My username for WordPress isn’t kaleshot — it’s DCsaxa. This is a play on my alma mater’s slogan, “Hoya Saxa,” which when translated means “What Rocks.” So, you can do the wordmath: DCsaxa is my ode to DC. DC rocks.
It took me a long time to come to this conclusion. When I arrived in DC in 2007, I knew virtually nothing about the city. I immediately fell in love with Georgetown, a neighborhood filled with bookstores, cafes, achingly beautiful homes, running trails, a world-class waterfront park, and so much more. But the rest of the city seemed, in 2007, to lack a definitive character. DC is obviously a city of transients — I saw it plainly when, in the first few seasons of the new Nationals baseball team, friends only wanted to go a game when the Nats were playing their real baseball team, the one from an actual place with actual fans. Everybody knows that thousands of people drop into DC for a few years to putter around on Capitol Hill before heading back to their home state. We joke that the first question you get asked at a bar is either, “What do you do?” or “Where are you from?” — something that I’m sure, if I waltzed into a bar in Cleveland, Madison, Austin, or maybe even a big city like Chicago, wouldn’t be an immediately obvious inquiry.
But after hanging out here for close to six years, I stand by “DC saxa” — because this city is really great. Beyond the National Mall, there’s Meridian Hill Park. There’s the constantly-evolving strip of restaurants on 14th Street that’s got me emptying my wallet every weekend, there’s Embassy Row west of Dupont Circle that challenges my flag knowledge, there are the tiny commercial districts in Mt. Pleasant and Petworth, there’s Rock Creek Park and the National Botanical Gardens and a bevy of rooftops with really amazing views of our monuments, which, let’s face it, we never get tired of looking at.
So I think that’s why I’m so upset about the apparent hometown apathy over the re-naming crisis surrounding the Redskins football team. The facts are very clear: The name “Redskins” is racist. It doesn’t matter if you weren’t raised to understand that; the people to whom the name refers, Native Americans, find it hurtful and racist, and therefore it is.
Should a White American decide which words ought to offend Black Americans, deciding that maybe one is alright, while another is inappropriate? Should a non-Asian American decide which slurs are offensive to Asian Americans, and which ones aren’t? Absolutely not! If a word offends, if it’s been used historically as a pejorative, if it’s indicative of years of repression, and in the case of Native Americans, genocide — then in what world should it represent one of the largest football franchises in the country? And worse, in what world should the team’s own fans want that name to remain?
It’s hard enough living in a city that I must constantly defend to outsiders.
No, the historic surplus that the city of Washington currently enjoys isn’t a result of federal largesse. Actually, it’s more like speed cameras, parking tickets, and income taxes. No, we don’t ALL work for the federal government, we aren’t ALL lackeys of some ineffective Congressperson or another, we don’t ALWAYS argue about tax policy and we aren’t ALL entitled, smug 20-somethings marching into Northern Virginia and DC to push out all of the long-time residents and brazenly ignore the culture that actually pre-dated our own privileged existence in the Nation’s capital.
And on top of all of that — no, we aren’t ALL racists, but what are we telling the rest of our country when 79% of the franchise’s fans are polled and say they think the name should stay the same? Do Redskins fans want their team to be known for the awe-inspiring prowess of RGIII or for a name that offends an already-repressed group of people? Do we want to become the mockery of the Nation when our team makes it to the Superbowl and this is all anybody can focus on? Do we want to have to defend THIS on top of every other wrongful insult that’s hurled our way?
My last point is this: Sometimes you aren’t raised to understand that one word or another is bad. When I was in high school, I heard a slur that I didn’t realize was one, and thought for a good while that it was just a funny word. To this day, I have to consciously remind myself that the word IS a slur, even if it doesn’t sound a red alarm, knee-jerk-reaction in my brain the way more obvious slurs, like the n-word, do. Just like learning to walk again, where one must physically, consciously will your muscles to move rather than have them shift along in a completely subconscious manner, we as a city must consciously will ourselves to understand that “Redskins” is racist, if it won’t just come naturally.
The attitude of Washingtonians and Northern Virginians who can so breezily dismiss the origins of the word after it’s been plopped in front of them in the most obvious, articulate, clear-cut manner possible, saddens me. This is a great place, a city and region that’s too often dismissed, ridiculed, and shot down for reasons I constantly fight against in conversations with locals and non-locals alike.
Don’t let our football team prove any of the haters right.
And, as always, DC saxa.