Should I laugh or should I cry? It’s not just the title of a 1981 song by Abba – it’s how you sometimes feel when something is either so absurd or so maddening or so something that you’re just not sure how to react. We here at DecodeDC think politics and the actions of those who play in the political arena are filled with laugh or cry moments. We hope you do too.
What do Washington DC and Wiscasset, Maine have in common?
Controversy over the name “Redskins". Wiscasset’s board of selectmen voted this week to grant a resident’s request to rename her street “Redskin’s Drive”, a decision that is drawing criticism from Native Americans. The vote comes four years after the town’s high school abandoned the nickname for its mascot, which was changed because some people found it offensive.
Some of those people also include the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In June, the federal agency canceled the Washington Redskins’ trademark registration. The NFL team responded this month by filing suit in federal court to defend their name, which they contend celebrates Native Americans. Hmm, that’s the same argument the Wiscasset select board members made when they voted to bring the name back. Here’s how it was reported in the Portland Press Herald:
“Ben Rines, one of the three selectmen who voted for the name, said it was in honor of the generations of Wiscasset High School graduates who identify with it, a group to which he belongs.
“As I said in the meeting Tuesday night, I am a native of Wiscasset and went through the Wiscasset schools and was a Wiscasset Redskin all my life, and I don’t see it as a disparaging word whatsoever,” Rines said. “Our heritage should be respected as much as any others.”
Asked what heritage he was referring to, Rines, who has no Native American ancestry, said “being a Wiscasset redskin.”
Newell Lewey, a Passamaquoddy Tribal Councilor, said he was sad, but not surprised, to see that thinly veiled racism continues unabated.
“So they’re actually naming a road after an act of genocide?” Lewey said, referring to use of the term to refer to the bloodied scalps of native people, for which there was a bounty in mid-18th century Maine.
“I’m not surprised, but it’s disgraceful,” he said.”
The Washington Redskins were originally known as the Boston Braves. In 1933, co-owner George Preston Marshall changed the name to the Redskins. There’s a lot of controversy over why – one version says it was to honor then head coach who claimed to be part Sioux – another says it was to avoid confusion with a Boston professional baseball team of the same name. Preston apparently picked the Redskins name so he could keep the existing Native American logo.
Local debate over the name goes back the 1970’s but national protests began in 1988, after the team's Super Bowl XXII victory.
Wiscasset first dealt with the issue in 2010, when the school board decided to no longer use the term as the high school mascot’s nickname.
According to the Portand Press Herald, Ashley Gagnon, who asked for the street name change and is a 2002 graduate of the local high school, said she has some Native American ancestry, and wanted to show pride in her school and town.
She told the paper that use of the apostrophe would make the term less controversial.