Project 21 New Visions

Stacy Swimp

It's Not Up to Obama to Rename the Redskins


by Stacy Swimp (bio)

 

The Obama PC police strike again.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled trademark registrations for the Washington Redskins football team. The federal agency made this rare move deeming the team's name offensive to Native Americans.

To be clear, I absolutely care about the concerns many Native Americans have about the term "redskin" being offensive. I know that, for centuries, black Americans were coined in all kinds of negative ways that were accepted by popular culture.

For blacks, the press and the mainstream society used names such as "free blacks," "freedman" and "colored" since our coming to America during the middle passage.

Blacks responded by seeking redefinition as "Afro-American" and "African-American." Yet even these terms, meant to empower, were never fully embraced because we are not monolithic.

Native Americans have similarly been subject to such labeling by the press and mainstream society.

I don't take it upon myself to tell Native Americans what they ought to be offended by or not. I don't ridicule Native Americans expressing dissent about the name "redskin." In fact, I denounce any such ridicule.

What concerns me is that the Obama Administration used its power to pick winners and losers in this dispute. Government has a duty to protect trademarks from abuse, not to decide which are worthy of such protection.

Assuming this power, the Obama White House awarded itself the ability to punish those it disfavors with economic ruin. The Washington Redskins may no longer be able to protect its image from other companies wanting to make team merchandise without normal licensing agreements.

"Washington Redskins" was found to cross the line for the Obama Administration. But what about the "Pimp Juice" drink, "Dago Swagg" clothing, "Cracka Azz Skateboards" and "My Dadz Nutz Carmelized Redskins" peanuts that still enjoy government trademark protection? These are clearly offensive, but are apparently not bad enough for Obama to act against them.

Fans of the Redskins football team take pride in the name and cheer reverently for its players. Can the same be said about fans of Dago Swagg clothing?

I completely reject the notion that it is the role of the federal government to intervene in this dispute.

This is a Native American problem with the team. But an intrusive federal government is exploiting the concern for political purposes.

Black Americans never asked the federal government to intervene in how we were depicted by the press or society at large as far as terms are concerned. The black community decided to create new definitions and, through activism and persistence, won acceptance of our self-definitions.

That is exactly how it was supposed to happen. It is precisely how this issue with the term "redskin" should be handled. It is between the Native Americans and the Washington Redskins to resolve or not resolve.

It is none of the business of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or any other federal agency.

It is apparent that the Obama Administration sees itself as a supreme arbiter able to usurp the rights of private citizens whenever it chooses and for whatever reason it chooses.

For Obama to come along and use a government agency to economically hurt a professional football team is a gross abuse of power.

If the government can go after this team in this way, it can likely go after any business, organization or social group that has similar trademarks, patents and copyrights if it chooses to do so.

It sets a precedent that should strike fear into people everywhere and on both sides of this issue because it shows that the government is willing and able to take sides in political disputes and bring harm upon those it opposes.

Let us learn this lesson before it's too late. If not, God help us.

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Stacy Swimp is a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.


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