Amanda Blackhorse is a Diné American Indian and lives on the Navajo Nation in Arizona. She is the lead plaintiff in Blackhorse v. Pro-Football which challenges the trademark protection of the term “Washington Redskins.”
She and four other plaintiffs won their case against the Washington football team in June 2014 when the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the US Patent and Trademark Office ruled that the term “redskins” was a disparaging reference against American Indians. The board in a 2 to 1 decision said that 6 of the 7 trademarks denigrated American Indians.
Although the ruling allows the Washington football team to keep their name, it does limit the use of the name on merchandise, apparel and memorabilia.
Since then Miss Blackhorse has received messages from around the world congratulating her on this monumental achievement for American Indian civil rights. Unfortunately, she has received hate mail criticizing her on this issue. The degrading comments reinforce the time old adage that not only is racism hurtful in its own context, but it produces other kinds of hateful behavior.
Comment #1: Washington Redskins for life you stupid squaw.
Why is this offensive? The word “squaw” is believed to have come from the Algonquin Indian term for “woman”. The word began taking on a derogatory sexist connotation as early as the 19th century, and more recently has become a vulgar sexual reference to female genitalia.
Comment #2: Just shut up and collect your casino money.
Why is this offensive? Less than half of the 566 federally recognized tribes have casinos. Only a few of them make huge profits.
Comment #3: Go back to the reservation.
Why is this offensive? More than 2/3rds of all American Indians live off the reservation. It creates the appearance that Ms. Blackhorse’s survival is dependent on her living on a reservation.
Comment #4: Consider suicide.
Why is this offensive? American Indian youth are committing suicide at more than 3 times the national average and up to 10 times on some reservations. It is ironic that the commenter would tell Ms. Blackhorse to commit suicide when suicide is one of the issues mascot supporters claim American Indians should focus on instead of Indian mascot concerns.
Robert Moore had it right when he said, “Language not only expresses ideas and concepts but actually shapes thought and behavior.”
Sticks and stones and words break bones. What are your words saying today?