"Redskin" is a slang term referring to Native Americans in the United States. In modern dictionaries of American English it is labeled "usually offensive", "disparaging", "insulting", or "taboo".
The origin of the term is debated, in particular whether the use of "red" referred to skin color or the use of pigments by certain tribes, and also whether the term was applied to natives by Europeans or came from language natives used to refer to themselves. Whatever its origins in the colonial period, many argue that "redskin" underwent a process of pejoration due to the increasingly disparaging use of the term through the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Although the term has almost disappeared from common use, it remains as the name of many sports teams, most prominently the Washington Redskins, and the term's meaning has been a significant point of controversy. That controversy has led to many high schools in the United States changing their team name. While 28 schools changed during the 25 years prior to 2013, an additional eleven changed between 2013 and 2016 as a result of protest by Native Americans, government action, or voluntary action.
Origin and meaning
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The origin of the term "redskin" in English is debated. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) had cited its earliest use in a 1699 letter from an English colonialist, Samuel Smith, living in Hadley, Massachusetts, which supposedly contains both "ye Red Skin Men" and "ye Red Skins." Based on this source, the OED suggested that the term was specifically applied to the Delaware Indians and "referred not to the natural skin color of the Delaware, but to their use of vermilion face paint and body paint." Smithsonian linguistics scholar Ives Goddard concluded the letter was a "work of fiction", saying that the "language was Hollywood [...] It didn't look like the way people really wrote." The OED agreed with Goddard's findings, stating that the quotation was "subsequently found to be misattributed; the actual text was written in 1900 by an author claiming, for purposes of historical fiction, to be quoting an earlier letter." It has likewise been suggested that the Newfoundland Beothuk tribe's use of red ochre to paint their bodies and possessions led Europeans to refer to them as "Red Indians".
Goddard proposes as an alternative the emergence of the term from the speech of Native Americans themselves and that the origin and use of the term in the late 18th and early 19th century was benign: "When it first appeared as an English expression in the early 1800s, it came in the most respectful context and at the highest level. [...] These are white people and Indians talking together, with the white people trying to ingratiate themselves." The word later underwent a process of pejoration, by which it gained a negative connotation. Goddard suggests that "redskin" emerged from French translations of Native American speech in Illinois and Missouri territories in the 18th and 19th centuries. He cites as the earliest example a 1769 set of "talks" or letters from three chiefs of the Piankeshaw to an English officer at Fort de Chartres. The letter from Chief "Mosquito" (French: Maringouin) had the following passage in French: "I shall be pleased to have you come to speak to me yourself if you pity our women and our children; and, if any redskins do you harm, I shall be able to look out for you even at the peril of my life." ("je serai flatté que tu viennes me parler toi-même si tu as pitié de nos femmes et de nos enfants, et si quels que peaux rouges te font du mal, je saurai soutenir tes intérêts même au peril de ma Vie") Another letter in the set, this from a "Chief Hannanas," contained the following passage: "[...] You think that I am an orphan; but all the people of these rivers and all the redskins will learn of my death." ("[...] tu crois que je suis orphelin, mais tous les gens de ces rivières et tous les peaux rouges apprendront ma mort").
However, in an interview Goddard admitted that it is impossible to verify whether the native words were accurately translated. Johnathan Buffalo, historic preservation director of the Meskwaki Nation, also known as the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, said tribal members in the 1800s used "redskins" as a simple term of identifying themselves—just as they identified others as "whiteskins" or "blackskins"—without any derogatory intent.
A third controversial etymological claim is that the term emerged from the practice of paying a bounty for Indians, and that "redskin" refers to the bloody, red scalp of a Native American, or perhaps the bloody bodies left behind. Goddard denies this, and says there is a lack of evidence for the claim.
It is argued by sociologist Irving Lewis Allen that slang identifiers for ethnic groups based upon physical characteristics, including "redskin", are by nature derogatory, emphasizing the difference between the speaker and the target. However, Luvell Anderson of the University of Memphis, in his paper "Slurring Words", argues that for a word to be a slur, the word must communicate ideas beyond identifying a target group, and that slurs are offensive because the additional data contained in those words differentiates those individuals from otherwise accepted groups. However, in the same sense that "nigger" originated as meaning nothing more than "black-skinned", redskin also took on an increasingly negative meaning.
One of the many linguistic discrepancies is that early explorers and later Anglo-Americans termed Native Americans "light-skinned", "brown", "tawny", or "russet", according to historian Alden Vaughan. "Not until the middle of the eighteenth century did most Anglo-Americans view Indians as significantly different in color from themselves, and not until the nineteenth century did red become the universally accepted color label for American Indians."
The term appeared in an August 22, 1812, meeting between President James Madison and a delegation of chiefs from western tribes. There, the response of Osage chief "No Ears" (Osage: Tetobasi) to Madison's speech included the statement, "I know the manners of the whites and the red skins," while the principal chief of the Wahpekute band of Santee Sioux—French Crow—is recorded to have said, "I am a red-skin, but what I say is the truth, and notwithstanding I came a long way I am content, but wish to return from here."
The earliest known appearance of the term in print occurred on October 9, 1813, in an article quoting a letter dated August 27, 1813, from a "gentleman at St. Louis" concerning an expedition being formed and to be led by Gen. Benjamin Howard to "route the savages from the Illinois and Mississippi territories[.]" "The expedition will be 40 days out, and there is no doubt but we shall have to contend with powerful hordes of red skins, as our frontiers have been lined with them last summer, and have had frequent skirmishes with our regulars and rangers."
However, while these usages may have been earlier, they may not have been disseminated widely. (For instance, while the 1812 meeting with President Madison was contemporaneously recorded, the records were not published until 2004. Goddard suggests that a key usage was in a 20 July 1815 speech by Meskwaki chief Black Thunder at the treaty council at Portage des Sioux, in which he is recorded as stating, "My Father—Restrain your feelings, and hear ca[l]mly what I shall say. I shall tell it to you plainly, I shall not speak with fear and trembling. I feel no fear. I have no cause to fear. I have never injured you, and innocence can feel no fear. I turn to all, red skins and white skins, and challenge an accusation against me." This speech was published widely, and Goddard speculates that it reached James Fenimore Cooper. In Cooper's novels The Pioneers (published in 1823) and The Last of the Mohicans (1826), both Native American and white characters use the term. These novels were widely distributed, and can be credited with bringing the term to "universal notice" and notes that the first time the term appears in Bartlett's "Dictionary of Americanisms" (in 1858) the illustrative reference is to Last of the Mohicans.
- To begin with, it is difficult for historians to document anything with certainty since Native Americans, as a non-literate society, did not produce the written sources upon which historians rely. What is cited as Native American usage was generally attributed to them by European writers.
- The division of human beings into different races with essentially different, immutable characteristics was evolving during the period of European colonization; thus there were some that did not think of "Indians" as a race at all, but people who could become members of colonial society through re-education. The marker of racial difference became skin color, but many colonials thought of Indians as essentially the same color as Europeans who became "red" through the use of pigments. The use of "Redskin" rather than "Indian" thus marked the speaker as believing that Native Americans are a different race than Europeans in the same way that African people are "black".
- The use of "red" in its various forms, including redskin, by Native Americans to refer to themselves was not original, but reflected their need to use the language of the times in order to be understood by Europeans.
- The team logo works together with the name to reinforce an unrealistic stereotype: "It is not up to non-Indians to define an idealized image of what it is to a Native American."
- The "positive" stereotypes allow fans and supporters to honestly state that they are honoring Native Americans, but this is "forcing your idea of what it is to honour those people onto them and that, fundamentally, is disrespectful".
Goddard's study is specific to the period 1769–1826, and says nothing about the subsequent use and meaning of the term. "Redskin" was used throughout the English-speaking world (and in equivalent transliterations in Europe) throughout the mid-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a common term of reference for indigenous Americans. However, the more commonly used term from early colonization through the twentieth century was "Indian", perpetuating Columbus' belief that he had found the Indies. A linguistic analysis of 42 books published between 1875 and 1930 found that negative contexts for the use of "redskin" were significantly more frequent than positive usage. (However, the use of the word "Indian" in a similarly selected set of books was nearly the same, with more frequent negative than positive contexts.) An example is the story "Sam Harding's Trophy" by Duke Cuyer, printed in the Spanish Fork Press in 1909. The trophy was a scalp taken from a "thieving Redskin".
The term was in common use in movies during the most popular period for Hollywood westerns (approximately 1920–1970), with "redskins" usually being used to refer to Native Americans when war was imminent or in progress. In the Washington Redskins trademark litigation, the main issue was the meaning of the term during the period when the trademark registrations were issued, 1967–1990. The linguistic expert for the petitioner, Dr. Geoffrey Nunberg, successfully argued that whatever its origins, "redskins" was a slur at that time based upon the passages from books and newspapers and movie clips, in which the word is inevitably associated with contempt, derision, condescension, or sentimental paeans to the noble savage. John McWhorter, an associate professor of linguistics at Columbia University, compares the name's becoming a slur to the other racial terms such as "Oriental" which acquired implied meanings associated with contempt.
The American Heritage style guide advises that "the term redskin evokes an even more objectionable stereotype" than the use of red as a racial adjective by outsiders, while others urge writers to use the term only in a historical context.
Use among Native Americans
Three predominantly Native American schools use the name for their athletic teams, two of which serve reservations: Red Mesa High School in Teec Nos Pos, Arizona where the student body is 98% Native American. and Wellpinit High School, Wellpinit, Washington. The principal of Red Mesa said in 2014 that use of the word outside American Indian communities should be avoided because it could perpetuate "the legacy of negativity that the term has created." In 2014, Wellpinit High School, located on the Spokane Indian Reservation voted to keep the Redskins name. Native American writer and attorney Gyasi Ross compares Native American use of variations of the word "Redskin" with African-American use of variations of the word "Nigger". The use of these terms by some members of minority communities does not mean that these words may be used by outsiders. Ross also notes that while activism on the issue may be from a minority of Native Americans, this is due to most being concerned with more immediate issues, but also says "The presentation of the name 'Redskins' is problematic for many Native Americans because it identifies Natives in a way that the vast majority of Natives simply don't identity ourselves."
Numerous civil rights, educational, athletic, and academic organizations consider any use of native names/symbols by non-native sports teams to be a harmful form of ethnic stereotyping which should be eliminated. Several college teams that formerly used the name have changed voluntarily:
- The University of Utah Redskins became the Utah Utes in 1972.
- The Miami University (of Ohio) Redskins became the RedHawks in 1997.
- The Southern Nazarene University Redskins became the Crimson Storm in 1998.
In 2014 a bill was introduced to ban the name currently used by four high schools in the state of California. Assemblyman Luis Alejo said that there was "no reason why we can't [...] phase out that particular derogatory term from our public high schools." The bill, designated the California Racial Mascots Act, passed both houses and was signed into law by California governor Jerry Brown on October 11, 2015
As of early 2013 the Capitol News Service (CNS) in Maryland listed 62 high schools using the Redskins name. Twenty-eight high schools in 18 states had dropped the "Redskins" name during the prior 25 years as a result of a combination of state legal action, protests from Native American groups, or voluntarily. Since the CNS list was compiled, this trend has continued, with an additional fourteen high school teams having changed or closed, leaving the total at 48 high schools continuing to use the name.
- Belding High School, Belding, Michigan
- Calaveras High School, Calaveras County, California
- Capitol Hill High School, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Chowchilla Union High School, Chowchilla, California
- Conrad Schools of Science, Wilmington, Delaware
- Cooperstown Central School, Cooperstown, New York
- Goshen High School, Goshen, Indiana
- Gustine High School, Gustine, California
- Lamar High School, Houston, Texas
- Lancaster High School, Lancaster, New York
- Ledgemont High School, Thompson Township, Geauga County, Ohio closed in 2014.
- North Side High School, Fort Wayne, Indiana
- Port Townsend High School, Port Townsend, Washington
- Tulare Union High School, Tulare, California
The term is most prominent in the name of the Washington Redskins, a National Football League football team. Public protest of the name began in 1968, with a resolution by the National Congress of American Indians. Native American groups and their supporters argue that since they view the word "redskin" as offensive, that it is inappropriate for an NFL team to continue to use it, regardless of whether any offense is intended.
In a 2004 poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, 90% of those who identified themselves as American Indians answered that they were "not bothered" by the name "Redskins" being used for the Washington football team. However, in a commentary published soon after that poll, fifteen Native American scholars collaborated on a critique that stated that there were so many flaws in the Annenberg study that rather than being a measure of Native American opinion, it was an expression of white privilege and colonialism. In August 2015, the Glushko-Samuelson Law Clinic at American University published the text of a memo written by Chintan Turakhia, Sr. and Courtney Kennedy, both vice-presidents and senior researches at Abt SRBI, the survey organization responsible for collecting the data for the 2004 survey. The memo had been prepared at the request of Ken Winneg, Annenberg's Managing Director of Survey Research. The memo made it clear that the survey should not be taken as an accurate reflection of Native American attitudes at the time, since the methods used to survey the general population are not effective for generating representative samples for all possible subgroups that may be of interest. Some subgroups, including Native Americans, have unique characteristics (e.g., multiple languages, unusual residential patterns) that require specialized survey designs if they are to be measured rigorously.
An alternative method to standard opinion polls was used by the Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies at California State University, San Bernardino. A survey was conducted of 400 individuals, with 98 individuals positively identified as Native Americans, finding that 67% agreed with the statement that "Redskins" is offensive and racist. The response from non-natives was almost the opposite, with 68% responding that the name is not offensive.
In May 2016, the Washington Post asked the same question from the Annenberg survey in its general opinion poll when a respondent identified themselves as Native American, producing the same results, that 90% of the 504 respondents were "not bothered" by the team's name. While taking steps to address some of the issues in the earlier survey, many of the conditions remained the same, and the results were immediately criticized by supporters of a name change. NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Pata stated "The survey doesn't recognize the psychological impacts these racist names and imagery have on American Indian and Alaska Natives. It is not respectful to who we are as Native people. This poll still doesn't make it right." The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) issued a statement calling the publication of the poll, and the reporting of its significance, as not only inaccurate and misleading but unethical. "The reporters and editors behind this story must have known that it would be used as justification for the continued use of these harmful, racist mascots. They were either willfully malicious or dangerously naïve in the process and reporting used in this story, and neither is acceptable from any journalistic institution."
On June 18, 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) cancelled the six trademarks held by the team in a two-to-one decision that held that the term "redskins" is disparaging to a "substantial composite of Native Americans", and this is demonstrated "by the near complete drop-off in usage of 'redskins' as a reference to Native Americans beginning in the 1960s." Evidence of disparagement submitted by the petitioners in the TTAB case include the frequent references to "scalping" made by sportswriters for sixty years when reporting the Redskins loss of a game, and passages from movies made from the 1940s to the 1960s using "redskin" to refer to Native Americans as a savage enemy. A linguistics expert for the team unsuccessfully argued that the name is merely a descriptive term no different than other uses of color to differentiate people by race.[dead link] The linguistic expert for the petitioners, Dr. Geoffrey Nunberg, argued that whatever its origins, "redskins" was a slur at the time of the trademark registrations, based upon the passages from books and newspapers and movie clips, in which the word is inevitably associated with contempt, derision, condescension, or sentimental paeans to the noble savage. On July 8, 2015, District Court Judge Lee affirmed the decision of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, denying the team's summary judgment motions challenging the constitutionality of the Lanham Act and granted the Blackhorse defendants' summary judgment motions, finding that "the evidence before the Court supports the legal conclusion that [...] the Redskin Marks consisted of matter that 'may disparage' a substantial composite of Native Americans."
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) also rejected an application to register "Redskins Hog Rinds" because it "consists of or includes matter which may disparage or bring into contempt or disrepute persons, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols".
- Color terminology for race
- Historical race concepts
- Redskins (confectionery)
- List of ethnic slurs
- Native American name controversy
- Redbone (ethnicity)
- Stereotypes about indigenous peoples of North America
- Fighting Whites
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Definition of REDSKIN (offensive): American indian
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n. Offensive Slang Used as a disparaging term for a Native American.
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noun, Slang: Disparaging and Offensive. 1. a North American Indian.
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n. Offensive Slang Used as a disparaging term for a Native American.
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|Look up redskin in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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