Why Charles Krauthammer Gets it Wrong on the Redskins

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The first wrong assumption that Krauthammer makes in his article calling for the abolition of the name is treating Redskins like the name of an ethnic group.

If you were detailing the ethnic composition of Congress, you wouldn’t say: “Well, to start with, there are 44 Negroes.”…

Similarly, regarding the further ethnic breakdown of Congress, you wouldn’t say: “And by my count, there are two redskins.” It’s inconceivable, because no matter how the word was used 80 years ago, it carries invidious connotations today.

If you don’t count the United Negro College Fund or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. So clearly those words are not irrevocably offensive.

But that’s not the language we use today to refer the people. The Redskins are not a people, they’re a sports team. The question isn’t even of racial offensiveness. There is no great movement of Indians to outlaw Indian-based names. It’s at best met with disinterest.

The people most obsessed with this question are white people. Mostly white liberals. This is a debate that white liberals and white conservatives are having over political correctness.

Krauthammer admits as much;

I know there are surveys that say that most Native Americans aren’t bothered by the word. But that’s not the point. My objection is not rooted in pressure from various minorities or fear of public polls or public scolds…

I wouldn’t want to use a word that defines a people — living or dead, offended or not — in a most demeaning way. It’s not a question of who or how many had their feelings hurt, but whether you want to associate yourself with a word that, for whatever historical reason having nothing to do with you, carries inherently derogatory connotations.

But can a word be derogatory if the people it is describing don’t find it derogatory? Isn’t he really saying that he is choosing to be offended on behalf of people who aren’t offended because that’s his moral standard. And then who defines what is derogatory? People who are offended by things on behalf of other people?

“The fact is, however, that words don’t stand still. They evolve,” Krauthammer says.

But he’s not describing the evolution of language. He’s describing the evolution of political language.

Fifty years ago the preferred, most respectful term for African-Americans was Negro. … And then, for complicated historical reasons (having to do with the black-power and “black is beautiful” movements), usage changed. The preferred term is now black or African American.

Years ago, the word “retarded” emerged as the enlightened substitute for such cruel terms as “feeble-minded” or “mongoloid.” Today, however, it is considered a form of denigration, having been replaced by the clumsy but now conventional “developmentally disabled.” There is no particular logic to this evolution. But it’s a social fact.

As an unreconstructed social savage, I use the word retarded, both as an insult and a description. Maybe it’s because I see no point in chasing the euphemism treadmill.

The terms that Krauthammer describes are not an evolution. They are the replacement of language with bureaucratic terminology that no one uses in normal speech.

I have never met anyone who says Developmentally Disabled. If they want to use a euphemism, they use “Special”. Though that word too is now an insult because you can’t escape the euphemism treadmill and every euphemism for the thing will come to be an insult, except terms like “Developmentally Disabled” which no one uses outside formal contexts.

The same goes for African-American and Native-American. Most people just stick with Black and Indian. Black means the same thing as Negro. We just stopped using another language to say it in.  Neither Indian nor Black are particularly flattering. But multicultural societies don’t tend toward flattering names for other peoples, but for short and blunt ones.

The name Redskins is out of date. Like a lot of sports names.

Ask a Knicks fan to explain what his team name means. (It means Knickerbockers which was an insulting term that English settlers in New York used to call the Dutch settlers, who called them John Cheese, which became Yankee.)

Are a lot of Dutch people offended by The Knicks? Probably not. And it doesn’t actually matter. The team name has as little to do with making fun of the clothes Dutch people wore in the 1800s as the Redskins have with the Indians.

And the Yankees? Are a lot of Anglos in New York offended by a team name that calls them Cheeseaters?

In time the mutual insults that the Dutch and the English in New York had for each other, and that most different groups in a multicultural society do, faded away into cultural background noise.

The Indians care as much about the Redskins as we care about the Knicks and the Yankees. Krauthammer is correct that language changes. It’s changed so much that no one pays attention to the cultural references for the names except fairly well-educated people.

How many Redskins fans even know that was a term that was used to refer to Indians? Not that many until liberals made a court case out of it.

It’s to move on. Not by changing the name, but by abandoning this nonsense. The Knickerbockers and Yankees both began as insulting names that were eventually adopted as a cultural heritage. Is it so shocking that some Indians and ordinary Americans might feel the same way?

  • T-Rex

    This is one of those situations where an intelligent person was given the opportunity to give an opinion on a BS subject and, unfortunately, he did. The Redskins are a sport team and I doubt few native American Indians feel “dissed” by being loosely associated with them. Also, I doubt the front office and the players feel they are poking anyone in the eye by using this moniker. Try changing the San Francisco 49ers to the Bay Area Gays and see how that goes over.

  • Isis Wirth

    I agree with you, Mr. Greenfield.

  • timmysfriend

    Thanks for writing this Daniel, people now days go crazy over the dumbest things.

  • Marlane Bormel

    With all of the problems this nations has, this has become a diversionary non-issue to divert our attention by the real offenses being created – the purposeful destruction of a once-great nation by the permanent political class. Moreover, I wonder whose palm is being greased and will benefit by this continuing noise.

  • Wolfthatknowsall

    I’m a “half-breed Comanche”. I’m not at all offended by the term “Redskins”. It’s the name of a sports team. I don’t know about who founded the team, but I’m pretty sure that the current owner(s) aren’t attacking anyone, through the use of this term.

    If you think about it, it’s actually a compliment. What does one expect of a sports team … baseball, football, whatever? You expect them to fight, and fight hard and well. The actual “redskins” fought long, well, and hard, for their freedoms. That is something to be admired.

    The team from Obama’s city, Chicago, should change its name from the “Blackhawks”, right? Someone might be offended …

  • DogmaelJones1

    Krauthammer disappointed me on the Redskins issue. It’s such an artificial, fabricated issue that I’m surprised anyone with half a brain has pursued it.

  • DogmaelJones1

    Has Krauthammer offered any substitute names for the Redskins? Say, the Washington Lobbyists? The Washington Pull-Peddlers? The Washington Log-Rollers? The Washington Bipartisans?

    • tedh754

      How about the Washington Federal Government Over-Paid Worthless Sacks of Bullcrap? Too long?

      • DogmaelJones1

        Far too long. It’s got to be catchy, economical. Something like the Washington Wonks, or the Washington SWATs. Or, we could drop Washington from the name altogether, and just call them the Expropriators.

  • Gee

    Tell the Aussies that the term “Digger” is offensive – when they use the term with rightful pride.

    In the 1930s and 40s calling somebody a “Jew” was considered an insult – it is to this day in EVERY Muslim country. Guess what we Jews are not offended to be called that.

    If the Native Americans do not find the term insulting – then it’s not an insult

  • mackykam

    Krauthammer wants to call them “skins.” In honor of the 4th estate, of which Kraut is a member, perhaps they should be known as “The Fore-Skins.”

    As an aside, perhaps we should demand the Suntan Lotion known as Coppertone be changed, too.

  • TheOrdinaryMan

    Of course words evolve; but why should the name of a sports team “evolve?” That is, why should politics extend to the name of a sports team?(Or as Greenfield says, Why should those who have less skin(no pun intended) in the game be more offended than those with more?) One can easily extend that maxim to the U.S. Constitution, and turn it into a “living, breathing document,” which can mean anything the liberal American ruling class wants it to mean.

  • Disgusted with this article

    http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2013/11/06/american-indian-movement-to-protest-at-vikings-game/

    Guess what? We care.

    The term Redskin comes from the blood running down my ancestors’ faces while they were being scalped. It is offensive and it needs to be changed. I can’t believe in a world in which this is still considered acceptable.