Gerard Miller writes: "While I was an undergrad student, this writing and image helped change the perspective of some students who couldn't care less about the Washington Redskins mascot name."

Fun Racism Quiz: Would NFL Have a Team Called Washington Blackskins?

Gerard Miller

In the film, A Time to Kill, Matthew McConaughey plays a lawyer who, in his closing argument, asks the people of the jury to close their eyes as he describes a vivid scenario of rape and assault. He then asks the jurors to imagine the crime happening to a white girl instead of a black girl. The reason McConaughey’s character does this is because the trial takes place in a racially divided community in the rural south.  Sometimes we as humans are inheritors of our ways and need perspective.

I would propose a similar argument: When listening to the well-known case against an NFL mascot considered offensive by Native Americans, close your eyes and imagine it was a face of African heritage on the side of that helmet, representing a team called the Blackskins. Would such a thing happen in America today? American Indians by majority accounts are not involved in politically correct rhetoric and argument within mainstream media. They do not have a day-to-day presence on TV, in newspapers, or via online news sources. It's highly unlikely we'll see masses of American Indians marching on Washington to effect a name and mascot change. It is also unlikely that we'll see American Indians leave their small but sacred reservation grounds to occupy Wall Street with demands for a mascot change.

Are right and wrong measured on terms of engagement? Are changes made only when a certain number of citizens rally, or enough news outlets cover the story?

There is a lack of sensitivity, insight and respect for those who once ruled American land. Society seems to view American Indians as fictional characters from western movies. The name change issue is seen as an issue of little significance, and ignored.

The Washington Redskins are one of the most recognizable and storied franchises in all of American football. According to Forbes, the Redskins rank fifth in value among all sports franchises in the world. The Redskins have established a billion-dollar brand and a strong tradition; along with that comes a dedicated and passionate fan base that purchases all sorts of products bearing the mascot that they identify with. The Redskins name and mascot are profitable and accepted by the masses, a fact confirmed by the franchise's value.

Condemning those involved with the Redskins organization today for the franchise's checkered racial past is wrong; they simply don’t deserve it. If you’re searching for racially unjust behavior within any historic American organization, you’re likely to find instances. The current President of the United States is not to blame for humans being enslaved during the terms of the first fifteen Presidents. But what if slavery hadn't ended, and were still an institution today? The fact is that the current NFL leaders and Washington Redskins leaders inherited an organization with a name and mascot that are offensive to some. We have to assume responsibility for the present and respond accordingly. Let's start with a clean slate, and let our actions from this moment forward determine the legacy established for the future.

Image by Gerard Miller.

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editors's picture
Submitted by editors on
This piece and illustration was submitted to us by the author Gerard Miller, with the subject line, Blackskins in 2013 From a Black Man. He explained, 'While I was an undergrad student, this writing and image helped change the perspective of some students that could care less about the Washington Redskins mascot name.' He told us that he thought our website could benefit from his point of view and we agreed. We published his image to provide context for just how offensive the Redskins logo is.

Butts Larue
Butts Larue
Submitted by Butts Larue on
Out of all of the races, all of the different cultures that make up this country, it is only the American Indian that is revered as a warrior, someone to be respected and feared. Why would there not be a team called the "Blackskins"? Because they were slaves. I understand that some find ALL Indian "mascots" offensive and that is a conversation that should occur but making the Redskins the primary objective will only hurt in the long run. The Redskins will change the name eventually but they will change it to the "Warriors" and they will keep the logos, will you satisfied with that? No, of course not but you will never get public opinion on your side again.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
What Butts LaRue below here forgot is that we NDNS have also been subjected to slavery to go along with the genocide and land-grabbing. He suggests that perhaps "Redskins" is a term that honors our warriors, and he takes the typical stance that Washington doesn't mean anything negative by the use of the word. Nothing could be further from the truth. He fails to realize that Washington is the capital of the country who killed our people, stole our land - it's the very place that spawned the plans to wipe us out as a people. Why can't people simply understand that they CANNOT chose which slur another culture finds offensive when used to describe its people. What African-American would buy the notion that the term "nigger" was honoring their ancestors hard work and unstoppable spirit? Why are we expected to buy that notion? Other fans have told me that I'm just making it about race; well what IS it when you name a team based on skin color? It's time for the Redskins to go the route of Little Black Sambo and the Frito Bandito!

katrina.johnson's picture
Submitted by katrina.johnson on
Greetings, My name is Katrina Johnson, I am an African American woman who has livid in Arlington, Virginia (Redskins country) for almost my entire life. I have been a vocal advocate of changing the Washington DC professional team name since the mid 1990's, and have become even more vocal over the past few months in light of the recent media attention surrounding this obviously racist team name. Your article has made me second guess my opinion. The fact that you think that you have the right to compare yourselves to the struggles that African Americans have endured over the past 200 years is disgusting. The word "Redskins" is an outdated, tacky, and ugly word, but lets be real. Native Americans in this country enjoy economic, political, and social benefits that the black community will never see in my lifetime. To think that you have the right to even vaguely compare the word Redskin to the word Nigger shows how ignorant and out of touch you really are with the real world. No one has ever called you a "Redskin" while you were innocently walking down the street minding your own business. I have heard the word nigger yelled out at me more time then I care to remember. No one has ever fallowed you around department stores because your a "Redskin". It happens to me almost every other day. I can appreciate on an intellectual level what you are trying to say, but the fact is that you will NEVER understand what true discrimination and stereotyping really feels like. The fact that you try is insulting, and mocks the immense and incalculable hardships that my people have had, and will continue to have.

Butts Larue
Butts Larue
Submitted by Butts Larue on
Well first of all, I think that the fact that the Nation's Capitol does have an Indian mascot is the only good thing coming out of Washington at all these days. The "Redskin" equals "nigger" theory is just a joke. I still have not found any evidence of the former being a slur whereas the latter has never been anything but. So thank you to Ms. Johnson for making that clear. Now you say that it's offensive that DC uses an Indian mascot when they are responsible for the genocide but I would think this is much more offensive. The Washington Redskins came about in 1933, actually the Boston Redskins until 1937. Then in 1960 the Dallas Cowboys show up and all of a sudden they are "America's Team". That is just history repeating itself in a much less severe fashion. The Cowboys taking over the NFL and the southern part of the country in a flash just like THEIR ancestors.(Until 1960 the Redskins were the most southern team) The Redskins should be America's Team and should form an alliance with the modern Indian community to educate the public on the history and heritage of our true forefathers. I just do not understand why we cannot work together and maybe make this country a little better for everyone. And as far as the Blackskins logo, that was intended to be offensive I do not think anyone ever intended the Redskin logo as offensive. As a matter of fact Walter Wetzel, former chairman of the Blackfoot tribe and president of the National Congress of American Indians, was the one who came to the Redskins and asked them to put an Indian on the logo. Wetzel had this to say "It made us all so proud to have an Indian on a big-time team. . . . It's only a small group of radicals who oppose those names. Indians are proud of Indians."

Hokala's picture
Submitted by Hokala on
"Native Americans in this country enjoy economic, political, and social benefits that the black community will never see in my lifetime." I'm assuming this is the perspective of a person who lives on the Eastern Seaboard who thinks all Indian tribes are wealthy affluent and own successful casinos. I grew up around Pine Ridge which is essentially the poorest county in the United States where a large number of the people I know don't have heat or running water. I can't count how many of my friends or relatives who have almost been beaten to death for no other crime than being an Indian walking through a predominately white town after dark. In fact I have a cousin who did in fact loose his life this way. He was murdered for no particular motive other than he was a Lakota in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can attest to being followed around department stores and most of the insulting terms I've heard being flung around are things like, "chief, squaw or prairie nigger," it it is true that "redskin" isn't usually one of them. I think it is pretty ridiculous for someone to say that American Indians in this country will never understand what true discrimination is when they were not acknowledged as citizens of this country until much later than African Americans, they still don't really fully have freedom of religion, Lakotas in my community are consistently and repeatedly harassed by law enforcement and drunk cowboys and every Lakota I know around my father's age or older was forced to attend a government run residential school. Native Americans not only have a long history of being oppressed and discriminated against, it is still a common and very modern problem. Just because some of you don't see it in your community (probably because there aren't many American Indians living there) doesn't mean it isn't a horrible reality. Again if you think that, "Native Americans in this country enjoy economic, political, and social benefits that the black community will never see in my lifetime," then I implore you to go spend some time on the Indian reservations and outlying communities here in the Western United States because I can assure you, you have no clue what their communities are up against. Essentially though I don't think any discussion of social injustices should turn into a conversation about whose ethnic group has been mistreated the most. It isn't a competition, but Native Americans are still the only ethnic group that larger society seems to tolerate utilizing as a caricature or letting their kids dress up as on Halloween.

Na Humma
Na Humma
Submitted by Na Humma on
To Ms. Johnson, While I can appreciate and understand your reaction to a sensitive issue, I pray that you really don't believe that anyone but those of African descent have or will know what "true discrimination and stereotyping" will feel like. I am fortunate that I'm a child of the 80s and 90s, where I haven't suffered many examples of overt racism, but there have been plenty of times (past and present) where I have been followed in stores by virtue of being not White; I doubt they cared if I was Native, Hispanic, Black, or Martian, but a non-White was in their store, which must mean that he was going to steal something. There have also been times in my life when epitaphs, such as redskin have been thrown my way. Also, brave, injun, and chief. I don't think that Mr. Miller can be blamed for trying to draw understandable correlations between oppressed peoples through time, often times this is the only way that some people can really understand the damage being done with their actions (or non-action). I don't believe he was in any way trying to trivialize the horrors that many Black communities and people have faced over the years and the atrocities suffered at the hands of supreme White colonists, but to condemn him for hoping to achieve a level of autonomy and respect that the past three to four generations could only dream about and have never truly experienced is confusing to me. Please reconsider your opinion, Ma'am, your support in the heart of our nation, and especially so, being an enlightened person who does not even share a Native American ancestry, is invaluable. Shouldn't we be doing our best to support each other as people oppressed by a common enemy?

Katrina_Johnson's picture
Submitted by Katrina_Johnson on
Na Humma, Thank you very much for your kind words. I had planned on continuing my support for the Redskins name change regardless of this offensive article (albeit halfheartedly), but your post, and the conversations that I have had with other enlightened and racially-sensitive Native American friends have reaffirmed my support. That said I would appreciate if this article were removed from the website. As I said in my last post, I have been a vocal advocate of changing the team name for almost 20 years, and I have recruited many of my friends and co-workers (many of them long time fans of the team) into joining the fight. I feel betrayed by this article. I could care less that the writer is a fellow African-American. If you are going to use that logic, then we can go ahead and use the logic that the one Native American who says the Redskins name is great, speaks for everyone. Hokala, I am an educated woman, and I am VERY aware of the hardships that Native Americans have endured and continue to endure. I think you hit the nail on the head with your last comment. “Essentially though I don't think any discussion of social injustices should turn into a conversation about whose ethnic group has been mistreated the most. It isn't a competition” This article is divisive, ignorant, and contributes nothing to achieving our goal of changing the team name. It tries to make comparisons that should not be compared. It would be like me trying to explain to a Jewish man that the Holocaust was not as bad as slavery. Again, as a long time supporter of changing the team name, I would greatly appreciate this article taken down; so that we can all get back to the task at hand.

KatrinaJ's picture
Submitted by KatrinaJ on
Also to prove to myself that I am not over reacting this. I forwarded this article to other African Americans who were equally as hurt and offended. I plan on getting them post their reactions to this article until it is taken down. Thank you.

Al's picture
Submitted by Al on
Native American's have ZERO right to try and act like they know what being black in America is all about, just like African American's have ZERO right to try and act like they understand what being Native American is all about. This article is the epitome of ignorance. Please do not try and piggy back on the 200 years of hardship that my ancestors had to endure. Whether you realize it or not this article does trivialize the struggles of my people.