Okay, just why do so many of us still see nothing wrong with the
Washington Redskins, the Cleveland Indians, the Florida State Seminoles,
and lots of other teams named after Native Americans?
Rick Reilly says in a "Sports Illustrated" piece that it's because
we still don't get it. To help us out, he asks us to imagine
analogies: the New York Negroes or the Chicago Jews, the San Diego
Chicanos or the Los Angeles Yellowskins.
But those minorities, having experience in humiliation, probably
already understand what's offensive about the Redskins and the Braves
and the Tomahawk Chop. It's the rest of usmainstream white
Americawho need to get it. What's required is an outrageously
humiliating analogy we can all plug into, and what brings one to mind is
the fiftieth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
So run this through your humilimeter:
Imagine that the Japanese attack was so successful that we had to
surrender early in 1942. Imagine that we've been occupied by the
Japanese for nearly half a century now and that all our land,
factories, all our wealth belong to them.
(This is just a test. Do not panic.)
Imagine that most of us native-born Americans are either
sharecropping for our new landlords or sweeping floors and cleaning
toilet bowls in their factories. When we try to complain, there's a
language problem. Our attempts at Japanese amuse them, and, except for
a few of their anthropologists interested in primitive cultures, they're
all too busy making money to learn English.
They're tolerant enough of our oddities. They've allowed us to
keep our religion and some of them even turn out to watch our Christmas
and Easter services, charmed, they say, by the child-like naivete of
some of our beliefs. But we're not permitted to drink communion wine
because all alcoholic beverages, except the saki and beer produced in
Japan, have been outlawed.
(This is still just a test of your equipment. Do not be alarmed.)
We are generally thought by our rulers to be sullen and lazy. They
try to integrate us into their culture but most of us refuse. We drink
lots of cheap saki and try to forget the difference between who we are
and who we used to be.
And finally, imagine that a Japanese billionaire in the city of
Atlanta, in what used to be the state of Georgia, buys a franchise for
an expansion team in the Nippon Baseball League and hires players from
Japan at average salaries a lot highersay, about a hundred times
morethan what most of us make.
Sportswriters, ever witty, nickname the team the "Roundeyes," but
the official name is the Atlanta Arizonans, even though the state of
Arizona no longer exists and would have no connection to Atlanta if it
did. The team insignia is a stylized outline of a smoking,
half-submerged battleship. The fans' rally cry is "Remember Pearl
Harbor!" and vendors dressed in parodies of U.S. Naval uniforms, circa
1941, sell them foam rubber machine guns. They pretend to shoot at
imaginary Zeroes strafing and bombing and torpedoing the stadium, and
they make machine-gun noises to mess up the concentration of the
The Truth, Mainly
When some of us native-born Americans form an anti-defamation
league and suggest there's something offensive about all that, we're
told to lighten up. It's just a game.
(You may now switch off your humilimeter, being careful not to
place your bare hand on the indignation chamber housing.)
Make your blood boil? Well I should say.
And here's the point: if your mainstream white American blood
boils at a scenario that's only imagined, think how hot Native American
blood gets when the scenario is real and roughly parallel. Prick them
and they bleed. Tickle them and they laugh. Defeat them and steal
their land and obliterate their culture, then mock them in a game, and
they take offense.
But if the only parallel we persist in seeing is between the
Redskins, and, say, the Vikings, we still don't get it. It was never
national policy that the only good Scandinavian is a dead Scandinavian.
So let's try this: as we remember Pearl Harbor, let's also remember
Wounded Knee and the policy that led to it. If we can make those two
memories coalesce, if we can recall the anger and defeat and humiliation
of a Sunday morning half a century ago and see a link to five centuries
of Native American history, then we'll begin to get it, to understand
how the names we give our teams can make what they do more than just a
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.