Sometimes it’s not all in a name
November 10, 2005
We’ve read a lot about teenagers in this town getting into trouble, robbing stores, using drugs and alcohol.
So when I showed up to report on a dodge ball tournament Wednesday hosted by South Tahoe High School, I was astounded at the hundreds of kids who showed up, channeling all that teenage energy into something intense and exciting, yet harmless and positive.
In particular, one team stood out. They were six seniors who wore home-made costumes and make-up. They huddled and hooted before each game, drawing cheers and boos from the stadium.
The student body president said they exemplified school spirit, and they did. They spoke of pride as the main reason they were there that night.
As role models to the younger classes, they made dodge ball something cool.
Our editors had one problem. Their name, the Sneaky Indians, was definitely politically incorrect, and arguably derogatory. Yet I knew the team’s intent lacked malice or hatred.
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If anything, it displayed just a little bit of ignorance. But who knows, maybe one of them was Indian?
Our editors thought twice about printing the name. They argued it might be insensitive to our readers, and that the paper has been criticized for similar situations in the past. That’s an important thing to consider.
I argued that would leave out a remarkable element of the event. I said leave it up to the public to decide. The newspaper is not their big brother. In the end, the story was reworded, and the name was included. A “Sneaky Indian” photo did not run.
If there should be a discussion about whether this name was insensitive, how would it help things to leave it out of the story? That erases it from existence, denying the possibility of discussion.
Political correctness is one of the worst things to happen to this country.
Political correctness teaches us to erase incorrect words from our conversations, but it doesn’t teach us anything more about why what we think might be wrong. We censor our lives and squelch discussion.
I grew up in Georgia, where people let you know right off if they are racist. Because of that honesty, sometimes you’d get a chance to educate them on why they are wrong.
It was only when I lived in cities like Chicago and Oakland that I realized sometimes you don’t know when someone is racist, or maybe just a little bit ignorant, because they’ve been taught to censor their words.
Let me explain something: I have red hair and freckles. Most assume I’m Irish.
Most wouldn’t guess that I’ve got enough American Indian blood to qualify for federal benefits. I didn’t even think about applying for that aid, because I’m white, and I grew up with the privileges of a white person.
But both my grandmothers had the eagle nose, high cheek bones, deep brown eyes and skin of an Indian.
I couldn’t have gotten federal money either, because I couldn’t have proven my grandmothers had Cherokee blood, though many whites, and blacks, in the South do. That’s because the Cherokee learned to erase the word “Cherokee” from their reality and hide their true identity. Three generations later, my grandmother died proud of her Cherokee blood.
It just goes to show: Just because you stop talking about something, doesn’t mean it disappears.
It didn’t occur to me anyone would be offended by the high school team’s name; I was too busy being impressed by its enthusiasm. If someone is offended, I hope they don’t condemn the players. I hope they’d engage them in a thoughtful discussion.
I know I’ve got my own prejudices buried deep down. We all do.
I hope I don’t ever offend someone by saying something “incorrect.”
But if I do, I hope they’ll take a step back to see where my heart was. I hope they let me know if I’m ignorant and talk with me respectfully about a better way of thinking, instead of just a better way of talking.
– Amanda Fehd is a Tahoe Daily Tribune reporter.