It may be literally the least they could do, but it’s a victory for human decency that the Confederate flag will no longer be available at Walmart, Amazon, Sears, and eBay. Even though it is heartbreaking that it took the murder of nine people to get ghouls like Nikki Haley and Lindsay Graham as well as their corporate masters to see it as a public-relations liability, it also raises a question. If the Confederate flag is too toxic to sell, then how can Amazon and Walmart continue to peddle the merchandise of a Washington football team that bears the name of a racial slur? How can they stock the blood-red profile of a Native American chieftain’s head adorned with feathers and a brand—no matter what revisionists argue—that celebrates their violent death?
I contacted Jackie Keeler, a Navajo/Yankton Dakota Sioux writer living in Portland and a founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry. Her words should be read and reread:
“When I hear an spokesperson for eBay calling the Confederate flag ‘a symbol of divisiveness and racism’ after announcing that they are banning the sale of it from their site, I wonder why I can still search eBay and find over 100,000 Redskins items for sale. Studies and the APA [American Psychiatric Association] have repeatedly warned of the harm being pigeonholed and stereotyped does to Native youths’ self-esteem—and Native youth have the highest rates of suicide in the country, three and a half times that of their peers, but it happens where the rest of America does not look. Native men have the highest rates of police brutality and Native women the highest rates of murder and rape. These deaths are invisible to an America that does not weep for our dead. They cheer for the stereotype and paint themselves up in grotesque caricatures of us, but do they think about what cost we bear for that bit of fun? Is it worth it? I look forward to the day eBay and others like Walmart refuse to make a buck off of a bit of our soul.”
The Confederate flag, for those who believe it belongs not just in a museum but on fire, is a symbol not only of the Southern states or the Klan but of the great crime upon which this country was economically developed: the transatlantic slave trade. But that wasn’t the only crime. A prerequisite to the plantation economy was land acquisition and the near-eradication of the indigenous population. Part of acknowledging our history as a settler nation built on slavery is acknowledging that an entire systemic apparatus has developed to keep down those upon whom Plymouth Rock landed. I contacted Suzan Shown Harjo, the Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee activist and president of the Morningstar Institute, to ask for her thoughts. She said, “There is no disconnect between the white supremacy against African-Americans seen in the rebel flag and that against Native Americans in the racist sports stereotypes. These symbols open deep wounds of ancestors massacred, skinned, and murdered just for being Indians. We hope some will gain awareness and courage, and will act on the racism within their reach,”
Harjo is right. There is especially “no disconnect” when we consider the person who named the Washington football team, its original owner George Preston Marshall. Marshall loved minstrelsy and was, in the words of his contemporary Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich, the NFL’s “leading bigot.” It is no coincidence that this owner of the last team to integrate in the NFL was also the person who named his team after a racial slur. It is no coincidence that this same owner, a man who insisted that “Dixie” be played at home games, was also a person who saw Native Americans as less than human.
It’s time for a change. But just as George Preston Marshall was a stubborn holdout against racial progress, the team today has another owner who is a proud dead-ender: Dan Snyder. The record of Dan Snyder’s defending this name and his various schemes to win public favor in Indian Country has produced one public-relations debacle after another. Reasons for his pigheaded obstinacy on this issue have been subject of much curiosity. Given the incredible list of tribal councils, organizations, media outlets, politicians, and former players that have called upon him to change the name, people wonder why he clings to this the way Lindsay Graham and Nikki Haley clung to that flag before the horrors of last week. It doesn’t really matter why Snyder won’t change the name, but allow me to speculate. Having observed Dan Snyder for almost two decades, I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is not rooted in economics or Snyder’s privately nurtured bigotries.
When I first moved to Washington, DC, the name was something rarely discussed. As this conversation began to surface in recent years, Snyder was so bellicose, so unable to even sit down with those who disagree with him that he has developed a small cult following among a subset of fans of the team. Dan Snyder is the least popular owner in sports, seen as an interfering bully who has stood over two decades of futility of a once-proud franchise. He is also an awkward, sweaty, twitchy hot mess when out in public. But because of his sneering defense of the name, Snyder finally has fans of his own. They chant “Keep the Name” in bars while Snyder grins and pumps his fist. He has taken this objectively racist name—a dictionary-defined slur—and turned it into the football version of the Confederate flag. But none of that matters to him, because finally, Dan Snyder has fans of his own. Hope he enjoys it in the present. Like those who have wrapped themselves in the Confederate flag, he will find that the future will not be so kind.