Words Insulting to Blacks, Chinese, and Muslims Bring Sanctions, But Not For "Redskins"

The use of words insulting to Chinese, Muslims, Blacks and other groups are swiftly punished, but the unnecessary use of the R-word ["redskins'] by broadcasters is venerated, and could lead to the loss of a broadcasting license
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Jeremy Lin
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Feb. 21, 2012 - PRLog -- One ESPN employee was fired, and one (with an Asian wife) was suspended, for using the allegedly racist phrase "chick in the armor" to describe faults with an NBA player who is Chinese; the FBI has removed more than 1000 presentations and curricula because the words "radical Islam" are allegedly "offensive" and "racist"; and a well-known commentator was just canned from his 10-year network position for writing about "The End of White America" - yet broadcasters continue to use the word "redskins" even though it has been found,  in several legal proceedings, to be equally racist and derogatory to American Indians, notes public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

Many have said that the R-word is as offensive to Native Americans as the N-word is to African Americans, says Banzhaf, who is seeking to encourage Indian leaders and organizations to oppose the license renewal of broadcast stations which unnecessarily use this racist word, just as an earlier license renewal challenge he helped spearhead led to the first appearance of Blacks in significant roles on TV programs.

There is overwhelming evidence and ample legal precedent that the use of the word "redskins" is racially offensive and derogatory to many American Indians. This includes decisions by three different jurisdictions to ban the use of the word "redskins" on license plates, a unanimous finding by three judges that the word "redskin" is "a derogatory term of reference for Native Americans and tends to bring them into contempt or disrepute" when used by a professional football team, a decision by the D.C. Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments that the "Redskins" name is "demeaning and dehumanizing," etc.  Yet broadcasters continue to use the word with complete impunity, and with surprisingly little criticism.

The contrast in treatments is even more surprising when the facts are examined more closely.  The term "chink" - referring to a crack, cleft, or fissure - comes from Middle English of 1350-1400, and has nothing to do with Chinese.  Firing someone for using the phrase "chink in the armor," a phrase which also goes back hundreds of years, make about as much sense as firing someone for using the word "niggardly" (which also has happened) - which likewise dates from the middle ages, and also has nothing whatsoever to do with race or ethnicity.  In contrast, the R-word is of  more recent origin - growing out of White Americas interactions with its Indians - and is the most derogatory of slang words which are sometimes used to refer to these people.

Similarly, the FBI was reportedly pressured into giving up all use of the common phrase "radical Islam" - used to describe the very tiny percentage of Muslim who have demonstrated their radicalism in the name of their religion by engaging in a wide variety of terrorist acts - by "groups including various Islamist and militant Arabic groups who in the past have defended Hamas and Hizballah and have also issued blatantly anti-Semitic statements" but think nothing of using the word "redskins" despite numerous objections from many highly respected Indian leaders and organizations. http://times247.com/articles/fbi-caves-mueller-pulls-isla...

The fact that the R-word is the name of a team or other group is no excuse, suggests Banzhaf, noting that broadcasters would never use names like Jersey Kikes, Dallas Wetbacks, or San Diego Japs.  Indeed, even though a musical group of African American performers chose for themselves a name beginning with the N-word, the name of the group is rarely if ever used on the air - broadcasters correctly avoid any suggestion of racism by calling the group NWA.  Moreover, three judges unanimously found that the word "redskin" is "a derogatory term of reference for Native Americans and tends to bring them into contempt or disrepute" when used by DC's professional football team.

American Indians have been bringing legal challenges against the "Redskins" trademark, but in 20 years they have yet to be successful, and any possible victory is still many years away.  Also, "even a successful challenge to some pending 'Redskin' trademarks would not prevent the football team or broadcasters from continuing to use this offensive word, and 20 years of repeated failures using this approach surely suggest that it will be an uphill battle likely to take a long time," says Prof. Banzhaf.

On the other hand, filing an opposition to the renewal of a single broadcast license - based on the claim that the station in the District of Columbia offended African American by refusing to employ any Blacks as on-air reporters, or to feature them in other significant on-the-air roles - provided swift relief to Black activists when the challenged station, as well as its major competitors, suddenly changed their policies regarding Blacks both on-the-air and in supporting positions.

"The policy of not only tolerating but venerating the use of the word redskins on the air, while swiftly punishing the use of other words with multiple means which might inadvertently seem derogatory to some groups, is the rankest hypocrisy," argues Banzhaf, who says its time to use a new and more effective strategy to bring it to an end if necessary.

Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
2000 H Street, NW, Suite S402
Washington, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418

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John F. Banzhaf III is a Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University Law School [http://banzhaf.net/] where he is best known for his work regarding smoking, obesity, discrimination, food and auto safety, political corruption, etc.
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