Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Redskin Name Debate

I want to preface this by saying I am not a football fan and until now I have put zero thought into the Redskin name debate. I understand both sides but I haven't taken time to form an opinion. I felt like it wasn't my fight. Until now.

Before Thanksgiving I was doing a lesson on the pilgrims and American Indians in a self-contained classroom for students with intellectual disabilities. We were gathered around the Smartboard and looking at images depicting the first Thanksgiving. When a picture of Squanto came up on the screen one boy jumped up with excitement.

"That's a redskin!" he declared confidently, in a voice he reserved for times when he was absolutely sure of a fact he could teach the class.

It took me a moment to catch up with him. Redskin? Squanto? Squanto didn't play football- Oh.


It took a few rounds of explaining we don't call American Indians redskins before he accepted my explanation. I finally broke out, "Martin Luther King told us not to call people redskins," which he accepted because he takes Martin Luther King very, very seriously.

The poor kid. You can see the confusion. He sees the image of the Washington Redskins everywhere. It's all over his friends' shirts at school. He's allowed to call that image Redskins. Everyone else does. And then he infers that if the football logo is called Redskin then the picture of Squanto is also a redskin. Frankly this is the type of thinking that we're excited to see from him. That's a great application of what he knows to what he is learning. Except that now I have to tell him that what he said is actually a racial slur and not great thinking. And somehow I have to get him to understand that it is OK to call one picture of a football team Redskins, but it is absolutely not OK to call pictures of American Indians redskins.

He looked deflated, embarrassed and confused when he sat back down after my Martin Luther King explanation. I felt the same way. All this time I haven't put any thought into the growing debate around the football team's name. It took a fourth grade boy to show me just how absurd the name is in 2014. As a society we're better than that. I can't explain to a class full of hopeful students that we aren't.

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