- Redskins: Insult and Brand by C. Richard King
In April 2016, the Washington R*dskins organization filed a special petition with the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the revocation of six trademark registrations issued two years prior by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The 2014 cancellation resulted from that body’s conclusion that the moniker violates the “disparagement clause” of federal trademark law. Despite mounting criticism, the team’s ownership continues to fight for the name, insisting that it honors native people. In a new twist, this latest petition also claims (erroneously) that, since Native Americans failed to object to the team name during previous patent applications, they had missed their chance to denounce it now.
In his timely, important, and eminently readable book, C. Richard King examines the cultural significance of the defiant attachment to a team name and brand rooted in a racist slur. In the face of growing discomfort and active opposition, team owner Dan Snyder has vowed to NEVER change the moniker (“you can use caps,” he declared in 2013). Much more than simply adherence to tradition, the intransigent defense of the name, King tells us, reflects the deep-seated resentment felt by white men toward “multiculturalism, feminism, and postindustrialization” (9). Indeed, he argues, the use of the word “R*dskins” speaks much more to notions of whiteness (and masculinity) than to ideas about Indians.
King traces the nearly century-long history of the Washington (formerly Boston) professional football team’s use of invented and ahistorical Indianness that effectively [End Page 117] constructs a framework for white male identity. Positioning itself as the “team of the South,” the R*dskins staunchly resisted racial integration until pressured to do so by the federal government under the Kennedy administration. At that time, the team toned down the most patently offensive Indian imagery, but the owner continued to reify and commodify the stereotype as a way to foster fans’ identification with the team and promote fierce, passionate, and lucrative loyalty to “R*dskin Nation.”
The name itself and the associated iconography not only perpetuate stereotypes and outright racism, but they also promote the erasure of Native Americans in contemporary society. Invented Indians like the D.C. team’s mascot have become accepted as more real and authentic than actual, living people. And the blindness extends to anti-Indian racism itself; when devotees of the name insist on their own noble intent, they deny the legitimacy of claims of offense and harm. As King powerfully demonstrates, the moniker’s persistence has the effect of entrenching the disparagement and dehumanization of Indigenous people, regardless of its proponents’ objective. It simultaneously affirms the racial order premised on the privilege of everyday, unremarkable whiteness. “It’s not me they are honoring,” explained Autumn White Eyes, a Lakota Indian. “[T]hey are honoring themselves for doing such a good job on killing all the Indians” (106).
King methodically dismantles the organization’s disingenuous claim that they are honoring and respecting Indigenous people by retaining the team’s moniker. Through an array of contemporary examples that demonstrate harm caused by the name and an effective grounding in the history of both the term and the team’s adoption of it, King makes a powerful case that the term r*dskin should be retired as other offensive epithets have been. As it is, the team’s self-serving myth-making only serves to perpetuate “the ownership of Indianness, the denial of history and power, and the preservation of [white] privilege” (28). It does absolutely nothing to genuinely esteem Indigenous people in the United States.