Monday, August 12, 2013

The politics of niceness: Dan Snyder, the Washington NFL team, and the 'N' word

By Frank Moraes 

Jonathan Bernstein made a great point over at his blog about the naming of the Washington Redskins: "The Question Is Etiquette, Not 'Racism'." The title says it all: it doesn't matter whether or how the term "redskin" is offensive, if our native American brothers and sisters don't like the term, we shouldn't use it. After all, as a group, have they not suffered enough? The United States government committed a genocide against them. Not naming mascots after culturally offensive stereotypes sounds like the least we could do.

Bernstein brings up another point that we may refer to as, "Why does mom get to call you that?" This is in reference to situations like that where my mother calls me Frankie, but I prefer to be called Frank. Why does my mother get to call me that but not you? I don't know and I don't have to provide you with an answer. It's just the way it is. If you call me Frankie, it's not going to kill me. But it does mean that you're an asshole. (For the record, it is fine to call me Frankie, although those so inclined to make my name cuter tend to go with Frannie.)

He doesn't mention it, but he's clearly talking about the surprisingly common conservative lament that African Americans can use the word "nigger" but whites can't. (I actually think that the words that they use is "nigga," which is a different, although derivative word.) This has always struck me as a bizarre complaint. Do such people think they are missing out by not being able to use that word? I dare say most of these people go their whole lives without the more useful "pulchritude" and never seem to miss it. But the more important point is that I'm sure that any African American would be willing to trade use of the word for just a fraction of the privilege that whites have in this country.

This all follows the announcement by Slate that it will no longer refer to the Washington team by "Redskins." This is just a change in their style guide, but such changes are important. (Grammar is important!) After all, newspapers changed their style guides in the 1960s to remove "negro" and "colored." So this stuff really does matter and it really does make a difference. This is all part of the fight against the offensive name and the bigger the battlefield gets, the more likely the name will change. And eventually, the name will change, if only because Daniel Snyder dies or sells the team. (Note: I'm sure he doesn't see himself this way, but Daniel Snyder is an asshole and likely a bigot as well.)

Bernstein's insight is an important one. Most of what is important in life is just about acting like a decent human being. Perhaps the biggest argument against libertarianism is simply that all its talk of marginal increases in freedom (an abstract concept under most circumstances) is nonsense in comparison to the needs of people who are literally starving thanks to a system that may tend to maximize freedom but doesn't come close to fairness. So maybe we should all just treat each other with the dignity that all humans deserve. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm going to stop calling out people like Dan Snyder for the assholes they are. 

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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