Using slurs seems a simple issue: It is morally wrong and offensive.
But to Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, “the issue is undeniably complex.”
Goodell wrote those words in a very sophisticated and carefully crafted Feb. 27 letter defending the name of the football team in the nation’s capital. The National Memo has obtained a copy of the letter, which was probably drafted by lawyers. You can read it here.
The team’s name is intended to “honor and respect” the heritage of native peoples, Goodell wrote. Those would be the original inhabitants who, from Columbus forward, the European explorers thought nothing of raping, enslaving, torturing and slaughtering because to them the native peoples whose skin was a different color simply were not fellow human beings.
To put this in modern perspective, imagine if Goodell’s stated reasons for the team name were applied not to native peoples, but to the heritage of those kidnapped in Africa and brought to America by force.
The Washington Slaves. Imagine if Goodell had to write a letter defending that name which, after all, by his own terms celebrates another part of our heritage. That name is also more historically appropriate for the city than its current name, given that the District of Columbia was a slave-holding city.
What, in principle, is the difference between the current name of the football team and my suggested name? After all, Georgia lawmakers so love their state’s slavery heritage that they voted to put the Confederate flag on specialty license plates.
The letter reveals that Goodell, like many of his fellow white Americans, is afflicted with a social disease. Physicians would call it privilegium candidioris cutis. In English that’s white skin privilege.
People so afflicted are blinded by the economic and social benefits of their external casing, so much so that they cannot recognize their own privileged status and often perceive themselves as victims of those who lack the skin tone they call flesh.
This disease, however, can be cured through education and contemplative exercises that develop, in tandem, intellectual strength and moral clarity.
Goodell knows better than what he wrote. Last September he told a Washington radio sports station, when speaking about the local team’s name, “If we are offending one person, we need to be listening and making sure that we’re doing the right things to try to address that.”
The problem there is with “if.” There is no “if,” because in fact many people of many skin tones are offended.