I’ve been reading with great interest about the debate over the name Washington Redskins. For my overseas readers, this is the team name for an American football team. As many (but not all) Native Americans started digging into this name, they have discovered that its usage is offensive because it shows a darker age of US history where genocide of the Native Americans was common. Although the ownership and defenders of the name (mostly Redskin fans) have tried to say that the name was never meant to be derogatory and in some cases, even meant to be honoring to Native Americans, many still find the name offensive to the degree that they have actively called for a name change. The honor of that name has largely been disproven by even what the original person who named the team. Meanwhile, the owner of the Redskins has threatened to sue the Native Americans for dragging his team through the mud in the first place. Even after clear evidence of the original naming was meant to shame Native Americans, ownership and a large part of its fan base would not budge. What in fact is the big deal? I mean, there’re loads of problems in our world: starving children, war on terror, Ebola etc.
Usually the defendant would point to the triviality of the matter of a name. There were, after all, Native American players for the Redskins, but they didn’t complain! By comparing the world’s present problems with our past trespasses that linger on in the Redskin name, we are underplaying the importance of history. If we only solve the present problems of the world without doing preventive measure, history will repeat itself. History teaches us lessons that keep us from creating more future problems in our world. While we may not kill Native Americans any longer, do we fail to learn the lesson by aligning ourselves with oppressive governments to shore up our interest overseas while letting trespasses against human rights of “non-Americans”? All the Native American activists try to do is to bring awareness. We could do well to respect their effort and learn the lesson. Throughout the learning process about the Redskins about which I can freely admit I’m completely ignorant, we learn in more details some parts of history that has been overlooked. Such is the pursuit of all history. We should thank the Native Americans instead of suing them. History is not a subject only based on facts, but it’s a subject with strong ethical implications. As we keep getting new facts and interpreting old ones, hopefully we become much wiser.
When talking about political correctness, history just needs to be our guide so that we can progress as a people. The same goes for the study of the Bible. How many believers ignore new data to hold on to the old-fashion religion? That too reflects the same mentality as those insisting on the Redskin name. All of us who are in ministry need to keep abreast of these things, lest we put ourselves on the wrong side of God’s justice. If we are more aware of such issues, we may begin working towards more of a just world, as my friend Grace and the Rev. Jesse Jackson write in a recent article.
A country or a church that doesn’t want to change will no longer progress.