US Patent and Trademark Office cancels trademark registrations for the Washington Racial Slur team! or In which I attempt to explain How did we get here? Where do we go from here? To Twitter we go! #NotYourMascot
So just today the US Patent and Trademark Office cancelled six federal trademark registrations for the name of the Washington Racial Slur team. Indian Country rejoices because - it's a step in the right direction. Welcome to being "on record" that this term is "derogatory."
So now what?
First some background. And by no means is this a comprehensive background. The fight to eradicate Native American mascots has been a long one. The National Congress of American Indians began lobbying against the use of the Washington (Racial Slur) team name in the 1960s. Students at Stanford University moved to change their Indian mascot in the early 70s. But here are a few key moments to ruminate on before we get to today's moment...
Stanford University changes it's mascot. (1972)
Why start here? Mostly because I get to give a shout out to my Mama who was a part of the student group that pushed forward the change of the Stanford University Mascot. Stanford was known as the Indians from 1930-1972. You can learn all about my Mom and her role in changing the mascot if you watch the video. (Her story starts at 25:40). Also in this video, Suzan Harjo who is, yes, the "Harjo" of "Harjo et al. v. Pro Football, Inc. (1992) that we will discuss next.
Now to humble brag for a second -- my Mom and I both went to Stanford. Mom went as a Graduate Student and I went (some years later) as an Undergraduate. Our experiences there were very different from each other. I remember the day that I found out I got in to Stanford. My Dad was so excited he was yelling at me on the phone that "A huge envelope came! It says congratulations on it!" (Spoiler Alert) But Mom was fairly quiet until she said to me "You don't have to go there if you don't want to."
I don't think ALL of it was because of the experience she had speaking to people about the mascot. The mascot story is one that is very personal to her. She went against the wishes of some of her family members and publicly spoke out against someone from her very own tribe. It was NOT popular opinion at this point in time, in fact, the voices of these students were challenged on every occasion. When I asked her one time why she wasn't ecstatic that I could attend Stanford she said something like "the people there, they can be hard to deal with. Most of them don't understand things outside of their own little world."
When I was there as an undergraduate I went to one football game (as required, basically, Big Game) and there were older white people wearing Stanford Indian sweaters and tshirts and carrying tomahawks. It was uncomfortable for me (at 18) to see it. And I remember staring and staring at this guy in front of us until my friend leaned over and said "whatcha looking at so intently there?"
And I said to him "A racist."
So why start here? Because this was a "win" of sorts. Sure you still get those random dudes wearing shirts, and sure Native students have to get together every once in a while when some campus group wants to use the Indian mascot for something to be cute, or "edgy." But this was a win. Stanford, a major, significant, university got rid of it's mascot. Other universities were still (and are still) trying to say "hey, it's not that bad." And Stanford said "it's pretty bad. We really don't want to be on the wrong side of history with this one."
Point -- human decency.
Harjo et al. v. Pro Football, Inc. (1992)
This was the first attempt to cancel the trademarks of the Washington (Racial Slur) team. In 1992 Suzan Harjo (et al) filed a petition to cancel the trademarks because "the marks consist of or comprise matter which disparages Native American persons, and brings them into contempt, ridicule, and disrepute..." After seven years of litigation, involving multiple discovery and pretrial motions, the Board issued its decision on the merits, held that respondent’s REDSKINS marks were disparaging to Native Americans when registered and ordered the registrations canceled.
What's a trademark for? According to this website:
Another site insists that: Trademarks are your most enduring assets. Because: Trademarks are usually the only business asset you have that can appreciate over time.
The Washington (Racial Slur) team appealed the decision and the decision was reversed. However, the case was reversed solely on a technicality and never specifically addressed if the team name/ mascot was disparaging. (Because it is... ) All of these appeals and such run through 2002.
National Annenburg Election survey finds: "Most Indians Say Name of Washington “Redskins” Is Acceptable While 9 Percent Call It Offensive" (2004)
And I only include this because I am one of those people who reads the comments of news stories and tend to see anonymous internet commenters throw around this statistic a lot:
"90% of Native Americans said they don't mind the team name." or "90% of Native Americans said the name is fine."
That's a lot of percent. Also, it's (technically) not what they said. The question in the survey was: “The professional football team in Washington calls itself the Washington Redskins. As a Native American, do you find that name offensive or doesn’t it bother you?”
Consider the first question: "...do you find that name offensive?"
Separated and placed by itself it's a pretty straightforward one. And the answers (yes, no, don't care) are pretty straight forward as well. But the second question "or doesn't it bother you?" is misleading. When posed in this way, people would tend to answer the second question and disregard the first. (BTdubbs I used to design surveys back when I was majoring in Psychology and then I did it for a living as a nonprofit consultant). So the people being surveyed are focusing on one part of the question, if the team name doesn't bother them... because that is the last question that they heard. And how do you answer it?
"No it doesn't bother me" or "Yes, it doesn't bother me." At least that's how the question is posed. Both of those answers would lend themselves to supporting the team name. The other answer "Yes, it bothers me." or "No, it doesn't not bother me" or "Yes, I find it offensive" requires an extra step on the part of the respondent, to change the offered content of the question in order to answer it. *SKETCHY*
There are plenty of other problems with this survey as well, not the least of which it was done over 10 years ago and/or the people were "self-identified" as Native Americans (which could mean any number of things, that's never been made clear).
But, so what? If (BIG IF) 90% of Native Americans say the mascot doesn't bother them, does that negate the other issues pertaining to mascots? No, it doesn't.
Study shows that American Indian mascots are harmful, caused depressed self-esteem and community worth for Indian children. (2008)
Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots was a study done by Dr. Stephanie Fryberg (et al. which is important because one of the et al. is my friend Joe!).
Essentially the study found this: Four studies examined the consequences of American Indian mascots and other prevalent representations of American Indians on aspects of the self-concept for American Indian students. When exposed to Chief Wahoo, Chief Illinwek, Pocahontas, or other common American Indian images, American Indian students generated positive associations (Study 1, high school) but reported depressed state self-esteem (Study 2, high school), and community worth (Study 3, high school), and fewer achievement-related possible selves (Study 4, college). We suggest that American Indian mascots are harmful because they remind American Indians of the limited ways others see them and, in this way, constrain how they can see themselves.
There have been a number of other studies done since 2008 that have very illuminating findings as well among them (via Indian Country Today):
1. A study by Chaney, Burke, and Burkley (2011)found that many people, in fact, do not distinguish between their feelings between stereotypical Native mascots and actual, living, breathing, Native American people.
2. Steinfeldt et al. (2010)examined racial attitudes about Native Americans expressed in online newspaper forums, focusing on the nickname and logo used by the University of North Dakota’s “Fighting Sioux.” The study found support for the positions of anti-mascot activists and organizations that Native American mascots, nicknames, and logos perpetuate stereotypes. It also found that “Because sports fans have the power to play Indian without the consent of American Indians, relations between both groups are negatively affected"
Now that you have the *quick and dirty* background here we are in 2014! There has been a lot of movement this past months on this particular issue which (IMHO) has been growing since the 1960s and begins 2014 with the Twitterstorm heard round the water cooler. It is here that we get to watch the crazy that is Dan Snyder (owner of the Washing Racial Slur team) and see how the social media/information/internet age can chip away at a decades old fight against mis-representation.
#NotYourMascot trends on Super Bowl Sunday. ( February 2014)
On Super Bowl Sunday groups of people came together in support of the hashtag #NotYourMascot and subsequently trended on Twitter (during a day when the other trends were focused around the Super Bowl). Suddenly, Native issues of representation and mascots were front and center. This "Twitterstorm" was just one way to get people talking and to show the massive, diverse population in support of changing the name of the Washington Racial Slur team.
Does a hashtag change everything? No. But it does put voices in support of changing the name, and eradicating Native mascots front and center on an International stage. Twitter has become part of the national news media, they are consistently using Twitter for finding breaking news, updates, and/or communicating with mass groups of people. More and more people were talking, tweeting, writing and asking themselves "why is this still an issue? Why do we still have team names that are racial slurs? Shouldn't this be something that we can actually address and fix?" The national media was talking about it, the late night shows were talking about it, and Dan Snyder was thinking about it (I'm almost positive) because suddenly the voices speaking out against his racism were *not so silent.*
Dan Snyder starts a "foundation" to "help" Native Americans because the Washington Racial Slur team name is an honor and because throwing money at the problem seemed like a good idea at the time. (March 2014)
The OG AMericans Foundation (or wait, the OAF Foundation, or wait... whatever he calls it, okay, it's actually called "The Original Americans Foundation") was Dan Snyder's (owner of the Racial Slur team) attempt to start a foundation to give Native people coats and also somehow defend the use of the Racial Slur that is his team name.
Most people saw through it. In fact, Stephen Colbert used it to point out just how racist (ignorant, arrogant, patronizing) Dan Snyder really is. Of course this started a whole other controversy that I can't get in to here... but still. Dan Snyder's transparent attempt to buy the silence of Native people as if we are *for sale* was simultaneously hilarious... and infuriating.
This will be the first of a few really sad, disingenuous, desperate actions that Dan Snyder takes in an attempt to justify the use of a Racial Slur as a team name.
Richard Sherman is asked if the NFL would respond to racism the same way the NBA responded to Donald Sterling and Sherman says "No I don't. Because we have an NFL team called the Redskins. I don't think the NFL really is as concerned as they show. The NFL is more of a bottom line league. If it doesn't affect their bottom line, they're not as concerned. " (May 2014)
President Obama has also said the team should change their name.
Comedian Lewis Black says the team should change the name.
Senator Harry Reid (NV) says that Dan Snyder is "short sighted" and should change the name.
A group of 50 senators wrote letters to the NFL urging them to change the name of the Washington Racial Slur team.
So of course...Dan Snyder tries to find some Indians to say the name doesn't not or doesn't somewhat not bother them (or something). (May 2014)
(My guess as to what the announcement said) Call for Indians! We are looking for a few Indians who would like to come and hang out with us while we parade you around and tell people "see, Indians are willing to be seen in the same room as us! That means racism is OKAY!" You will be flying coach...
Actually what happened was "team intermediaries" tried to invite some tribal leaders to attend a meeting with the team without telling them what it was about. BLAH.
Also Snyder hired a lobbying firm because he wanted someone to go and tell people what a great thing racist team names are.
And his new foundation tried to sponsor a gold tournament and a bunch of other people pulled out because of it. The National Indian Gaming Association cancelled its sponsorship of the tournament. And Navajo pro-Golfer Notah Begay also pulled his foundations support from the tournament.
All told - he looks like he's on the run. We can see him sweating. He'll probably start getting mean now (mark my words). He will be done with his faux "I'm just here using a racial slur and giving you money for charity!" good guy act and he'll get to being mean. This will also... be hilarious and very sad all at the same time.
A new survey says that: 67% of Native Americans find the Washington (Racial Slur) name and imagery racist. (June 2014)
Remember the 2004 survey of "Native Americans" that Dan Snyder et al. keep referring to when they want to "prove" that Native people aren't bothered by the team name? Well now (finally) there was a new survey done by Dr. James V. Fenelon.
The Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies at California State University, San Bernardino has conducted a study on racial and ethnic perspectives on the team name Redskins and associated issues, and found that the large majority of American Indians, when properly identified and polled, find the team name offensive, disrespectful and racist.
Though another interesting finding is that: more than 60% of whites reject the term Redskins as racist, while more than 60% of Indians see the term Redskins as racist.
The "Proud to Be" commercial airs during the NBA playoffs (with support funding from the Yoche DeHe Wintu Nation). (June 2014)
And in response, John Oliver says: "The strongest possible push back you can have after watching something amazing like that is 'yeah but, uh, you're right, we've got to change the name, you're right, you're right."
Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc. (Today! June 18, 2014)
And then TODAY -- The US Patent and Trademark Office cancelled six federal trademark registrations for the name of the Washington Racial Slur team. What does it all mean?
First: this article -- http://www.myfoxdc.com/story/25808643/redskins-trademark-canceled-what-does-it-mean
"It DOES NOT mean that the Redskins have to change the team name, or stop using the trademarks at issue. Why? Losing the federal registration of a trademark does not necessarily mean that the owner loses all legal rights in the mark. That’s because trademark rights in the United States come from use of a mark on or in conjunction with goods or services, not merely from the additional, optional step of federal registration.
It DOES mean that if the cancellation of the registrations for the trademarks at issue is not appealed, or if the cancellation is not affirmed following possible review by a federal court, the team will lose the legal benefits conferred by the federal registration of the marks. Those benefits include the legal presumptions of ownership and of a nationwide scope of rights in these trademarks, the ability to use the federal registration ® symbol, and the ability to record the registrations with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Service so as to block the importation of infringing or counterfeit foreign goods."
The case that the decision was made for was this one: Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc. and you can read the decision here --http://www.uspto.gov/news/DCfootballtrademark.jsp
--Some choice quotes from the decision --
"The recognition that this racial designation based on skin color is disparaging to Native Americans is also demonstrated by the near complete drop-off in usage of “redskins” as a reference to Native Americans beginning in the 1960’s."
"The record establishes that, at a minimum, approximately thirty percent of Native Americans found the term REDSKINS used in connection with respondent’s services to be disparaging at all times including 1967, 1972, 1974, 1978 and 1990. Section 2(a) prohibits registration of matter that disparages a substantial composite, which need not be a majority, of the referenced group. Thirty percent is without doubt a substantial composite. To determine otherwise means it is acceptable to subject to disparagement 1 out of every 3 individuals, or as in this case approximately 626,095 out of 1,878,285 in 1990."
"Respondent has introduced evidence that some in the Native American community do not find the term “Redskin” disparaging when it is used in connection with professional football. While this may reveal differing opinions within the community, it does not negate the opinions of those who find it disparaging."
So Now What?
To explain that I'd have to tell you a story: (old Indian way of doing things...storytelling tradition etc. you understand : )
So today I'm sitting in line at the Starbucks drive through and I notice this big old crow fly up on this little bird that was perched on top of a light post. The crow nudged the bird off the light post and took over. The little bird started to fly around in a circle, perched itself on a neighboring tree for a bit and I thought "well, too bad little bird." The crow started squawking. "I'm a big old crow. Look at me on my new perch. WEEEE." Finally, the little bird flew over again and started to dive down toward the crow. The crow flew up and challenged the little bird and they flew around at each other for a while, a nip here and there. Finally the crow re-perched on the light post seemingly victorious. But the little bird didn't give up. The little bird kept diving and flying, diving and flying. Over and over again the little bird went. The crow squawked. The crow opened it's wings. But the little bird kept going until, just a few minutes later... the crow flew away.
And the little bird? Flew after that dang crow like a BEAST. Got in front of it, yelled at it and then flew back to it's perch on top of the light post.
Congratulations birds of feather... today we knocked Dan Snyder off of just one of his many light posts. That doesn't mean we don't have to keep flying after him.
Like many people are quick to point out: this does not mean that Snyder has to change the name of the team. This also does not mean that people will not come to his side or that it won't inflame those who continue to think this racial slur is a good idea. What this does mean-- people are talking about it. So let's keep talking about it.
Organize, write, make videos, make memes, tweet, take pictures, do what you do best. Get the word out farther and wider. Jump up and down, put up a celebratory dance video. Suzan Harjo said it best:
“I have had the privilege of being the kind of the face of this fight,” Harjo told Business Insider. “But I stand for lots and lots of people who are either vocal about it, or who want to be a part of it, or who are a part of it. This is not a small group of people. Now, it’s their fight. … We’ve said now is the time for everyone to just jump into this so that it’s not on the backs of a few people, especially a few young Native people.”
Come on little birds... fly.
Wanna know something you could do right now to help? Like "Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry" on Facebook. http://eonm.org/
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, fan of "The Good Wife" and "The Walking Dead", who likes to go for long walks on long piers...
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