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On the right to be deliberately offensive - Jim Huggins — LiveJournal
July 9th, 2015
03:02 pm
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On the right to be deliberately offensive
Disclaimer: this is going to be long, political, and spiritual.   Caveat lector.

This past week, I finally noticed a similarity in two seemingly unrelated political stories that keep cropping up in my news feed:

  • The debate over whether the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of Southern heritage or of racism

  • The debate over whether the Washington NFL's team use of the name "Redskins" (and associated visual symbols) is a symbol of Native American pride or racism

The pedant in me notes that, in each case, it's likely that both sides are correct.   (Of course, that's hardly a new observation.)

What finally struck me is this: in each case, you have an Establishment that is fighting --- strongly, vocally, vociferously --- to continue using their symbol, even in the face of thousands of people saying that the symbol is offensive to them and causes them distress.

Yes, in both cases, the Establishment has certain First Amendment rights to choose any manner of expression they wish to use.   I'm typically a staunch defender of First Amemdment rights.   I believe others have a right to choose creative expressions which personally offend me.

And yet, the Establishment seems to revel in its ability to choose symbols which they know cause offense.


In the case of the Confederate battle flag ... it's not like there aren't a host of other symbols that could be used to express pride in one's heritage.   "The Stars and Bars".   "The Bonnie Blue Flag".   Heck, if the War Between The States was over the rights of states, why not use one's own state flag?

But, no ... the Establishment insists upon using a symbol that they know is the most problematic, simply because it can.   And if others are offended, so much the better; it serves to reinforce the pride the Establishment has in its heritage.

Why do we seek to deliberately cause offense to others?

I think what troubles me the most about this situation is when I see Christian friends of mine on Facebook staunchly defending their rights to use imagery like the Redskins logo or the Confederate battle flag, simply because they can.

Didn't Paul say that we should give up our rights in order to win as many people as possible over to the Gospel (I Corinthians 9:19ff)?

Didn't Jesus voluntarily give up all of his rights in order to "make himself nothing" on our behalf, and then call us to follow that example (Philippians 2:5-11)?

And yet, we seem to be fighting to assert our rights, even if it drives people away from us.

I have good friends who are serving the Lord overseas, in a culture that is openly hostile to Christian claims.   In that culture, a "Christian" is viewed as someone who advocates the overthrowing of the government, and is therefore a traitor (and worthy of summary execution).   So they voluntarily give up the right to use that word to describe themselves.   They find other ways to tell people about what they believe, without insisting on using a symbol that the culture around them has horribly misunderstood.

And we insist on using a flag or a logo, and condemning anyone else who has a different view of those images than we do.


Why do we insist on the exercise of our rights, when we know others will be offended?   Would it not be a greater show of pride and strength to voluntarily abandon those symbols, knowing that our worth as persons is not dependent upon external symbols?  

Or are we all too insecure to voluntarily lay aside anything that seems to belong to us?

(5 comments | Leave a comment)

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Date:July 9th, 2015 08:06 pm (UTC)
I won't argue that the term "Redskins" is non-offensive, because it is. But why are we directing our outrage toward them in particular and not including, say, the Cleveland Indians, which has chosen a caricature of a Native as their logo? Or university or high school mascots? It'd be a slow progression, but I think it needs to happen. (There's a handful of high schools throughout the US that still use "Savages" as their mascot. That's disappointing and in poor taste.)

What of teams with less offensive names? The Seminoles, the Choctaws, the Comanches?

If we're sticking with pro teams, where do you think the Atlanta Braves and the Kansas City Chiefs are on the spectrum?
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Date:July 9th, 2015 09:01 pm (UTC)
It's certainly a progression. I think "Redskin" is more of a target than "Indian" because the origins of the name "Redskin" are far more perjorative in nature. My brief search of Wikipedia suggests that "Indian" came about because Columbus thought, when he landed, that he'd reached India, and it's certainly non-perjorative to call the inhabitants of India Indians. (Yeah, he got the geography wrong, and we should've moved on from that name long ago.)

Also, there's a limit to how much outrage can be spent at once. If/when the Redskins story is settled, I think you'll see more pressure brought on other teams.

As to names of actual indigenous groups ... I think we'll increasingly see them move away from their use. I actually lived through this debate here in Michigan back when I was in college, when Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti (just down the road from me in Ann Arbor) debated moving away from its team name, the Hurons. In that case, EMU had explicit permission from the Michigan Wyandot (Huron) nation to use the name Huron, in part because they were extremely careful not to use Native imagery in any perjorative way. Objectors pointed out, however, that outsiders weren't nearly so circumspect, and the mere presence of a Native tribal name encouraged folks to use perjorative symbols. Ultimately, EMU changed the team name to Eagles, while keeping the school colors and songs and so on. Years later, everybody's gotten over the change and moved on.

Of course, as some are likely to point out, nobody really cares about the EMU mascot. EMU athletics isn't exactly a big draw in the region.

The Braves and Chiefs are probably somewhere in-between. They're not as "bad" as the Redskins; at least their names aren't slurs. On the other hand, the teams implicitly (or explicitly) co-opt Native imagery in ways that aren't wonderful, either.
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Date:July 9th, 2015 10:32 pm (UTC)
My actual complaint about Cleveland has less to do with the name "Indians" and more to do with Chief Wahoo. While Washington has the more offensive name, at least the logo isn't of a cartoon character with big teeth.

You're probably right about the pressure on other teams.

The idea that tribal names encourage pejorative symbols is really sad. I was thinking mostly of the Florida Seminoles, and if memory serves, they've gone to great lengths to keep things as respectful as possible. Maybe we'll be lucky and this one will be addressed on a case-by-case basis with the local tribes.

(To be fair to EMU, there's a school up the road from them that casts a pretty big shadow in terms of athletics...)

I'm ashamed to say the argument for the Chiefs is the one I'm dreading the most, but you probably saw that coming. I'll accept it if my favorite football team has to change their mascot (and probably the name of their stadium), but I have no alternative suggestions.
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Date:July 9th, 2015 10:44 pm (UTC)
Certainly ... and that's what makes this argument hard. There are many good people (like you) who have loyalty to a symbol that others find offensive. Your affinity for the symbol was not motivated by malice in any form. And yet, here we are.

The only thing I would say to ease the discomfort is that team name changes seem to occur more frequently than it might seem. Once everyone gets over the initial shock, the name change can give people an opportunity to rally behind a new symbol that has meaning. Kansas City has many other elements of its cultural heritage that it could celebrate through a name change.
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Date:July 9th, 2015 11:56 pm (UTC)
That's very true, and suddenly I have several suggestions for the team, though not necessarily for the stadium. It's hard to stop defending the team name--I hadn't really thought of myself as an insider in this argument, but you're right. (and if they change it to some nod to their Cow Town heritage, they get to keep their horse...)
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