The alteration didn’t come from a moment of sudden spiritual enlightenment from team owner Dan Snyder who had said many years ago that a name change was out of the question; adding: “NEVER – you can use caps.”
But society is also changing. Despite the old guard claims that it’s “just a game”, American consciousness has seen that proverbial light in the darkness and gone towards it. NASCAR, for example, recently banned Confederate flags from its events; a move that has upset many White southerners. Again, the old guard is losing its grip on cultural relevance.
The word “redskin” is equivalent to slurs like nigger, gook, spic, fag, or politician. It’s seriously debasing and relegates the Western Hemisphere’s native peoples to a skin tone (which many don’t actually have) as well as to a sub-human category. In all fairness, some people of Native American ancestry don’t care either way. They don’t view the term as derogatory or racist. It’s just a word. Of course, it is! So is genocide.
Washington is now at a moniker crossroads. Obviously, they’ll keep the name Washington. But what to add to it? Some have suggested “Warriors” or “Red Tails”; the latter a reference to the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) servicemen during World War II who went disregarded and underappreciated for decades.
I recommend the term “Monuments”. It’s a direct recognition of the Washington Monument, but it’s also a reference to the structure’s form and size. You know – a large, tall, long, hard, phallic-shaped emblem. Since football is such a macho sport, I feel it’s appropriate.
Regardless of whatever name Washington adopts, the time is way past due. And there’s simply no turning back. Time doesn’t stop and it doesn’t retract. It always moves forward. So should we all.
Yesterday, July 3, the Washington Redskins football team made the stunning announcement that they would actually consider changing their name; at least change the “Redskins” part of it. If there’s a true case of better late than never, this is it. For decades, the nation’s Native American population and their supporters have demanded Washington remove the “Redskins” feature of their moniker. As recently as 2013, team owner Dan Snyder scoffed at the possibility of such a move. Many have expressed surprise that Snyder would be opposed to the alteration because he is of Jewish-American extraction. But I say it’s because he is Jewish-American that he remained reticent to a change. From what I’ve seen, many people of Jewish faith and ethnicity feel they are not only the “Chosen Ones” of humanity, but they are the ONLY ones who have ever suffered the horror of genocide. So much so that the term ‘holocaust’ has metamorphosed into ‘Holocaust’ as a direct reference to Nazi Germany’s attempt to obliterate the Jewish people. Snyder had spat out the usual Caucasian rhetoric of venerating Native Americans as fierce warriors with the word “redskin”.
In his formal statement, he declared, in part, “This process allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise, but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field.”
Not once did Snyder mention the derogatory nature of the word “redskin”. In the spirit of thick-skin football, I presume Snyder wouldn’t mind me recounting a couple of old Jewish jokes someone told me more than 30 years ago.
“Hear about the new German microwave oven?
“What’s a Jewish woman’s favorite sex position?
Bent over the checkbook.”
In the spirit of racial unity, I wanted to refer to one of my earliest essays, “A Matter of Respect,” in which I address this very issue. Because, like love and hope, respect never dies.
The new “Joker” movie is a rehash of an old conundrum: middle-aged man tries to remain relevant in a society that views him with mocking contempt, while he seeks true love and cares for his elderly disabled mother. Said middle-aged man then experiences a cerebral infarction that plunges him into a psychotic pit of hopeless violence.
How the hell did the screenplay writer get hold of one of
“Joker” reminds me of a 1950 Mexican film entitled “Los Olvidados” (The Forgotten Ones), directed by Luis Buñuel. Also known as “The Young and the Damned”, it focuses on a small cadre of teens trying to survive the brutalities of urban life in a México City slum.
By the 1950s, many films began to acquire a more
realistic approach to the world’s problems.
While a post-World War II America seemed to relegate itself to colorful
musicals and grand westerns with clearly-drawn heroic and villainous figures,
filmmakers in other countries expressed a more cynical, jaded view.
In “Los Olvidados”, Buñuel depicts poverty exactly as it
is: cold, violent and oppressive. It’s a
birth place for anger and hostility; not ingenuity where people go from victim
to survivor through sheer will power and determination. American movies of the time often showed Mexicans
and Negroes as happy and laughing, despite their economic hardships and
substandard living conditions. In “Los
Olvidados”, poverty doesn’t hover in the background like trees in a park. It’s tangible and painful; it’s a source of
cruelty and hate – not an inspiration to forge ahead through rocky obstacles
and build a better life.
“Joker” is a modification of that, as it highlights the
humiliation individuals often experience in their ongoing quest for acceptance. It also points to the hostile and sometimes
violent reaction people have when they don’t gain that acceptance or
respect. It’s why, for example, American
society exploded into rage and bloodshed in the mid-1960s; more directly, why
many non-Whites exploded. They’d finally
lost their patience. They’d done
everything possible to be part of the American mainstream, and it still wasn’t
good enough. They were still being
treated as second-class citizens; intimidated at the voting booth; forced to
sit in the back of mass transit vehicles; sequestered into a proverbial
closet. Beat an animal long enough and
it’ll eventually bite back.
For me, patience was always a given. I had a long fuse. It took a lot to aggravate me to the point of hysteria. That may seem like a good thing, a positive attribute – and it is. But like paralyzing fear, it has its drawbacks – namely that I let people take advantage of me. Then, in the quiet of my home, I’d complain about it – to no one. When I would finally bite back, I would unleash a barrage of bloody emotions. And people would have the audacity to be shocked and get upset. In other words, I’d scare the shit out of them. But the primary drawback? It made me look mentally and emotionally unstable.
I can recall a number of examples where I let myself get
pushed too far, but here’s one. July
2000 and I worked as an executive administrative assistant for a large bank in
Dallas. I supported two bank officers,
plus the manager to our little group.
That summer our particular division decided it wanted every individual
officer to submit letters to every client in their portfolios;
personally-signed letters – not electronically stamped. The letters for each of my two officers
arrived later than for those of the others.
They’d been sent to the wrong floor. One of my officers seemed to get upset that I
didn’t get all 800+ of her letters out on the same day she dropped them on my
desk. She’d taken them home and, after
two weeks, finally had them all signed.
I reserved a conference room for half a day, just for the
sole purpose of folding each and every one of those letters and placing them
into respective envelopes with two of the officer’s business cards. When my manager realized how far behind I
was, he enlisted a few others to help me get them done. One of the helpers was a fellow
administrative assistant who loathed the idea of helping anyone do
anything. In between folding and
stuffing, that one particular officer I supported kept yelling at me to answer
her phone – while she conversed with another associate. I finally told her to stop yelling at
me. She and that one admin, however,
took the time to stand at the desk of the admin to the department supervisor
and discuss beauty secrets with his roommate who did drag shows at local queer
bars. The roommate was on speaker phone.
The next day – after all the letters had been dispatched
– I confronted my manager to complain about the fiasco. His dismissive attitude, along with the
eye-rolling response from that one officer and that one other assistant, served
as the final knife into my back. To
enhance the aggravation, they pointed out that I’d taken the time to talk with
my father (when their own family members would call several times a day) and
then accused me of “fraternizing” with yet another admin.
Thus, my patience disintegrated faster than tequila at an
open bar during a Mexican wedding. The
level of anger that spewed forth from beleaguered soul terrified even me. My voice rose in such extreme anger that some
people on the other side of the floor hear me.
When our department manager threatened to call security if I didn’t
“calm down”, I took the liberty of calling them myself. On speaker phone. With that supervisor (and my immediate
manager) standing beside me. They were
both stunned into silence, as the security official on the phone waited for a
“No, it’s okay,” replied the department supervisor. For once she sounded nervous.
A security official did come into our area; as equally
perplexed as he was curious about my call.
By then, however, the department supervisor’s boss – they were all
C-level executives – had learned of the situation and consulted with me
privately. He was angered – not with me;
but with my colleagues and my direct manager.
When he gathered all of us together, I thought that one officer, the one
who’d accused me of “fraternizing”, was going to melt into a puddle of tears
I didn’t like what happened that day. I didn’t like that it got so ugly. Hostility breeds nothing but contempt. But I had to take a stand. I had to let people know how exactly I felt
and why I was so angry. I rightfully put
the blame back on them; that if they’d shown me the respect I deserved as an
adult and a business professional, none of that would have happened. Then again, if I’d only said or done
something earlier; if I’d just reacted sooner, the day would have proceeded
Sometimes, though, we do have to yell; we do have to make
a scene. It should never get to that,
but it happens. Some people just can’t
grasp the concept of keeping peace in the neighborhood or maintaining a high
degree of business professionalism. We
have to lower our intellect to their level, so they’ll comprehend what we’ve
been trying to tell them. I hate doing
that – because it really does make us look emotionally unbalanced. But occasionally, there’s just no other way.
The title character in “Joker” is embroiled in the same
dilemma. He’s trying desperately to
remain relevant and garner respect. He’s
been beaten down and disrespected for far too long. Then he explodes. He’s been pushed to the violent breaking
point. And there are literally millions
of people like him across the globe.
It all goes back to one of the most human of desires: to
be acknowledged and respected. The lack of
respect creates hostility in the workplace, but it also launches wars and civil
unrest. We saw that here in the U.S.
with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.
We saw it with the 2011 “Arab Spring”.
People can only take so much.
Whatever happens, it’s no laughing matter. Respect will always equal dignity.