While We’re Objecting to the Word ‘Redskins,’ Shouldn’t Oklahoma Change Its Name, Too?

2 years ago

Big Cabin Travel Plaza's Native American sentry in Big Cabin, OK (Randy Curioso)

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about whether the Washington Redskins should change their name… or coach, or maybe both.  It’s a valid question, and everybody with a mouth or a keyboard is weighing in. 

Since we’re on the topic and asking questions, should Oklahoma change its name? 

Back when Andrew Jackson decided the biggest problem with America was actual Americans, indigenous people were rounded up and sent packing on the Trail of Tears.  The final destination on the trail was a patch of dirt we call Oklahoma, likely to the chagrin of natives already living there (imagine your neighbors being evicted into your house).  

First among the resettled tribes were the Choctaw, from whom we get the words okla humma, which literally means “red people.” 

Yes, that’s the name we gave the whole state: Red People.  It’s like Connecticut being named “White People” or Florida being named “Wrinkled People” or California being named “Fake Boobs.”  Kinda racist, right?  It’s one thing for the Choctaw to have the term okla humma, but isn’t it a bit crass for us to use that as a name for a state with, you know, red people we put there? 

What kind of racist does that? 

The red kind, actually.  It was the idea of Allen Wright, a Choctaw chief, during treaty negotiations. 

As an ofay of suspect ethnic pedigree, who am I question a Choctaw chief? 

So if we’re to consider changing the name “Oklahoma,” we have to arrive at the conclusion that “red people” is inappropriate, as many are suggesting is the case with “Redskins.” 

A 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey — the most recent poll to canvass American Indians for their opinions on the subject — found that 90 percent of Native Americans are not offended by the Redskins nickname.  

Not a very flattering logo legacy (Redskins logos 1937-present courtesy
Not a very flattering logo legacy (Redskins indicia 1937-present courtesy

So is it racist to assume that Native Americans would be offended? Is it possible that advocates of the name change have been wrong?  Or is it just that, of all the things in Washington Americans should find offensive, the name of the football team ranks well below official corruption and incompetence? 

Maybe it’s the fact that “Redskins” features a color and the word “skin” right there in the name. But if Native Americans are generally cool with it, is it really offensive?  If it’s an epithet, why do we never hear it used as such, or at all?  As in, “This program is designed to provide greater educational opportunities in the redskin community,” or “Man, those redskins sure got a good thing going with those casinos.”

Comedian Bill Burr notes that “There are a lot of Asians in this restaurant” is not necessarily racist; more a racial observation.  On the other hand, “What the fuck are all these fuckin’ Asians doing in this goddamn restaurant?” is clearly racist.  So let’s put “Redskins” to a simple test: Would you use the term if you were talking to a Native American?

“Hey, Joe, you’re a redskin, right?  What’s the deal with pow-wows?” 

Unless your friend’s last name is Theismann, you’re probably not going to say that.  There’s probably a good reason for that, and it’s the same reason you don’t harp on beer and potatoes around your other buddy, Paddy O’Hooligan. 

So, yes, Redskins, as a name, is a bad idea.  Is “red people” any better?  For consistency alone, should we not argue against calling a state “red people?”

As you ponder that, consider these questions: 

1.    When you think of Oklahoma and racism, do you think, “Nooooo, not Oklahoma?!”

2.    Would any change in Oklahoma really be a bad idea?

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