When I consider the debate over the name of Washington's professional football team, I think of my crayon box from my elementary school years.
OK, not so much my crayon box – I had the 16-pack. Back then, the subtle socio-economic competition among kids was not about what version of an iPhone you had, but the size of your crayon box. There was the bare-bones eight-pack (so humiliating!), the more common 16-color set, and for the really privileged kids, there was the 62-color selection, featuring such extraneous shades as "burnt sienna." But the medium and big boxes had one common color: "flesh."
This was the color children were meant to use to fill in faces and bare skin, and it was a pale beige. It's not that Crayola wasn't aware that some children had dark skin or even caramel-colored skin. And there were other crayons one could use to draw or color children of various races and ethnicities. But the word "flesh," assigned to the color to draw white children, made clear that the other children were indeed "other" and that the default color of "flesh" was light.
The same principle applies when it comes to the name of Washington's football team, the "Redskins." It's offensive – and no, it's not another version of the Atlanta "Braves" or the Cleveland "Indians." It's a derogatory word for Native Americans. And now that we're in the 21st century, it's time to retire the moniker.
Washington has already toned it down – there are no longer minstrel-show type warrior dances on the sidelines, and long ago cheerleaders stopped wearing black braids. But the persistence of the name can no longer be justified by the fact that it's been there all these years and is necessary to the brand.
Language changes with the times, and so do names and nicknames, which carry an inherent sanction of the person or idea behind the name. In the early 90s, when I was first in Budapest and operating from an old map, I asked a taxi driver to take me to a street that had been named after some old communist leader. The taxi driver insisted he knew of no such avenue – it had been renamed "Erzsebet" (or Elizabeth) boulevard, a change which was not reflected on my older map. In fact, he knew very well where it was, but after decades of living under the communists, he was not going to honor an old Soviet leader even by mentioning his connection to a renamed street.
Budapest (and other such cities) made the transition, and except for some temporary confusion among those of us with old maps, everyone survived it. The street names reflect a post-communist era; the old statues of communists leaders have been removed and exiled to "Statuary Park" on the outskirts of the city, and everyone adjusted. Crayon boxes no longer carry a color called "flesh," and kids are managing to play with coloring books without trouble. It's time for Washington's football team to do the same.
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