Over the summer, those two legendary sources of sports coverage, Salon Magazine and MSNBC, or as they are known in some places the S Word and the M Word, announced that they would begin referring to the Washington Redskins football team as the R Word.
a passionate black fan base a hyphenated euphemism. But there are only so many politically correct causes out there and worried liberals were reassured when none other than Barack Obama, or the B.O. Word, endorsed a name change for the Redskins.
The affinity that black D.C. residents have for the Redskins, a team that white D.C. liberals feel they should despise, has long been a sore spot. Every story about the Redskins begins with the team's segregationist past even though it has as much to do with the current issue as Harry Truman saying, "I think one man is just as good as another so long as he's not an N Word."
If the Democratic Party was covered the way the Redskins are, every story would begin by wondering at how, despite a really bad start of supporting slavery and segregation, African-Americans came around to the Democratic Party. And that would be fair because even in their worst season, the Redskins have killed and enslaved fewer people than the Democratic Party.
Political correctness though doesn't practice consistency. Like most liberal activism, it's about class and power. If Redskins fans were poor whites, they could be hit directly. But a mostly black team with a large black fan base can only be attacked indirectly with a manufactured controversy about their name.
Putting the Redskins, the team not the tribes, in their place is the closest thing that the white liberals whose ancestors once conquered a continent can come to that thrill. Forcing the Redskins to rename themselves the Washington Community Organizers or the Washington Bureaucrats isn't up there with the Lewis and Clark expedition; but it's all they have and they won't stop.
The latest wave of pressure is being headed up by Ray Halbritter, CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises, who has the virtue, unlike Rachel Maddow and 99 percent of the skinny pale liberals wearing retro glasses who write about this, of actually being Native American. Or least 1/4 Native American considering that's the blood quantum standard in the Oneida Nation, the small tribe, not the company, whose employees are mostly of the tribe of New Yorkers.
The more local chiefs of the Patawomeck and Pamunkey in Virginia who said they weren’t offended were ignored. Robert Green, the former chief of the Patawomeck, said that he was a Redskins fan and would be offended if the team did change its name. Then he added that the Redskins name came from the Indians and that the country had become too politically correct.
The Harvard educated Halbritter is much more politically savvy than Green. Halbritter mortgaged tribal land gained as a result of a lawsuit to build a casino. Despite being removed from his position by the Grand Council of Chiefs, he was backed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (a not unfamiliar phenomenon in the Federal government's complex double dealings with the tribes) Halbritter hired a tribal police force of non-Indians to suppress and even evict his Oneida critics.
Liberals know all this because back in the 90s they supported his critics who claimed that Halbritter had overthrown a traditional matriarchy, built on wetlands and abused his power. But Ray Halbritter knows that what liberals really want is a person of color to shout "Racist!" at timely moments and at appropriate targets.
His campaign against the Redskins, extended not just to the D.C. football team, but even a New York State high school team in a town named after Last of the Mohicans author James Fenimore Cooper. (Sample quote: "There is reason in an Indian, though nature has made him with a red skin!")
It's doubtful that Halbritter cares about the Cooperstown Redskins or the Washington Redskins, but he knows that campaigning against racism will gain him more political influence than telling irritated white liberals in retro glasses that their class-based obsessions with the Redskins are a silly waste of everyone's time.
Like Toure or the innumerable minorities who show up on MSNBC to shout "Racism!" when the red light turns on, he understands that the best way to rise in the ranks of the white liberals in retro glasses is by being useful to them.
And there's really only one use that liberals have for minorities.
What Robert Green understands though is that intent matters more than nomenclature. Words don't have fixed meanings that persist throughout time. They change based on the way we use them. It's not about the word, but about the human heart.
A sportswriter demanded to know whether a name like the Washington Negroes or the Washington Heebs would have been tolerated and defended the way that the Washington Redskins are.
That is actually an issue in the United Kingdom.
The Yid Army has run afoul of soccer's efforts at stamping out racism, even though Yiddo, like Redskin, by now represents a different sort of tribal identity. A tribal identity built on team sports, rather than ethnicity or race. The latter, like urban identities, proliferate in multicultural societies where the number of actual Indians and Jews by blood is sharply diminished.
In one of the more surreal sports shouting matches, the Spurs fans shouted "Yid Army" in defiance of the ban while their rival West Ham supporters shouted, "Racists" at them. Somehow a game of soccer had turned into a paper on the more confusing aspects of multiculturalism.
Prime Minister Cameron, on a campaign to justify his political survival with strategic displays of common sense, said that, "There’s a difference between Spurs fans self-describing themselves as Yids and someone calling someone a Yid as an insult."
There's also a big difference between the Redskins team and calling someone a Redskin-- which as a slur probably died out around the same time as Daniel Boone.
Liberals are quite capable of making the distinction between the infamous N Word and the Nigga heard in every rap song ever, but they make the distinction based not only on motive, but on cultural appropriation. If Ray Halbritter buys the Redskins, he'll be able to call them whatever he wants. Daniel Snyder can rename them the Washington Yid Army, but he can't keep on calling them the Redskins. The calculus isn't the degree of offensiveness, but who has the right to do the offending.
The refusal to look at what people mean, rather than what they say, has led to the criminalization of language and restrictions on speech with senseless results.
Near the turn of the century, the aide to the mayor of D.C. called a budget "niggardly" only to be fired because someone in the office assumed it was a racial slur and then rehired when the incident made the local government even more of a national laughingstock than usual. This year, a black Spanish teacher in the Bronx was fired for using the word "Negro" in class.
Ridiculous incidents like these keep happening (there have been more complaints over Niggardly than any other obscure word rarely encountered today outside a Charles Dickens novel) because liberal speech codes emphasize the formalism of offensiveness. It's not why you say something or what you mean. It's whether something you say resembles something on the prohibited list.
The racism standard has moved away from motive to effect. Laws can be struck down as racist if it can be shown, not that they were discriminatory in intent, but in effect. It doesn't matter what you do, only that someone was offended. And the only way to screen out the things that someone might possibly be offended by is by banning everything that could possibly be offensive. Even niggardly.
When anything and everything can be offensive, the safest way to speak is to say nothing. Conformity is a safe bet and administrators cry out for speech codes to tell them exactly how to enforce the rules. Instead of changing how people think, the codes only change how they speak. The everyday speech of even ordinary people becomes filled with the bureaucratic euphemisms and academic jargon that destroy language and make meaningful communication impossible.
Words however aren't meaning. They're only the costume that meanings wear. Each euphemism eventually follows the euphemism treadmill to take on the inappropriate meaning of the idea it was meant to suppress. The only escape is into bureaucratic language that is so awkward and so hyphenated that no one can possible make a slur out of it. And the paranoia still doesn't end.
Controlling language is about controlling people. Language, like all living things, is fluid. Any censor must forever live in terror of new subversive meanings arising out of the common speech, from the mouths of the youth and the obscure codes of secretive groups. The censor must always be vigilant for his cause is a futile one. Words can be banned, but the ideas inside them spring up again as long as they are socially relevant. To censor words is to know the hollowness of power over men.
The white liberal sportswriters chasing after the Redskins have no interest in the problems of Native Americans. They don't care about what Ray Halbritter is doing to his own people. They care only about beating another phantom enemy that they created in order to give their politically correct crusades meaning.
They are heady with the power of the liberal activist who realizes that he can denounce people as bigots only to learn later that this is his only power.
They are not interested in what people, including the black fans of the Redskins and the chiefs who like the Redskins, think; they are only interested in getting their way.
The Battle of the Redskins isn't about racism. It's about power.