Why Charles Krauthammer Gets it Wrong on the Redskins

The Redskins are not a people, they're a sports team.


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?

Tags: Redskins