In the matter of the (Washington) Redskins.
I don't like being lectured by sportscasters about ethnic sensitivity. Or advised by the president of the United States about changing team names. Or blackmailed by tribal leaders playing the race card.
I don't like the language police ensuring that no one anywhere gives offense to anyone about anything. And I fully credit the claim of Redskins owner Dan Snyder and many passionate fans that they intend no malice or prejudice and that “Redskins” has a proud 80-year history they wish to maintain.
The fact is, however, that words don't stand still. They evolve.
Fifty years ago, the preferred, most respectful term for African-Americans was Negro. The word appears 15 times in Martin Luther King's “I have a dream” speech. Negro replaced a long list of insulting words in common use during decades of public and legal discrimination. And then, for complicated historical reasons (having to do with the black power and “black is beautiful” movements), usage changed. The preferred term is now black or African-American. With a rare few legacy exceptions, Negro carries an unmistakably patronizing and demeaning tone.
If you were detailing the ethnic composition of Congress, you wouldn't say: “Well, to start with, there are 44 Negroes.” If you'd been asleep for 50 years, you might. But upon being informed how the word had changed in nuance, you would stop using it and choose another.
And here's the key point: You would stop not because of the language police. Not because you might incur a Bob Costas harangue. Not because the president would wag a finger. But simply because the word was tainted, freighted with negative connotations with which you would not want to be associated.
Proof? You wouldn't even use the word in private, where being harassed for political incorrectness is not an issue.
Similarly, regarding the further ethnic breakdown of Congress, you wouldn't say: “And by my count, there are two redskins.” It's inconceivable, because no matter how the word was used 80 years ago, it carries invidious connotations today.