There is a human and social phenomenon called "moral displacement" (my term). It means I/we look for occasions when we can demonstrate our moral standing or superiority to others by taking a moral stand which does not impact us. In other words, I say you should do (or not do) something, because, you see, I am a highly moral person and I know what's right. So, you should get busy. There is some sort of satisfaction to be derived by asserting one’s morality, like trying to make up for the deaths of thousands of original Americans in the wars between them and the European settlers.
This is taking place to a degree, perhaps a major one, on the issue of the name of the Washington football team. People want to show they are moral, thoughtful, kind, considerate and all that good stuff by saying the name must be changed.
Okay, what next? If we are moral on this issue, do we need to look down a long list of slights to people, ethnic groups, minority and majority citizens and see what needs to be changed?
How about the Kansas City Chiefs? Is it right for a white owned team to appropriate any of the symbols of the original Americans? They call their stadium Arrowhead. There are thousands, if not millions, of people descended from European settlers in America who might take offense at that since their ancestors were killed with arrowheads. (The DC basketball team dropped "Bullets" after the highly violent 1980s).(Speaking of Indians, the Cleveland Indians need to change their name, too, and how about the big, racist smiley cartoon they use as part of their logo?)
This brings me to a point of concern of my own. "Native Americans." Sounds good, respectful and up to date, right? Wait. If I am not native here, where is my home? I am a native American, this is where I was born. It is my tribe (or tribes) that are not native. The original Americans came to this land thousands of years earlier than the European settlers and fought many battles with each other to stay here, so they were immigrants, too. Do the earliest immigrants get a title that is inherently disrespectful of the later ones, the Europeans?
We are not going to be able to handle these issue through moral displacement. It is necessary for the whole society to step up and take a stand. If we want to make changes, we have to reconsider dozens, perhaps hundreds of names and symbols used in America. Regardless, we have to drop using "Native Americans" to refer to the people I call the original Americans. (The term, which appears to have originated in academic circles, has lost currency there in recent years anyway.) We are going to have to do a ground up assessment of how we speak about each other and it is going to hurt some feelings and cost some money in "re-branding". If we are going to be moral, if we are going to engage an a civic exercise to demonstrate our morality, let’s not stop with the name of one team. Go deeper, wider and look at the huge problem in America’s past and its future.
There is another path for the Washington Redskins name. Forgiveness. It can be looked at as a mistake made long ago but now part of our culture. There could be an actual vote, not just a survey, of original Americans as to whether they would like to allow the name.
We could agree to accept the idea of forgiveness of those who plastered the name on the team long ago who didn't really realize what they were doing. Now, and into the future, we could turn it into a tribute. Forgiveness can be a good thing that leads to healing and acceptance of our differences and the mistakes of our ancestors
We can't fix everything by changing how we speak and changing names. Dropping the Redskins name will do nothing, zero, to improve the lives of the original Americans. Why don't we concentrate on matters that might make a real difference? Better schools, health care and opportunity mean far more than a name. (Okay, give back Oklahoma, if you'd like. That should make a difference.)
We can’t correct the past by being kind and thoughtful now. How we act, what we do, is much more important than language and symbols and the “Redskins” symbol was placed on the team a very long time ago by people who did not fully understand the implications of what they were doing. They might even have thought they were doing something good, something respectful.
On the other hand, if you want to go all the way and deal seriously with these lingering issues, have at it. Understand, however, that the history of the conflict between the original American settlers and the European settlers is widely misunderstood. It was not a case of only one side, the whites, attacking those who were here ahead of them. Both sides engaged in furious, vicious and often terroristic tactics to try to drive the others out. Both sides engaged in massacres of innocents, cutting off heads, gouging out eyes and other body parts, rape and other forms of vicious cruelty. Both sides did heinous, shocking things to each other.
The wars between the original Americans and the European settlers was truly a clash of civilizations brought into conflict by competing needs and the desire to occupy and use the same lands. The whites were bound to win, outnumbering those already in North American and being more technologically sophisticated, having industry to call on to produce weapons. It is not a happy story, but we don’t have to wrap ourselves in sorrow and contrition over what happened. We were not there, we did not have a role in that historic drama.
Forgiveness is a worthy emotion to consider in this case and in others. We can’t change the past, but we can build a better future. Yet, if we are going to deal with the “Redskins” issue, let’s not stop with one team in one city. Get the job done in total. Don’t use moral principles to force a victory on one issue while ignoring the larger question and, understand, too, that as a white American born in this country, I am a “native American” also.