I have always tended to put more stock in real actions than in words and symbolic gestures.
But then, I have had that luxury. As a white male in his 60s, I’ve never been labeled with an ethnic slur. I’ve never had my very identity attached to an epithet.
That’s the way most of us in the white Anglo-Saxon American realm can think. We can be oblivious to words because they can’t hurt us. No words can conjure pain within us. Because there are no acts of violent persecution or injustice connected to them.
What are you gonna call me? A honkie? Rolls off my back. It’s actually funny to me. I think of the Richard Pryor routine with Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live, the one where they do word association during a job application.
I actually had to look up where the word comes from. Apparently, it might’ve been a term of derision used by African-Americans to describe white johns honking their Model T horns a century ago to attract prostitutes, because they were afraid to get out of their cars. Either that or it was slang to describe honky-tonk bar patrons in the 19th Century. Which isn’t even an ethnic origin.
And symbolic objects. They have no effect on me.
Like a noose. What’s a noose to me? Something a suicide victim uses to hang himself? Something they used in the Old West to take care of outlaws? Yeah, we saw those in black-and-white Westerns in the ’60s on TV.
See, you can’t hurt me with words or objects. Or images, either. They aren’t even decent sticks and stones. And my group of heritage has always wielded the clout. Someone with power cannot be harmed by symbols.
Even an image that represents evil such as a swastika. Sure, I connote a swastika with a dark time in world history. But I wasn’t alive then. It wasn’t waved on flags in my country. It wasn’t a symbol I saw on the uniforms of those who apprehended my parents and took them away never to be seen again.
Such a symbol can revolt me. But it can’t wound my soul as it can a European Jew.
And the word redskin. What’s it mean to me? Just another word from one of those Westerns. Something Audie Murphy used to say in some rerun movie they’d play on Saturday afternoons in the summer when nothing else was on.
And of course, it was the name of a popular National Football League team I grew up with. To me, the 12-year-old suburban white kid and all my Kevin Arnold friends in 1968, it wasn’t an ethnic slur. It was Sonny Jurgenson and Charlie Taylor and Chris Hanburger.
But I had the option of thinking of it that way. Because I had never been called a redskin. My ancestors hadn’t been run through by an invading force from another continent, had their native land ripped away and acquired, lied to and coerced with one worthless treaty after another until they were sequestered in reserves by the foreign government. So, the word didn’t hurt me.
Now, we’ve come to a time when words and symbols and images have begun to suddenly matter. Those who’ve been on their receiving end want to cleanse the landscape of them.
To garden-variety white Americans, they are essentially just meaningless objects. Something people unnecessarily get “triggered” by. Unless, that is, we enjoy their power.
And that’s how I’m going to judge the reactions of those who pitch a fit when they are torn down, rubbed out or deemed obscene. If you care that much, it’s not the symbol or the image or the word you love. It’s the power it holds to hurt their victims.
Why else would anyone really care about changing the Washington Redskins’ name to something else? It’s not about childhood memories, trading cards and pennants made obsolete. Isn’t it simply about the relinquishing of a smidgen of power?
I mean, would it kill any longtime fan of the DC pro football team to begin calling them the Washington Pigskins? You could even still call them the ‘Skins! You could resurrect the old yellow helmets from half a century ago that Vince Lombardi introduced, paint over the leg of the circled R and turn it into a P. Done!
Honestly, would this kill anybody?
Yeah, well, it would bother all the people who enjoy their slice of personal leverage and wanna hold on to it. Because this would be another sign that their miserable lives are in decline. Stuff like this matters to them.
That’s how I see it. I mean, even if it’s really just about political correctness, as you say, but it’s no personal loss to you, why worry about it? It’s no Skin off your back. And maybe it’s skin back on someone else’s.
So, all you former 12-year-olds now 62 and lamenting that your Larry Brown and Jack Pardee and Mike Bragg football cards will now have the wrong team name on them, get over it, snowflakes. I think you can handle this. I’m really pretty sure of it.
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