What's in a (racist) name?

On principle, I think there's something a little bit wrong with using a stereotypical ethnic caricature as a mascot for a sports team — or a racial slur for its name — but that's just me.

But, you know, what can I say? I went to White Station High School, home of the Spartans. Then again, it is not like the leaders of our nation stole its land from Sparta, forced its people into adhering to Western cultural values and continues to marginalize them today.

There's a Wikipedia page full of teams who derive their names and mascots from representations of indigenous groups in the Americas.

Of course, there are some cases where native groups are OK with this — the Seminoles of Florida State University are supported by the Seminole Tribe of Florida as well as the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.

But then there's the NFL's Washington Redskins.

Team owner Dan Snyder has faced pressure from several activist groups, including the Inter-Tribal Council and the NAACP, as well as Congress to change the name of his team, but has refused on grounds of "tradition."

Oh, and he also said that the name "Redskins" was a badge of honor. Webster's definition of "redskin" has shifted over the years, it currently describes the word as "usually offensive." Also, many Native Americans themselves consider it a slur.

Maybe an etymologist could shed light on this for me, because I'm pretty sure that "slur" is not synonymous with "badge of honor."

Another team that has been in the limelight is the Cleveland Indians, whose mascot is the unseemly Chief Wahoo. Many fans have taken it upon themselves to remove the icon from their Cleveland gear, in a largely Twitter-ized movement. #DeChief has faced both acclaim and derivation.

So is it OK to use names and representations of Natives for team logos and mascots — among a host of other things — or not?

This cultural issue is quite complicated. There are Native Americans who are completely unopposed to the moniker "Redskins" as well as the Chief Wahoo caricature. Because, they're — you know — individuals, and are not at all the monolith of earthly mystics the media would have us believe they are.

Some argue that a name or a cartoon representation is small potatoes in light of the grander issues that the Native community faces. "It's just a name," after all.

However, I feel that the issue starts an important conversation about how we perceive Native Americans.

Please remember that Dan Snyder, a white guy™, blatantly denied Native Americans their agency by telling them that what many of them consider to be a slur is not only inoffensive, but also complimentary.

Later, he started an organization to provide aid and assistance to Native Americans — as he sees fit, of course — because money solves everything.

Somehow, Native Americans need someone to tell them whether or not they're offended. And then, they need someone to tell them about all the problems they face, because, inexplicably, they were previously unaware.

Snyder's words and actions tell Native Americans that their opinions are irrelevant. And the thing is, many American citizens agree with this. Problem? Yes.

Seminole and Sioux activist Michael Haney told the Chicago Tribune, "As long as white America feels that Indians are not quite human, that we can be construed as mascots or caricatures or cartoon figures, then they will never deal with the issues of education and economic development for our people."

Whether or not you oppose the names, the portrayals or the mascots, you must acknowledge that America has historically denied Natives their rights and their agency and often treats them as if they are not real people.

Hopefully, that "tradition" will change.

Andrea Richardson is a sophomore in anthropology. She can be reached at aricha43@utk.edu.