The Washington Mascot Change Reveals Why You Should Learn About Native Communities
Recently, the Washington NFL team announced they are retiring the R*dsk*ns name and logo. We are encouraged by the announcement but remain cautiously optimistic until the franchise declares a new permanent name and logo completely devoid of any Native branding or imagery.
Many have pointed out that the announcement is due to the financial pressure exerted by retailers pulling Washington merch from their shops and financial partners publicly calling for the team to change their name and branding. However, that’s only half the story.
The country is in the middle of a political and social uprising in the wake of the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others before and after them. The Black Lives Matter movement has catalyzed a reexamination and purging of the ways we’ve allowed racism and white supremacy to permeate throughout all aspects of modern life.
The retirement of this blatant racist slur sends a message that the dehumanization of any group of people will no longer be tolerated. The momentum of Black Lives Matter has carried us over the line to this historic change but we cannot ignore the decades of work by Indigenous activists, researchers, and organizations who have tackled the issue of Native American mascots head-on.
For funders, the conversations igniting across the country about the retirement of this mascot present a crucial opportunity for learning about Native communities. As the research shows, one of the harmful effects of these mascots is the misunderstanding they develop about Native communities and cultures with non-Native people. When the diversity of hundreds of distinct Native Nations and cultures are reduced to team names and logos, it undermines our efforts to educate philanthropy and the broader public about who we really are.
Philanthropy can be an important education and learning platform to push back on these harmful stereotypes and misunderstandings. We encourage you to visit Investing in Native Communities, a joint project of Native Americans in Philanthropy and Candid. The “Native 101” section of the site provides several tools intended to deepen your understanding about Indigenous peoples, their history, and their resiliency. It also provides case studies about good practices in investing in Indigenous-led initiatives and programs.
It’s not enough to simply retire a mascot and a team name. Sharing the truth about our history and contemporary cultures is vital to advocating for Native communities. The most egregious of these mascots has been eliminated but it still leaves the hundreds of professional, university, and high school institutions who are still using Native American-based stereotypes. As our nation continues its racial reckoning, the conversation and learning with those who are outside of our communities is what turns action into systemic, long-term change.