th century. I was trying to illustrate that there can be a problem none-the-less.

Rather than "Darkies," a more likely and acceptable team name might be "Zulus,"

I would be inclined to find the name "Zulus" acceptable. I'm not aware that Zulus, or pirates, or vikings currently exist as a people that might be hurt if negative stereotypes about them are propagated.

And how do African-American team members of the Notre Dame "Fighting Irish" feel about ethnic stereotypes?

I don't follow why you think this is relevant could you please elaborate.
5.16.2009 3:00am
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
And how do African-American team members of the Notre Dame "Fighting Irish" feel about ethnic stereotypes?

I don't follow why you think this is relevant could you please elaborate.

You don't think a pugnacious and no-doubt drunken Irishman is a negative stereotype? Haven't you seen Notre Dame's dwarf, bandy-legged, balding, angry-looking mascot? What "right" do the African-Americans on the team have to buy into and perpetuate a pernicious stereotype like that one?

[And for the irony, sarcasm, and humor-impaired folks out there: That was a joke. But the negative stereotypes embodies in the Indian mascots and emblems are indeed matched by the negative stereotypes in the Figthing Irish emblem. The Boston Celtics emblem is a bit better, but it still wouldn't placate someone from the Ould Sod who was looking for a grievance.]

Because my natural questions is — Why, what is it about Indians that makes me not want to tangle with them? Perhaps because they are fierce, unyielding, savage — a force to be reckoned with.

Well, basically, yes. And I'd say the same thing about a team called the "Green Berets" or the "IRS Agents."

(20 million of them were killed — guess they can't be that tough, eh?)

Huh? That's about the same number of Russians killed in World War II, and nobody ever accused them of being wimps.

I'm not aware that Zulus, or pirates, or vikings currently exist as a people that might be hurt if negative stereotypes about them are propagated.

Zulus do currently exist. They're the most numerous ethnic group in South Africa. And I strongly suspect that most of them would be amused or pleased if sports teams would adopt their name. But they'd probably want royalties!
5.16.2009 5:01am
Brubaker:
What "right" do the African-Americans on the team have to buy into and perpetuate a pernicious stereotype like that one?

Since I don't feel that the negative stereotypes of the Irish perpetuated by the Notre Dame mascot have any real negative consequences for the Irish (because the Irish have historically integrated more or less completely into American culture within a generation), I wouldn't expect the Black teammates to have a problem with it either.

Well, basically, yes. And I'd say the same thing about a team called the "Green Berets" or the "IRS Agents."

Except that the stereotype of fierceness and violence legitimately applies to Green Berets, and it might apply to IRS agents to but my guess is that if a team called itself that it would be mainly as a joke.
5.16.2009 6:30am
geokstr (mail):
By the time this over-the-top sensitivity and legal wrangling is done, all the sports teams will have to have names like:

The Flailing Wussies

or maybe the Fighting Irish should change their to the

Honky Pedos

I'm surprised that my beloved Green Bay football team hasn't been sued by a gay group yet over their name.

(Relax, it's just a joke.)
5.16.2009 8:35am
Robert West (mail) (www):
Banana slugs are not contemptible.
5.16.2009 6:41pm
rrr (mail):

"Since I don't feel that the negative stereotypes of the Irish perpetuated by the Notre Dame mascot have any real negative consequences for the Irish (because the Irish have historically integrated more or less completely into American culture within a generation), I wouldn't expect the Black teammates to have a problem with it either."



Since when does what you feel have anything to do with the argument you are making? Why is what you feel more legitimate than what I feel--or, for that matter, what Native Americans feel? You're pure and classic doublespeak: I don't allow that this group is damaged so they can't be. On the other hand, my favored group is damaged because I say so, even if they themselves don't agree. Who would know better than me?

Something tells me there's more to your being in a $10/hr job than your personal enlightenment about modern psychology. I don't know anything about Ph.D. programs in psychology but I do know about them at least one branch of the humanities and my experience would be that your attempt at argumentation would be laughed out of a seminar and you've have a difficult time finding an advisor to put up with your crap when it came time for a dissertation.

Further, your other posts leave me to wonder if you even know anything at all about sports and their fans, besides what you cherry-pick to validate your prejudices. BTW, cherry-pick is a sports term . . .
5.16.2009 7:54pm
Brubaker:
rrr you are a valuable contributor to this discussion. What other insights would you like to share?
5.16.2009 11:39pm
PlugInMonster:
This kind of "issue" is why the left is completely irrelevant.
5.17.2009 12:44pm
Borealis (mail):

This is such a great issue to investigate politically correct influence on campuses. And I mean that both in the positive and negative ways:

1. The issue is entirely symbolic, so there is no real world causes to debate.

2. It hits colleges especially hard, so academia can get all worked up about it.

3. It begs interesting questions, like: Should only the offendees' opinion count? What does it mean that people debate whether the name is a compliment or a put-down? What do other minorities think about the compliment or put-down of other minorities? Where is the line between pride, humor, caracature, and discrimination? And, is some publicity better than no publicity?
5.18.2009 1:24am
Xanthippas (mail) (www):

When I was a relatively young pup. going to work in a midwestern city of some size with a sizable Indian population, I was determined to be sensitive, diverse and politically correct. Therefore, I did my best to call every Indian I came across "native American." To a man and woman, they would ask "what are you calling me that for?" I asked when they wanted to be called, and again, to a man and a woman, they replied "I'm an Indian." And so they were.

Perhaps we ought to listen to the Indians rather than those who wish to perpetuate eternal guilt.


Well, again, it depends on who you're asking. Younger Natives such as myself don't much care for the term Indian, or American Indian, as they're inaccurate. Older Natives very much prefer those names; in fact, some are irritated at the thought of being called anything newfangled like "Native American."

Also generally, Native Americans refer to each other by their tribe, not a generic descriptor. But we don't expect outsiders to keep up with various tribal affiliations. So your experience is probably fairly typical. But you should also be aware that there are more than a few Natives who are perfectly fine with perpetuating eternal white guilt, and would not generally be all that understanding of you running around calling everyone an Indian out of a desire to "listen" to the people. In fact, they would advise you to consider listening to Natives on other more important issues, such as the ownership of the Black Hills, the usurpation of tribal sovereignty, or reimbursement for mishandled trust funds.
5.18.2009 4:47pm

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