Ramone Romero, on why Redsk*ns’ fans should #ChangeTheName.
This weekend Native American activists and their supporters at Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, a social media activist group, will be conducting a #ChangetheName #WinAGame #Karma Twitterstorm to draw attention to the Washington Redsk*ns’ abysmal record during Native American Heritage month and their use of an unTrademarkable ethnic slur for a nickname. As part of this, they are calling upon Washington Football Team fans to remove the Redsk*ns name and mascot from their gear like the Cleveland Indians fans did (they removed Chief Wahoo and posted the photos online with the hashtag #Dechief). Ramone Romero, an artist and father living in Japan wrote this in response to this call. -editor’s note by Jacqueline Keeler
by Ramone Romero
I remember the bliss of winning those two Super Bowls. We lived in suburb just outside of D.C. in Maryland and nearly everyone was a fan of the Washington football team, except for the oddball at school or work who cheered for the Dallas Cowboys. My family and I weren’t rabid fans, but we had a few goods. One that I held onto was a little cap that I probably wore in junior high school and high school.
After college I moved out of country and promptly forgot about football. Then one day last year when visiting my mother’s home in Maryland, I spied that old Washington cap on a shelf. I began to feel that it wasn’t right, but since it was a relic of my childhood I left it where it was.
Around Thanksgiving 2012, when lots of friends on Facebook started talking about being thankful, I suddenly thought it strange and asked a question: “Where is the other half of the Thanksgiving table? Why aren’t they ‘giving thanks’ and celebrating the holiday with us?” During the previous decade I had read a little about what America had done to Natives, so I already knew the answer to my question. But now I felt personally challenged to try to reach across and live out reconciliation in my life.
I learned about and befriended Mark Charles, a Navajo pastor who has tried to publicize a buried, half-hearted and non-binding “apology to Native people” that the government slipped into a “defense appropriations bill” at the end of 2010. I made the decision to support Mark as he traveled to Washington that December to read it in front of the Capitol with friends and supporters.
I began a journey of befriending and getting to know Native people. Along the way I learned more history—things I wasn’t taught in school like the abuse of the boarding schools, the terror of the adoption era, the injustice and devastation wrought by the Dawes Commission, and much more.
I can’t put my finger on when I first heard of Natives protesting sports mascots, but a few months after my journey began, one day I saw a childhood friend comment online about how stupid the protests were. Right then, that’s when I decided and said to myself, “I am going to stand on the Natives’ side because this is not right.”
Since then from time to time I share articles, opinions, and stories about the mascot issue on my Facebook timeline, as well as other Native issues and news from Indian Country. A lot of friends post news about the football team and are still passionate about it. Rarely do we ever talk—we just kind of silently avoid each other, it seems.
I don’t think any of my childhood friends who love the team are racists. But what they don’t want to understand is that everyone who supports the name is unintentionally being an accomplice to racism—they are helping to protect racist attitudes and stereotypes about Native Americans. All one needs to do is look at the comments section when a news article is written about Native protests. (Amanda Blackhorse, a Navajo plaintiff in the case that stripped the football team of several trademarks, recently wrote an article sharing some of the hate-mail she gets from football fans: Blackhorse: The Hate Mail I Receive is Hostile, Aggressive, Racist and Sexist).
The team name & mascot issue strike at the heart of a larger and deeper problem: Racism against Natives is a living part of the country’s foundation and fabric, even today. By attacking the mascots, Native activists have brought this racism out into the open where everyone can see it—right in the middle of the sacred hours of watching football.
But football is one of the most hallowed religions in the United States, and so sports fans may be very unwilling to recognize that prejudice, racism, sexual and domestic abuse sometimes find a sanctuary among professional and collegiate sports teams. (Just like churchgoers who may not want to recognize and admit when a pastor or priest becomes abusive of members.)
Native sports mascots came about during a time of rampant racist attitudes in American history, as well as racist national, state, and local policies toward Natives. Mascots have never been about honoring living Native Americans and their communities— instead they have always been first and foremost about making fans feel good and making profits for the owners.
Natives and what they think have never mattered to sports owners and fans. Even today fans say “Natives have bigger problems to worry about”— as if that excuses this particular case of racism. Not because they care about Natives and problems in their communities, but because they want Natives to shut up and go away—they don’t want their enjoyment and football-worship to be interrupted. But Native Americans don’t matter much to mainstream America. Fans would sooner buy expensive season tickets than donate to recovery centers or cultural preservation programs in Indian Country. Ask fans to change a racist sports name? That’s when the pretense of “honor” falls and they say, “Go back to the reservation!” or the condescending “Get over it!” or “You have bigger problems to worry about!”
And yes, there are epidemics of violence against Native women and suicides among Native youth. But is it coincidental that because Blackhorse fought against mascots, she gets hate mail calling her a “b*tch”, “squaw”, insulting her appearance, and telling her to “consider suicide”?
No, all things are related.
The team name & mascot issue are a symptom of the bigger, deeper problem: Racism against Natives is a living part of the country’s foundation and fabric, even today. By attacking the mascots, Native activists have brought this racism out into the open where everyone can see it—right in the middle of the sacred hours of watching football.
It’s an interruption and inconvenience to most Americans. Even though 83% say they would never call a Native American a “r*dsk*n” to their face, sports is an illogical and hallowed exception. Because of the worship-like devotion fans have, professional sports can often be a sanctuary for prejudice, racism, and as we’ve seen recently, domestic abuse as well.
Just like I challenged myself, I am challenging you to stand up and be on the right side of history and morality.
Do what is right.
Exposing and getting rid of deep-seated racism is more important than a “football tradition” inherited from racist times.
Native lives and issues are far more important than lining the pockets of football team owners who don’t pay taxes.
Be better than America’s previous generations and forefathers.
P.S. That old cap? When I returned this year to visit again, I took some white-out, a Sharpie, and a seam-ripper to it! Do you have any Native mascot goods? Do something similar and share it on social media!