The answer is that it is “More than a Word,” which is the name of a recently released documentary by John and Kenn Little, two Native American artists and brothers. Viewing this documentary, you become aware quickly that a word is a system of domination as James Baldwin says in the film. He was talking about the N-word and states when one takes away the N-word, the system falls apart. There is no domination left. This is the case with the word “Redskin.” I normally don’t say or write the word but will do so in this review to show its jarring force.
The film features informative and moving interviews of Native American activists who make it clear what the word represents. Suzan Harjo, the lead plaintiff in the first Supreme Court case against the use of the name “Redskin” by the professional football team, states that “Actions are preceded by thought. You don’t attach rights to people that are less than humans.” Tara Houska, another prominent activist, suggests, “As headdress characters, we are not in the modern dialogue.” Indeed without respect, there is no justice. The rights of a minority can never be fully realized when the majority in society hold stereotypical views of them.
Doesn’t the name “Redskin” symbolize bravery or honor as Dan Snyder asserts? While filming the movie, the Littles also made a shirt that has an advertisement from the Winona Daily Republican newspaper from 1863. This ad states, “The State Reward for Dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every REDSKIN sent to purgatory.” Instead of honor, the name “Redskin” is associated with genocide.
Moreover, as the film makes clear, there is power in an image. Whenever someone in the movie says the name honors Native Americans, the film cuts to singing and dancing, either at sporting contests or old movies that display despicable stereotypes of Native Americans. I am quoted in the movie as making a parallel to Jewish history and the series of names and symbols used to denigrate Jews. The words and images affect how the majority thinks. They seep into the subconscious of children and inform the views of emerging generations. Can a country respect a people that have been stereotyped and then construct equitable policy to right past wrongs? And how do we fix this? Start with getting rid of dictionary defined racial slurs and stereotypical mascots at sporting events. Then millions of fewer people will not develop stereotypical views.
Some of the most gripping moments occur when Amanda Blackhorse, the lead plaintiff in the second Supreme Court case against the name, describe her sacrifices and the threats she endured against her safety. Not a system of domination? Just a name? Tell that to Amanda Blackhorse.
The movie ends with an artists’ conference where Native American artists describe how they affirm their heritage and beat back stereotypes through art. They are using art and words to reclaim their history and their worth as a people. As a woman viewing the movie at the screening I was at in DC’s Takoma neighborhood stated, even some Native Americans became fans of teams with stereotypical images as they are clinging to any vestige of Native American worth in majority culture. Well, the Littles and the artists at the conference seek to change that and empower Native Americans through their own authentic art.
This is a powerful movie. You need to see it. The skeptics need to see it; some of them may change their minds. Consult the More Than A word webpage for screenings near you.