With the Christmas holidays approaching, one of the best gifts I could receive would be the end of bad racial traditions.
As a native Washingtonian, charity begins at home.
Washington’s NFL team is seeing support fall away as an increasing number of news organizations drop the use of the team name. Even some supporters are suggesting that it may be time for a change, especially considering the team’s recent misfortunes.
Last season, quarterback Robert Griffin III – aka RG III – suffered a serious, possibly career-threatening injury as the team made a playoff run. This season, the team has the worst record (3-7) in what sportswriters say is the weakest division in the National Football League, the NFC East. Some ascribe the team’s misfortunes to its name and say it is time for change.
To put a fine point on it, a front-page photo in Monday’s Washington Post summed it up best. RG III was on the ground, under a pile of Philadelphia Eagles defenders, his helmet several feet away and an Eagles’ player’s foot headed to his face.
Maybe it is time for a change. Fans have held stranger superstitions about their teams like crossing fingers, turning beer bottle labels-forward to face the field, holding hands, lucky socks, shirts, scarves, etc., and as a popular commercial says, are only weird if they don’t work.
The name no longer works. It’s time to go.
It’s not just sports teams that are under pressure.
ABS reported recently that online retailer Amazon has taken heat for selling a “golliwog” costume, an outfit worn by a Black-face doll, in a style reminiscent of a minstrel show.
I wonder how parents explain such a doll for their children. One would like to think that perhaps they are bought and used for instructional purposes, to explain the history of bigotry, say, and then locked away for safekeeping, the way museum pieces are archived for historical purposes.
It’s okay to have a Christmas Wish List.
More likely, though, as the holidays approach, there will no doubt be other instances of offensive toys, t-shirts, images, practices – like the retailer a few years ago who broke apart a Black family of dolls and sold the mother and children as a family, leaving out the husband/father. The same family sets of white dolls were left intact.
After protests, the retailer took the Black dolls off the shelf until they could be restored to the original packaging.
And the image problem is not restricted to the U.S.
In the Netherlands, the tradition of Black Pete has come under fire.
According to the Dutch tradition, instead of elves, Santa Claus is helped by Black Pete, who keeps Santa on track, distinguishing the naughty from the nice and, at one point in the storyline’s history, carrying away bad children in a sack.
The Post reported that the tradition of whites dressing up as Black Pete in Renaissance dress and blackface is coming under protest and counter-protest.
A pro-Black Pete Facebook page has garnered more than 2 million hits, while a large debate has taken place on social media, TV talk shows, on the street and even in the courts. Even the United Nations has challenged the Dutch government about the practice, according to The Post.
Protesters on either side of the issue can point to what they consider the best and the worst of the image. Some say Black Pete represents slavery, while others – including some historians – say he represents black Moors, who were not servants and were noted for their exotic dress.
So, supporters claim, Black Pete honors Black people, the same way the Washington football team’s owners, past and present, have insistently and consistently claimed the name honors “where we came from, who we are,” as current owner Daniel Snyder has said.
While where we came from shapes much of who we are, it isn’t enough to stop there. We can always do better and should. There is so little to gain by being deliberately offensive and refusing to acknowledge the damage these images impart.
A little heat to accompany education and enlightenment may be a most practical and fitting contribution to updating some of these holiday traditions.
Let the giving begin.