Reaction to trademark board calling Washington NFL team name “disparaging”

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The nickname of the NFL team in Washington, D.C., is considered by many people to be a racial slur against indigenous Americans.

And today a federal trademark board concurred, calling it “disparaging of Native Americans” and recommending canceling the team’s trademark protections. The team has faced pressure for years to change its name from the “R-word,” but it responded today by announcing it will appeal.

For reaction, WMNF spoke with Emelie Jeffries. She is host of Voices of Our People, which airs during Two Worlds Sunday evenings on WMNF. She’s a member of the Occaneechi Nation.

Trademark protections for Washington’s NFL team name will still apply while the appeal makes its way through the courts. That could take years.

“It’s very surprising news but, I think, a welcomed one. This is probably the first and by far the most significant response from the government in regard to the use of the name of the Washington football team. We’ve seen in recent days support from many of the senators, letters that have been written, but this has been really the first actionable move by the government in regards to this situation.”

Why is it so important to you that the Washington football team change it’s name?

“It’s a racial slur and it’s even defined in the dictionary as being a racial slur of Native Americans. I realize, too, that they have the argument from the Washington team, Dan Snider in particular, has said that it represents certain things in regards to respect and courage and reflection of their 81 year history but they negate the 500 year history of Native Americans of which this particular name reminds us of a particularly bloody and dark time in our history. If you look at other racial groups, and this is the result of a conversation I had with a friend just recently, you think about Jewish people one of the things that come to mind is the Holocaust. When you think of African Americans one of the strong themes is slavery. Well, when you think of American Indians the first question I usually get is ‘you guys have all the casinos’ and that we’re alcoholics, so on and so forth. What they don’t understand is that this particular name, redskin, which I hesitate to even say myself is a racial slur because when people think of American Indians they don’t even think of us as people. We’re caricatures from late night reruns of the Lone Ranger. We’re not real to them. They don’t know that we are citizens that are living among you, have jobs, go to school, drive cars, and we’re not seen as people. We’re seen as, I’ve even had people come up to me at pow wows and educational programs saying ‘are you a real Indian? I thought you were all dead.’ That is pretty much the thought of many people whether they want to admit it or not. It’s significant in the sense too that, and I’ll go back to a story that I heard just recently. A friend of mine has a child that came home from school one day and said ‘Daddy, am I a redskin?’ and he really didn’t know how to answer but because of the ongoing discussion about it, kids can be cruel sometimes. And when your child is coming home and you’re Native American you know it’s a racial slur. How do you raise your child to be proud of being who they are when they are being perceived in this way? It goes beyond being a name we find offensive. It affects us as a culture. It affects our children and the future of our culture. I think that’s really the heart of why it’s an issue for us Native Americans.”

information from the Associated Press was used in this report

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