By C. Richard King, professor of comparative ethnic studies at WSU and author or editor of more than a dozen books, including Team Spirits: The Native American Mascots Controversy.

Richard King
Richard King

For many, the key take away of the recent survey conducted by the Washington Post is that the vast majority of American Indians do not take offense at the name of the local professional football team. In fact, for some, the poll sounds a death knell for the movement against the slur at the heart of the franchise and has even convinced at least one vocal opponent on staff at the Post to rethink his position. To my mind, all of these readings miss the mark. Most importantly, they miss the harms it excuses and perpetuates.

While heralded as new, the poll actually repeats in content and execution previous surveys, making many of the same errors in how it approached the issue, asked questions, and selected participants. In common, with several other similar surveys over the past two decades, it works to minimize and misconstrue anti-Indian racism and its histories, reducing them to personal feelings. It limits itself to offensiveness, the conscious reaction of an individual, turning attention away from the established impacts of stereotypes and slurs. Social scientists have demonstrated that American Indian mascots and monikers harm Native Americans.

In the end, the team and the paper dehumanize indigenous people. Where the NFL franchise uses slurs and stereotypes, the Post encourages misrecognition and misunderstanding. In distinct ways, both institutions continue the vanishing of Americans Indians.

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