The Moral Universe – It’s All in the Name


It was great to see this week’s headline: “In Landmark Decision, U.S. Patent Office Cancels Trademark For Redskins Football Team.”

The Patent and Trademark Office canceled six registrations for the name because it is “ ‘disparaging to Native Americans’ and thus cannot be trademarked under federal law that prohibits the protection of offensive or disparaging language.”

This battle has been going on for a long time. It doesn’t mean the team’s owner has to change its name, but it does mean that the Washington franchise can’t sell anything with the name on it. I would imagine that will hurt the owner financially. Too bad!

I knew that the name was offensive to Native Americans, but I didn’t know just how offensive until a related story came out. If Native Americans objected to “redskins,” that was good enough for me. But after reading Baxter Holmes’ article in Esquire, I’m even more outraged that the name existed for a national sports team for as long as it did.

Mr. Holmes, who is of Cherokee (as in the Trail of Tears) and Choctaw heritage, writes about the stories that Native Americans pass on from one generation to the next. He particularly describes the derivation of “redskins” meaning the scalps of slaughtered Native Americans, red being the color of blood.

The Phips Proclamation“The story in my family goes that the term dates back to the institutionalized genocide of Native Americans, most notably when the Massachusetts colonial government placed a bounty on their heads. The grisly particulars of that genocide are listed in a 1755 document called the Phips Proclamation, which zeroed in on the Penobscot Indians, a tribe today based in Maine.

“Spencer Phips, a British politician and then Lieutenant Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Province, issued the call, ordering on behalf of British King George II for, “His Majesty’s subjects to Embrace all opportunities of pursuing, captivating, killing and Destroying all and every of the aforesaid Indians.” They paid well – 50 pounds for adult male scalps; 25 for adult female scalps; and 20 for scalps of boys and girls under age 12.

“These bloody scalps were known as ‘redskins.’ ”

The older I get, the more ashamed I am of the paucity of my education in the history of my country. The only good thing is that I still want to learn, and learn the truth. Well, I suppose another good thing is that I was born into the era when a lot of the historical bunkum is being exposed.

Amanda Blackhorse, plaintiff in the Patent and Trademark case, said in part after the ruling, “I am extremely happy that the [Board] ruled in our favor. It is a great victory for Native Americans and for all Americans.”

She’s absolutely right. Every step away from our racist past is good for all Americans. Many will not agree with that, and many don’t understand what the fuss is all about. Their history education was even worse than mine, I guess.


2 thoughts on “The Moral Universe – It’s All in the Name

  1. Brilliant and moving, as always. Have a couple of ideas about the subjects that you are so eloquently writing about … Hint and will follow about this weekend. Do you know the history of the Railroad Porters and how they organized and were ultimately influential in the model of African American organization? More to follow in a day or so. I hope you will consider a self published book of essays, at the very least. Could be of such value in the discussion today… Peace.


    • Thanks so much, Meredith. I have heard about the porters’ union but will have to study up on that. Great suggestion, so thank you. In no way related, my church and the Congregational Church in town just established a beautiful labyrinth that is ultimately going to be part of a community peace garden. This is quite a big thing for our little village. I finding it of great use because there are days when I get so very, very angry at the ignorance (sometimes willful ignorance) that goes on in our world.


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