Often people and organizations admire the heroism and romanticism evoked by the classic Native American image but others feel the use of Native American imagery in mascots is offensive and racist. Many native people consider the use of “Redskins” as derogatory.
Americans, in general, have a history of gathering inspiration from native people that dates back to the 18th century and this practice led to the origins of many nicknames and mascots. These were not from authentic sources but rather as Native American life was imagined by Euro-Americans.
I can remember attending schools on reservations where there was an institutional apathetic feeling that was shared by most teachers and educational staff. This apathy and lack of respect for culture is the foundation for education at many schools that serve American Indians and may well be the reason that the mascot issue is not bigger.
Despite the trend of multicultural education in some school systems, many school texts remain slanted towards stereotypes and prejudices and even worse, there are antiquated ideologies and approaches to teaching that still result in a poor education system for American Indians.
Addressing the use of inappropriate mascots is important and confronting the issue head-on by demonstration brings the issue to the public. I applaud the efforts of protesting and other grass roots methods, but it is an atrocious loss that, over the years, our education system has missed the mark completely. Racism is something that is learned and methods of combating racism can be learned as well.
The issues are not going away. It would be far easier and commendable for the owners to take the high road and change the Washington Redskins name to something everyone can be proud of, but confrontation and clashes between Indian and non-Indian is so ingrained in American history that, sadly, both sides will end up utilizing tons of resources before the mascot issue is put to rest. Education of non-Indians and Native people who may not realize that mascots, such as “Redskins,” have deep roots in racism, will take time and effort but it is an imperative move in the right direction of making mascots more positive. Simply put, offensive mascots such as “Redskins” are racist and need to change.
(First posted to Indian Country Today Media Network & on WPVI-TV Philadelphia on October 19. 2013)