Quiet Suburban Racism

A minor controversy has come and gone in the past few weeks. The Nepean Redskins will no longer be the Nepean Redskins. As a result of a Human Rights Tribunal complaint lodged by Ian Campeau, the club has done the right thing. As I note in the Ottawa Citizen, whether they intended to offend or not, the existence of the Redskins was a tacit form of racism that we could no longer abide:

Supporters of the moniker will disassociate themselves from the racist elements of the name, pointing to history and the continued existence of the NFL’s Washington Redskins as justification for this quiet suburban intolerance. But it’s a façade. They are either lying to themselves or just plain lying. Naming your child’s sports team after the skin tone of an historically (and currently) marginalized ethnic group is simple, basic racism. Intentions don’t matter; a racial slur is a racial slur, regardless. And as Ian Campeau, the local man who launched the complaint, notes, we wouldn’t accept a team named the Blackskins or the Yellowskins.

As can be imagined, there was resistance. The Redskins had been the Redskins for about 35 years. The people who ran the club had been doing so without complaint for over a decade (despite the fact that complaints against their namesake, the Washington Redskins, have also been around for a decade or more), so this was a bit of a shock. The shock and initial defiance was understandable – a fairly typical reaction. It was unacceptable that over the past two years, since Mr. Campeau first approached the team, nothing was done. Just because we are desensitized to it does not mean that it is any less offensive.

Unfortunately, that’s a message some are still learning:

“It’s all been extremely overwhelming and very emotional for all of us,” treasurer Evelyn Torley told the Citizen on Thursday. “I have 13 years with the club, which is probably the least amount of time of anyone on the board. Others have 17 and 18 years of doing a lot of good work and putting in a lot of time for these children. But whatever. It is what it is. We’ll get through it and emerge stronger.”

“I get it,” she said. “I get that everybody has to be politically correct, but never has there been the slightest trace of racism intended. Quite the contrary.”

No, she does not get it, or at least she didn’t get it last week when she was interviewed. Refraining from using a racial epithet isn’t politically correctness; it’s basic human decency.

(And her “quite the contrary” line suggests she wasn’t really thinking straight at the time… is she suggesting that they used the name “Redskins” in order to fight racism?)

Thankfully, the club President, Steve Dean, demonstrated that the club does get it. He called the decision “right and just“, and, certainly, it is. Little more really needs to be said. It took a long time – way too long – but the club has finally done the right thing.

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