I didn’t coin this term. Jon Stewart did and I borrowed it.
The last few weeks have been filled with the complex issues of race.
A 14-year-old black teenaged girl was slammed to the ground at a pool party by a white police officer.
A white woman was exposed for claiming to be black.
A white male massacred nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church.
Race and racial identity are things America and Americans just don’t like talking about. They are the dark secret no one dares mention in an open and honest way until it’s thrust into the spotlight.
Last week, we took a tiny (albeit a very tiny) step in the right direction. South Carolina’s governor, despite protestations of “Tradition!”, “History!”, “Honor!” called on the state legislature to take down the Confederate battle flag across from the capitol. A symbol so litterally tied to the fight to keep slavery as a lawful institution; might finally be retired.
Jon Stewart described the Confederate flag flying over South Carolina as “racial wallpaper.”
How are we supposed to respect one another when we are steeped in a culture of racism? How are these deep racial wounds supposed to heal in that environment? How in 2015 can we still be blind to the racism staring us in the face?
It is monumental to see people recognizing and tearing down as Jon Stewart rightfully called it “racial wallpaper”; to witness progress in some of our most divided regions of our nation.
But it’s not all changing and in many places it’s not even recognized for what it is. In Washington, D.C., for example “racial wallpaper” is not even recognized as such.
Every day, you can walk down the streets of this Nation’s capitol, through the halls of Congress, past statues of celebrated American leaders and heroes. And every day, you’d subjected to pinpricks of racism directed at Native Americans.
How you might ask?
Jerseys, hats, bags, umbrellas, bumper stickers, miniature flags, towels, t-shirts, jackets, sweat pants, giant banners, and even paper towels – all of which proudly displaying a caricature of a Native American with a dictionary-defined racial slur as its moniker.
Redskins! If they were the washington WETBACKS would you protest? Washington Chinks? How about the washington Niggers?
Redskins means the same thing. It means litterally Red “Niggers” and was used as such to demean and demoralize the native people of this nation. Why is it so important? Well for starters it’s racist.
Secondly it is here, in the place where federal Indian law and policy are made, Native Americans are openly mocked for the sake of sports. I’ve been told “It’s an honor”. I ask you what honor is there in racism?
Is blackface an honor? Ask Rachel Dolezal how her masquerade as a black woman turned out! Would naming a team the Washington Niggers be an honor? I didn’t think so!
Atop the U.S. Capitol, there is a frieze depicting American history. At first, Native Americans fight an onslaught of the colonists. Our final reference is the death of Tecumseh and a kneeling Native American woman, hands upraised. There is nothing after. In the story of American exceptional-ism, Native Americans cease to exist after Manifest Destiny.
No mention of the atrocities committed, no mention of the contributions of native Americans. No only conquest and subjugation of those same people.
In reality, as our numbers dwindled to near extinction, George Preston Marshall, also staunch segregationist, chose the Washington team name. Andrew Jackson, proponent of the Trail of Tears, appeared on the twenty dollar bill. Christopher Columbus, who was brought back to Spain to be prosecuted for the horrors he enacted on indigenous peoples, was given a federal holiday!
How do we combat racism that is so ingrained into everyday life that the average person isn’t even aware of it at all? How do we come to terms with the rampant racism when it’s so universally accepted as the norm?
But the problem is Native Americans didn’t go extinct. We’re still here! And this is the racial wallpaper we see. We are a largely forgotten, and marginalized people, surrounded on all sides with the celebration of the Native genocide and the heroes who committed it.
For native Americans, it isn’t enough to say something offends us. No we must prove it.
Despite empirical studies demonstrating psychological harm, numerous tribal resolutions, lawsuits, and protests spanning many decades, the word REDSKIN still remains widely accepted.
Proud tradition does not negate the racism of a flag associated with the enslavement of a people, nor does it negate the racism of a moniker that dehumanizes and slurs a people who underwent and are still fighting attempted eradication. Proud tradition and racism should never be bed fellows because one should never be proud of racism and hate.
I want to believe America will continue to tear down the tenets of racism, that we will all aspire to be better. I see some hope of this and I look forward to South Carolina taking down the Confederate battle flag. I long for an America free of racial wallpaper.
I long for the racial wallpaper of the Washington “Redskins” to be torn down next.
Someday maybe the truth of my people will be known and this nation can atone for her sins. Perhaps the truth of how we saved Europeans only to be slaughtered like animals will be told. The truth about the peaceful nations that existed and even the birth of this nation on the ideas and blood of the native people will be told.
I picture a day when we learn in school how our founding fathers saw such promise in the governments that were already here that they emulated them to form ours. I picture a day when I am free as any man or woman to walk the streets of our capital free of the “racial wallpaper” on full display and in every corner.
I pray for the day our nation matures and all hatred is gone and all reminders of racism are limited to museums. Where truth about the racial past of this nation clad in hatred can be framed in love, peace and understanding. A time when we become free of racism once and for all.