Ban the “Redskins”

The FCC probably won't. So the rest of us will have to.

Can you start making these helmets after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled Washington's trademark?

Time for a new mascot?

“Redskin” is a slur.

Got it?

This is not up for debate. It is a slur, despite any arguments made about intent. Curiously, it is one that can be put in respectable print publications without censorship. It doesn’t get abbreviated like “the f-word” or “the n-word” and despite its vulgarity it doesn’t make people wince like the word “cunt.”

But it is a slur. A racist one.

That it is used as a brand name, as a banner that people unite under, for a sport that embodies the new Americana (sorry, baseball) in the nation’s capital only makes its use more egregious.

Though it is long overdue, the FCC is now considering a ban on using the term over the airwaves — with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler saying that the federal agency “will be dealing with that issue on the merits, and we’ll be responding accordingly,” according to a CBS report.

And what are the merits?

Native American communities have been marginalized in this country in a way that parallels no other group. Cultural artifacts and traditions are routinely reduced as costume, the images of natives exaggerated in such a way as to become a familiar caricature during Halloween and Thanksgiving. As school-aged children, we are fed the lie of the “benevolent savage” that was complicit in his exploitation and erasure for the greater good of America. It’s a logic that alleviates guilt and tidies up the need for anyone held accountable.

In fact, The Washington Post reports that “the FCC has in the past agreed that it may not restrict broadcast speech on the grounds of its supposed racism,” which means that the on-air censorship we do see is self-imposed by individual broadcasts and networks based on taste, marketing, and cultural norms.

The highly-celebrated visibility that this racist epithet has in American culture suggests that racism remains palpable, especially if the proportion and visibility of people it directly insults is low. Though the FCC maintains that they are considering a banning the word from broadcast airwaves, it remains unlikely that they would open the floodgates.

This, then, lays the burden on corporate decision makers, sponsors and fans to demand change. It becomes a conversation about personal responsibility. About permissive use of hate speech, not football. Communities are gravely injured by the very public and deliberate use of a racial slur; we reinforce the racist legacy of our past in its utterances and the caricatures used in its logo.

The name used by the Washington NFL team is racist. Despite this fact, and all of the logical and decent reasons to change the name, it won’t change until we do.

 Follow Maya K. Francis on Twitter.