Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

See if this makes sense to you:

For years, I’ve argued with certain African-American people about their insistence upon using the so-called N-word which, to my ears, is, inalterably, a statement of self-loathing. They say I don’t understand. They say the word no longer means what it has always meant. They say it’s just a friendly fraternal greeting.

I say one cannot arbitrarily decide that a word — especially an old and bloodstained word — suddenly means something other than what it always has. I say that while language does change over time, it doesn’t do so because a few of us want it to or tell it to. And I say that if I call you an “idiot,” but say that “idiot” now means “genius,” you will be no less insulted.

Does that seem logical? If so, then perhaps you can understand my impatience with people who insist on defending the Washington football team whose nickname is a racial slur.

The latest is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Last week, he responded to a letter from members of the Congressional Native American Caucus, questioning the appropriateness of the name “Redskins.” That name, wrote Goodell, “is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.” The team took the name in 1933, he noted, to honor then-coach William “Lone Star” Dietz, who was reputedly (it is a matter of historical dispute) an American Indian.

“Neither in intent nor use was the name ever meant to denigrate Native Americans or offend any group,” he wrote. In other words, we have changed the meaning. It no longer means what it has always meant.

As it happens Goodell’s letter follows a novel — though ultimately failed — effort earlier this year by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to ban Indian team names and mascots at primary and secondary schools. The complaint MDCR filed with the Education Department argued that such things are not merely insulting, but damaging. It cited the work of Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona who has studied the effects of the team names and imagery on Native American students.

She has found empirical proof that those names and imagery lead to lowered self-esteem and sense of community worth among American Indian kids. They also damage aspirations and heighten anxiety and depression.

In other words, seeing their people reduced to mascots is toxic to Indian children. And if the names and images in general are damaging, how much more harmful is “Redskins”?

That name, after all, was never neutral, but was, rather, a hateful epithet hurled by people who were stealing from and committing genocide against those they saw as savage and subhuman. So calling a football team the “Washington Redskins” as a way of honoring an Indian makes precisely as much sense as calling a soccer team “The Warsaw K—s” as a way of honoring a Jew.

Fans of franchises bearing Indian names often resist changing them out of sentiment. Owners, meanwhile, are loath to tamper with lucrative trademarks.

That’s understandable. But it is also shortsighted.

You can delude yourself all you want. Things are what they are, and as Rick Perry learned in 2011 when he was called to answer for a certain inconveniently named rock, this nation’s ugly racial past has a way of poking through the polite lies and evasions we use to prettify history and justify ourselves. So it is with Washington’s football team and its nickname.

This is not about honor and even less about “strength, courage, pride and respect.” It is rather, about moral integrity, intellectual honesty and the immutable weight of certain words. Whether we choose to acknowledge it, or never do, doesn’t change the fact:

“Redskins” is a curse word.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

Photo: Keith Allison via Flickr.com

Actor as Donald Trump in Russia Today video ad

Screenshot from RT's 'Trump is here to make RT Great Again'

Russia Today, the network known in this country as RT, has produced a new "deep fake" video that portrays Donald Trump in post-presidential mode as an anchor for the Kremlin outlet. Using snippets of Trump's own voice and an actor in an outlandish blond wig, the ad suggests broadly that the US president is indeed a wholly owned puppet of Vladimir Putin– as he has so often given us reason to suspect.

"They're very nice. I make a lot of money with them," says the actor in Trump's own voice. "They pay me millions and hundreds of millions."

But when American journalists described the video as "disturbing," RT retorted that their aim wasn't to mock Trump, but his critics and every American who objects to the Russian manipulations that helped bring him to power.

As an ad for RT the video is amusing, but the network's description of it is just another lie. Putin's propagandists are again trolling Trump and America, as they've done many times over the past few years –- and this should be taken as a warning of what they're doing as Election Day approaches.

The Lincoln Project aptly observed that the Russians "said the quiet part out loud" this time, (Which is a bad habit they share with Trump.)