Dear friends and family,
After moving to Maryland and living in the Washington Redskins football territory, some of you have asked about the controversy of the name because of the summers I spent on Standing Rock Indian Reservation (and as a result have amazing friends and also participated in and shared with others cross cultural training). There is a common misconception that the term “R” refers implicitly to skin color. There was a very serious incident one summer when I was on staff, where a visiting helper called a Native waiter this word. It was awful to witness, and a very hard situation to be part of. In Webster’s dictionary it says it is “informal and offensive”, “use should be avoided” and that originating in 1699, it refers American Indians.
The history of this word does not refer to the beautiful complexion of Native Americans. Rather, it refers to the scalping of Native Americans, where their long hair was sold, leaving a bloody (red) scalp/head. This was a castration of the spirit. The catastrophic blood loss from scalping most often led to death.
Long hair is revered in Native American culture. Forceful removing of this hair is an act of emasculation, and is actually an act of assault punishable by law (a law that gained attention when a man in the Amish community pursued charges after his beard was forcibly removed). So, when you tell people that calling a football team “R” glorifies their warrior culture, you are proclaiming that you know nothing about Native American culture or history. There are other names that glorify their strong and resilient culture, like the Braves and the Chiefs. “R” does not.
I challenge you, especially Christians, to apply this logic to other people groups and cultures you serve and love and see where you end up. Would it be okay in our country (and our community) to name a team “the kikes” (a slur referring to Jewish individuals) because you don’t think its racist and derogatory history has modern relevance, and in fact you think it glorifies their culture? No! It is not okay, it is very wrong. Please, please educate yourself before making blanket statements about a culture or community based on a week long history lesson in elementary school.
Are there individuals who are Native American who are not bothered by this word? Yes. Are there Native Americans who are deeply offended by this word when used generally and also specifically to an individual? Yes.
There are some great books written about Native American culture and history: Black Elk Speaks, One Church Many Tribes, and Custer Died For Your Sins are three of my favorites. I also encourage you to watch this brief video: