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Washington mascot change is a reminder why you should learn about Native communities

July 31, 2020

Mockup-3942f2f1_largeRecently, the NFL team in Washington announced that it is retiring the R*dsk*ns name and logo. We are encouraged by the announcement and remain cautiously optimistic as we wait for the the franchise to select a new permanent name and logo devoid of any Native branding or imagery.

Many have pointed out that the announcement is due to the financial pressure exerted by retailers pulling team merch from their shops and by the team's financial partners publicly calling on it to change its name and branding. That's only half the story.

In the wake of the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, the country finds itself in the middle of a political and social uprising. The Black Lives Matter movement has catalyzed a reexamination of the many ways we've allowed racism and white supremacy to permeate every aspect of modern life.

The retirement of the Washington football team's blatantly racist logo sends a message that the dehumanization of any group of people will no longer be tolerated. The momentum created by the Black Lives Matter movement carried us over the goal line, but we cannot ignore the decades of work by Indigenous activists, researchers, and organizations to address head-on the issue of Native American mascots.

For funders, the conversations happening across the country about the retirement of the mascot represent a crucial opportunity to learn about Native communities. As the research shows, one of the harmful effects of Native-specific sports mascots is the misunderstanding they create about Native communities and cultures among non-Native people. When the diversity of hundreds of distinct Native Nations and cultures are reduced to a handful of team names and logos, it undermines our efforts to educate philanthropy and the broader public about who we really are.

Philanthropy can provide an important education and learning platform for others to push back on these harmful stereotypes. 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 detailing 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 Native American history and contemporary cultures is critical to any advocacy on behalf of Native communities. Yes, the most egregious of these mascots has been relegated to the dustbin of history, but it still leaves hundreds of professional, university, and high school teams and institutions with logos based on Native American stereotypes. As the nation continues down the path of racial reckoning, conversations and the sharing of learnings with those outside our communities is what will turn action into systemic, long-term change.

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This post originally was published on the Native Americans in Philanthropy website and is reprinted here with the permission of NAP. 

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