Saturday, March 22, 2014

Time to update the "Washington Redskins"

Or, Why I'm Not Electable, Part Three and a Half

There’s a growing groundswell of public opinion over the past few years calling on the Washington Redskins football team to change its name and logo. The word “redskin” is obviously racist and hard to defend in the 21st century. The owners of the team have no good arguments to defend themselves, insofar as they even bother to talk about it. I agree with the critics, but only up to a point, and here I offer a compromise that the critics have to accept if they don’t want to be hypocrites.

Here’s where I agree with the critics:

Racism has been a major influence on the history of the U.S. Some of the influences are obvious and others are more subtle. Racism works in ways that many people don’t notice, and there are forms of racism that go unnoticed because many people simply prefer not to acknowledge it. “Racist” is a label that is easier to put on someone else than oneself, because sometimes it’s hard to see racism in yourself. One kind of racist behavior tends to promote other racist behaviors, and people use one form of racism to justify other forms of racism. I think we can all agree that sometimes people don't see their own racism even if it's obvious to other people. With me so far?

Now, here’s where I’m critical of the critics:

I don’t know if this makes a real difference or not, or whether it changes anything at all, but most Native American tribes today are also overtly racist organizations. Whether anyone wants to recognize it or not, most tribes are by their nature racist institutions. They were created by one form of racism and now maintained by another form. “Indian tribes” were and are to some degree products of white racism. They have suffered hardship, even genocide, at the hands of white-supremacist racism. Nowadays, native tribes have added to that racism their own form of Indian racism.

Pick at random any federally recognized Indian tribe and take a look at its constitution, especially its membership policies. Most of them still use a “blood quantum” measurement for membership. For example, you must be “1/8th Cherokee” to be a member of the Cherokee tribe. That’s by definition a racist rule. That’s just as racist as what the Daughters of the American Revolution used to do, which was to require its members to be white. That’s no less racist than the Nazi’s hiring you or killing you depending how little or how much Jewish ancestry you had.

Now, imagine if a professional sports team was organized that way. Imagine if an NFL team required that all its players had to be “at least 1/16th white.” That would and should be considered racist. (And American sports leagues used to be like that, banning people from playing based on arbitrary racial definitions.) If a team did that, the owners ought to be branded as Nazis, racists, bigots, all the words you can think of. I'd be right there branding them that, too.

(Ignore for the moment the fact that people are not fractions of races. No one has this percent of X blood and that percent of Y blood. There’s no such thing as blood quantum. It’s a racist illusion, or at best a racist metaphor.)

Meanwhile, what the “blood quantum” standard has created is a very diverse group of people who are card-carrying tribal members. Native Americans are a much more diverse population than most people realize. That doesn't mean tribes aren't racist, just that the racism may not be obvious. Anyone, no matter what that person looks like, could be a member of a native tribe. There are some tribal members out there with blonde hair and blue eyes. You CANNOT assume that someone wearing a Redskins jacket is not a Native American, no matter what the person looks like.
You can't look at a photo of the owner of the Redskins and just tell by looking at him that he's not a member of an Indian tribe. You can guess, but it's just a guess, and it's a racist guess. (That guess is correct, by the way, but it's still a racist guess.)
Don’t be one of those racist progressives who expect all Indians to have long, straight black hair or expect all Indians to talk like the ones on "Northern Exposure." You cannot say that Native Americans can use native icons but white people can’t, when there are people who are both white and native.

The Perfect Compromise
The legal solution is totally obvious:
The Washington Redskins organization should incorporate itself as an actual Indian tribe.
The team should file the paperwork to get U.S. government recognition. That way, it can be as racist as it wants to be, it has the sovereignty to use its symbols however it wants, and no one is allowed to question its racism as long as the team claims that it’s a fundamental part of its indigenous heritage.
Then, it can come up with the same kind of membership policies as any other tribe. To appease native critics, it can come up with its own blood quantum requirement. Let’s say to play on the team you have to be at least 1/64th native American. If documentation is not available, then a player just needs to sign an affidavit swearing he’s got some native ancestry somewhere.

When a player is cut from the team, retires, or his contract runs out, then that’s just “disenrollment,” which a lot of tribes do today as well. Most tribal constitutions allow tribes to cancel membership. They can actually declare someone “no longer an Indian.” Talk about racist power structure -- they can unilaterally change a person's racial status.

That would also open up new revenue streams for the team. Tax-exempt businesses in the stadium, a casino area in the training facility, the right to hunt whales and sell the meat to Japan, etc. All kinds of business opportunities.

Then, any Native American critics would become total hypocrites instead of just partial hypocrites. They may not want to draw too much attention to the details of tribal politics.

Applying for tribal recognition would also help show the public that the team owners are not racist against indigenous people. It's hard to brand them as anti-Indian if they officially embrace that identity. Hard to say they hate people if they want to join those people.

Of course “Redskin” is still a hateful, racist name. But, many common names for Native American groups began as racial slurs anyway. “Sioux” and “Iroquois” are hateful names given to those groups by their rivals. These names can and have been rehabilitated to some degree and could even be sources of pride. And, there are plenty of accepted tribal nicknames based on some sort of physical appearance. Maybe it’s no different than referring to a native group as the Blackfeet or the Flathead or the Nez Perce (Pierced Nose). "Red skin" could be a reference not to skin tone but to decorative paint. In any event, it's sacrilegious and even racist to tell a tribe what they can and cannot call themselves.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Religion is a kind of atheism.

If atheism is a religion, then religion is a form of atheism.
Bill Maher and other outspoken critics of organized religion are often met with the argument that atheism is itself a kind of religion. The implication seems to be that even atheists are religious, so therefore no one is really an atheist, so atheists are hypocrites because they say they’re against religion but they really have their own religion.

Okay. Let’s say that’s true for the moment. Let’s say atheism really is its own religion.
If so, that means we could just as easily say that every religion is a form of atheism. Religious people can’t be against atheism too much, because every religion has atheism as part of it. True believers are themselves atheists.

Look at it logically. Mathematically, even. If you count up all the gods people worship and count each one as one god, then every Christian, Jewish, and Muslim true believer is more than 99% atheist. Here’s why:

Almost every religion, and certainly every monotheistic one like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, says that there are people out there in the world who worship false gods. A dedicated monotheist looks at other religions in the world and says “that god doesn’t exist,” “those people are crazy to think that false god will answer their prayers,” “those people are deluded into worshipping something that doesn’t exist,” “this religion over here is just silly superstition,” etc.  

If there’s only one true god, then all those others don’t exist. So, when they look at all the religions on the planet and all the gods that people worship all over the world, true believers say that 99.99% of those gods simply don’t exist. They’ve eliminated the possibility of thousands of gods and left only one.

That’s just one step away from total atheism. An atheist just takes the argument one tiny step further. Atheists just round up from “99.99% false” to “100% false.” Really, Christians and atheists are arguing over a fraction of a percentage point. Christians deny the existence of 999 gods, while I question the existence of 1000.

If you were really strongly against atheism, you would become a polytheist or a universalist. That way you could at least have numbers on your side.

It's really not in any religion's best interest to say that atheism is a religion. If atheism is a religion and atheism is wrong, then that means an entire religion could be wrong. Okay, so what religious people are saying is that an entire religion could be made up of delusional people. Agreed.

And, if atheism is a religion, then atheism deserves protection under freedom of religion. If it's okay to teach religious values in public schools, and atheism is a religion, then it's okay to teach atheistic values in public schools.

Just simple, basic logic, no faith required.


Friday, March 7, 2014

(Don't) Tell Me What You're Thinking

Here’s a common scenario. Not universal, and sometimes a stereotype, but common:

A woman wants her male partner to speak more openly about what he’s thinking or feeling. He continues to keep his thoughts or feelings to himself.

Sound familiar? Now, how do we explain this phenomenon?

This phenomenon happens for multiple reasons. Put away your axe to grind for a moment. There is not just one factor at work here. It’s just not as simple as “women say X and men say Y.” It’s not as simple as “women are raised to be X” and “men are raised to be Y.” It is not just some simple sort of gender programming where women tell men to share their feelings, while men tell men not to share their feelings. Don’t put the blame all on men or all on women.
Here’s just one factor:

Men do pay attention to signs and signals about how they’re supposed to communicate feelings. We men pay attention to the messages, but collectively the messages seem inconsistent. Men are actually getting many conflicting messages about sharing their feelings, and many of those mixed messages are from women, not from men. Any common male behavior you don’t like is in some part a product of women’s behavior, just as any female behavior you don’t like is in some part a product of men’s behavior. I have always paid far more attention to what women say about feelings than what men have said. My caution about sharing feelings has way more to do with messages from women than from men.

Contrary to the popular stereotype, women do not spend all their communication with men trying to get men to talk more. Consciously or unconsciously, women spend at least some of their time *discouraging* men from talking.

Look around at male/female romantic relationships on the whole. For every moment like this scenario where a woman says “tell what you’re thinking!”, somewhere there’s another woman telling a man “I don’t want to hear it!” In some cases, a man may hear mixed messages from the same woman, even within the same conversation. For example, “tell me what you’re thinking,” then his honest answer, then she says, “I can’t believe you said that to me!” Bingo, mixed message – encouragement followed up with a penalty.

Other ways people discourage honesty or openness in their partners:
  1. Asking him to lie for you to other people
  2. Complaining that he was not convincing enough in his lies to other people
  3. Complaining to your friends, “Can you believe he said that to me?”
  4. Telling him “wrong answer!” when he speaks honestly
  5. Telling him what words to say to you
  6. Telling him what words to never say to you
  7. Telling him “here’s what I want to hear from you right now.”
  8. Asking a question that demands The Right Answer
  9. Asking a question that’s really a cover for another question
(Does any of THAT sound familiar?)

I’m not sure many people understand how the same question can sound so different to a man compared to a woman. I don’t know if many women realize how much “what are you thinking?” sounds like a trick question. This is where one of those big miscommunications happens. What something sounds like may be totally different than the original intent. Men hear a trick question even if most of the time it’s not meant to be a trick question.

It only takes a few times before even the stupidest man starts to apply inductive reasoning – that old thing where “two times is a coincidence, three times is a pattern.”

So, in the absence of consistent messages, many unsure or literal-minded men like me choose caution as the best approach. This is not the best approach for the relationship as a whole, obviously. Over the long term it’s one of the worst approaches, actually. But, in the moment, from the guy’s perspective, discretion feels like the better part of valor. This is not to rationalize a man’s emotional distance, but to explain where he may be coming from.

Yes, your butt does look big in those jeans. My butt looks big in my jeans, too.