The screening of More Than a Word
on Nov. 8 in the Pfau Library, examine d the modern-day racial slur, “red skin”. The film notes that many dictionaries refer to the word as “disparaging and offensive.” It then references an 1863 article from The Winona Daily Republican in Minnesota which stated that “the state reward for dead Indians has been increased to 200 dollars for every red-skin sent to purgatory.”
Though a bloody history does not necessarily make the word derogatory to Native Americans, one Native American, Tara Houska, regards it as a racial slur. Houska looks at it in a “modern context”, meaning “if you call someone a Redskin, you know that’s a racial slur.”
Like the origins of the N-word, the meaning of “red skin” has changed over time
according to Joe D. Horse Capture, who is the director of Native American Initiatives at the Minnesota Historical Society.
The film presented opinions of Washington Red Skins fans as well. One adorned with feathers on his head, said the name should not be changed, as it is not doing any harm. Others said that the term was never intended to be racist, and that protests for a name change are the result of political correctness. “It was all in honor of them,” says one fan.
Despite conflicting opinions, some Red Skins fans have come to see the name as racist. One, Ian Washburn, is still a fan of the Washington Red Skins. However, Washburn now excludes the name and imagery from his fandom. Several clips of his home show that he has put black tape over the name and images which disparage Native Americans.
Fans like Washburn received opinion changing information from movements against disparaging mascots. Washburn was not taught about Native American history in his public education, raising questions as to what is being taught in public schools.
After the film, Professor of Sociology James Fenelon opened the Q & A session by briefly addressing the issue. In response to the idea that a symbol is just a symbol, he questioned why a society would hold on to a symbol for so long.
“The symbol represents an inferior so-called race of people associated with savagery and barbarism and so on, and it’s dismissive not only of the histories of native nations, but the beauty of societies and the people,” said Fenelon.
Event Organizer Robie Madrigal had a question of his own, regarding the film’s failure to talk about institutional racism. Professor Fenelon responded by giving his thoughts on what racism does. He says disparaging images of Native Americans have a negative impact on the them, while having a positive one on others.
“Racism makes people feel better by giving them a sense of superiority,” stated Fenelon.
For Madrigal, this issue is not just about football.
“[The issue is] about a racist caricature that continues to be perpetuated in society. The notion of the “red skin”, the “savage”, is a caricature rooted in racist stereotypes, and it clearly does not at all represent who native Americans are. They are more than a mascot,” said Madrigal.
Though Daniel Snyder has been quoted multiple times as saying he will not change the name of his team, Professor Fenelon remains hopeful that the name will be changed. However, it may take time considering today’s political climate.