Archive for the ‘Race and language’ Category

The recent kerfuffle regarding the name of the Washington Redskins brings to mind once again America’s obsession with race.

Yes, the word, redskin, has been used as a term of disparagement by some in our history. But then, so has every other name for a group of people. In addition, what is to say that using that word as a team’s name is not an honor to the people referred to? Football teams don’t typically name themselves after weak, corrupt, or undesirable characters. (Well, there have been teams both football and baseball named the Senators, but nobody’s perfect.) I have little sympathy for football–the sport so named in America, that is–and have no dog in this hunt, but I presume that the team chose the name, Redskins, for its associations with skilled warriors. I fail to see how that puts anyone down–other than the opposing team.

There is more, though. Where is the demand that the Minnesota Vikings change their name? After all, Norse culture was vibrant and varied. Nordic people were farmers, merchants, explorers, and metalsmiths, among much else. They had trading networks in the Middle Ages that spanned the globe. For example, statues of the Buddha have been discovered in Inuit sites in northern Canada. The term, viking, meant an expedition, and did indeed include piracy. But it also involved trade and colonization. Today’s nation of Russia was founded by Norse traders, known as the Rus from a Swedish word for rowing, who set up outposts on the navigable rivers of that land. And then there’s the fact that the horns on the helmet image comes from Wagner, not from the actual Norse people.

But I hear no hue and cry for the Minnesota team to change its name. If we really are concerned with fairness, and if one name derived from a group of people is disparaging, then all such names must be changed. Or better yet, we could recognize that taking on such names honors the group that the name represents and ask people to get over themselves.

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