Commentary

Racist names aren’t limited to military bases. Sports teams love them too.

May 16, 2017: People gather in front the Beauregard statue in New Orleans, Louisiana
May 16, 2017: People gather in front the Beauregard statue in New Orleans, LouisianaPhoto: Shutterstock

The Southern Poverty Law Center found in its updated 2016 report, 114 Confederate symbols have been taken down since the Charlottesville neo-Nazi white supremacist march and murder, though currently a total of 1,747 Confederate-related symbols remain standing across the United States, including:

  • 718 monuments and statues, nearly 300 of which are in Georgia, Virginia or North Carolina;
  • 109 public schools named for Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, or other notable Confederates;
  • 80 counties and cities named for Confederates;
  • 9 official Confederate holidays in six states; and
  • 10 U.S. military bases named for Confederates.

Since the brutal murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by Minneapolis police officers and the worldwide demonstrations demanding an end to police practices inordinately crushing the necks of people of color, we seem to have entered a watershed moment bringing us to a point of finally owning up to our collective legacy of racism in the United States and elsewhere.

Related: Are Donald Trump supporters racist by default?

NASCAR’s only black driver in the top ranks forcefully and courageously moved the organization to officially ban the showing of the Confederate flag in all its forms from future events.

The National Football League recently apologized for not supporting its players, led by Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee to protest police violence against people of color.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress have called for the removal of all statues and other symbols of the Confederacy from the Capitol’s “National Statuary Hall.” Protesters throughout England have removed statues commemorating prominent citizens in the British slave trade.

Against Trump’s orders, a group of Senators has acted to strip military bases of Confederate names.

Mississippi House Speaker, Philip Gunn, has spearheaded a movement among his colleagues to change the Mississippi state flag, which represents the last state in the nation to retain the Confederate battle emblem.

Under increasingly intensive pressure, South Carolina led the way in 2015 by removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds where it had hung since 1962. Other cities slowly and often reluctantly followed suit.

These emblems and personalities do, in fact, represent an era of American history, an era of war over the right to continue the enslavement of other human beings, one in which many Southerners believed they had the “God” given right to torture, rape, and abuse others for their own benefit.

Most certainly, these monuments and symbols represent “tradition,” but a tradition worth remembering only as one of the leading shameful eras in our national story, and not as one to romanticize or admire.

These symbols actually inspire people to violence while for many others, they bring to the surface a legacy of oppression and pain.

The monuments and symbols empowered, for example, 21-year-old avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof who brutally and without any sign of remorse murdered nine African American parishioners at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church on June 17, 2015. Roof was depicted in several on-line photos, some in which he carried the Confederate battle flag in one hand and a gun in the other.

In addition, an estimated 1500 white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched on Charlottesville, Virginia carrying Confederate flags, Nazi symbols, and other racist and antisemitic regalia in protest of the town’s proposal to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The rally resulted in extreme violence and the murder of a young woman and the death of two state police officers.

Under the guise of preserving “tradition,” proponents of keeping Confederate symbolism fail to realize that most of the monuments were erected well after the Civil War toward the end of the 19th– and into the 20th-century. Southerners imposed these monuments primarily as a weapon of intimidation against black people in the Jim Crow South during what has come to know as the “Redemption Period.”

The so-called “Redeemers” included a coalition of the southern faction of the Bourbon Democrats: a very conservative and pro-business arm of the Democratic Party whose stated goal of “redemption” was to rid the South of liberal Republicans, northern “carpetbaggers,” and “scalawags” (poorer non-slaveholding whites).

First Nation Peoples

Controversy has been swirling around a long-overdue public debate whether to change the name of the Washington Redskins football franchise. On one side, some news outlets, like the San Francisco Chronicle, announced back in 2013 that they will no longer use the word “Redskins” when referring to the team. Also in 2013, the Washington, D.C. City Council voted overwhelmingly to refer to the team’s name as “racist and derogatory.”

“The continued use of American Indian likenesses and images by sports teams has resulted in widespread racial, cultural and spiritual stereotyping which promotes hatred and disrespect of American Indian people,” the American Indian Movement (AIM) Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul) told reporters before a game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington team. “Using American Indian slurs like ‘Redskins’ is no different than the use of Black Sambo which offended African Americans or the Frito Bandito which is offensive to the Hispanic community.”

“Retire the racist attire! Recognize that American Indians are a living people, not mascots for America’s fun and games!”

At the center of this maelstrom, team owner Daniel Snyder is holding firm by announcing he has no intention of changing the name, referring to it as a “tradition” and as a “badge of honor.” In fact, on the wall of the organization’s Ashburn, Virginia, offices hangs a commemorative plaque given to the team’s former coach, George Allen announcing:

Washington Redskins is more than a name we have called our football team for over eight decades. It is a symbol of everything we stand for: strength, courage, pride, and respect — the same values we know guide Native Americans and which are embedded throughout their rich history as the original Americans.

While literally millions of First Nations people inhabit the United States today, they as a group remain largely invisible to most other Americans.

The image of so-called brave “Redskins” in football and “Braves” in baseball and countless other sports teams were constructed through a historically revisionist and romanticized lens, back to some fairytale time when the European “settlers” (a.k.a. “invaders”) broke bread in some mythological first Thanksgiving with “the natives,” where all was fine forevermore.

As a genuine step in the direction of truly honoring and respecting other people, cultural imperialism must end.

Tear down the monuments and flags of the racist and traitorous Confederates and change the sport’s team and school names that misappropriate First Nations’ cultural and spiritual heritage. Place these in museums as reminders of a disgraceful past, one that we must remember so we don’t repeat.

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