The Washington Redskins have faced a firestorm of criticism for their antiquated name that today is considered offensive. The origin of their name along with the Braves and the Indians is in Boston as a tribute to the Democratic Party’s Tammany Hall organization.
The name Tammany evolved from Tamanend, a legendary Delaware Indian chief, and the members of Tammany Hall used many Indian words to designate their various titles. Each trustee was a sachem, and the presiding officer was a grand sachem; the only person to receive the honor of great grand sachem was a president of the United States. The member who served as secretary was known as a scribe, and the building that housed the Tammany meetings was called a wigwam.
The United Negro College Fund holds on to the term that is never uttered in polite company and is considered an infamous throwback to its origin in the slave trade.
In his seminal opus titled 'The Name "Negro": Its Origin and Evil Use' (1972), Richard B. Moore documents that, "...it was in the development of this infamous, iniquitous and inhuman slave traffic that the term 'Negro' was foisted as a noun, as a designation, as a name, upon those who were unfortunate enough to be caught in the clutches of the (European) slave traders. This is the origin of the term 'Negro.' Its origin is vile and infamous. It began in indignity. It began in immorality and the consciousness and dignity of man must now rise and dispense with it forever."(p.37).
Similarly the term colored people is considered antiquated and inappropriate as when Lindsay Lohan called newly elected Barack Obama our ‘first colored President’. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says context matters so it’s no big deal according to a report in the San Jose Mercury News:
Carla Sims, communications director for the NAACP in Washington, D.C., came to Lindsay Lohan’s defense today following Lohan’s on-camera interview with “Access Hollywood” in which Lohan called president-elect Barack Obama “colored.”
Sims believes that the media’s lambasting of the starlet is only to create controversy.
“Sometimes you have to look at the intent…but the word ‘colored’ isn’t derogatory,” Sims told me in a phone interview. “Clearly she’s [Lohan] an Obama supporter.” “There’s really no problem with what she said,” Sims said. “In her excitement, she was acknowledging that color was not a barrier in the populace choosing Obama.”
“The term ‘colored’ is not derogatory,” Sims continued. “They chose the word ‘colored’ because it was the most positive description commonly used at that time. It’s outdated and antiquated but not offensive.”
Incredibly this same organization released a statement disagreeing with Sims framing of historic monikers.
“It is disappointing that this derogatory moniker remains embedded in one of our nation’s premier sporting teams,” stated NAACP Interim President and CEO Lorraine C. Miller. “We stand alongside all American Indians who are calling for Washington owner Daniel Snyder to change his team’s name.”
An organization that is a moral force in American history can do better and admit its error. As they say: ‘Sometimes you have to look at the intent….”. No Redskins player, staff or fan celebrates the Washington Redskins out of animosity towards Native Americans. Again the NAACP points the way to a rational perspective on terms like Negro and Redskins attached to organizations with names that are no longer commonly used: “It’s outdated and antiquated but not offensive.”