I always assumed it was derogatory but then there’s this:
On Monday, Fox’s Outnumbered took on the controversy surrounding the NFL’s Washington Redskins, which reached a new level last week when 50 senators signed a letter urging the league to remove the “racial slur” from the team’s name. Of the five hosts, it was the one man, Pete Hegseth, who argued most aggressively in favor of keeping the name in place, saying it is actually a “term of respect” for Native Americans.
Is it possible that it was an horrific and a recognition of their ferocity?
Originally used by we Indians to distinguish ourselves from those unfortunates with white/paler skins. Redskin
I think we’re (Lenape - aka Delaware) in the OED as well, but OED won’t let you look up words without paying, apparently. I remember the first time I heard the term “Red Indian”. It was a real WTF moment.
The OED notes that “early quots. are in the speech of American Indians”, but in fact they are in the reported speech of American Indians - reported by whitefellas. Plus, either the American Indians spoke in their own language, in which case the report involves translation, or the American Indians spoke in English or French, in which case might they have used the terms which they understood their (white) interlocutors to use?
The earliest cite is from c. 1769:
Then there’s a cite from 1812:
And that looks as though redskin might have been pejorative by then.
And from 1823:
What all the early cites have in common is that they point to tension and mistrust between American Indians and while settlers. In that context, “redskin” might have been almost inherently pejorative in the mouths of whites, and if American Indians adopted the term and used it in discourse with whites, that might have been deliberately confrontational; challenging language, rather than an acceptance of the neutrality of the term.
On the other hand, the OED point out that the term comes into English from French, and that it came into French apparently as a transliteration of an Illinois term meaning “person with red skin”. Similarly, the use of the term in the 1815 quote is said to correspond to a Meskawi term (Meskawi being the vernacular of the speaker in that quote) which meant “person with brown skin”.
In short, the OED does suggest that the French, and then the English, acquired “redskin” by transliteration from one or more American Indian languages. The OED doesn’t suggest that this had anything to do with battle paint or body decoration.
One other point: Although the term has cites in English going back to at least 1769, the OED notes that it was popularised by J Cooper Fenimore, i.e. well into the nineteenth century, by which time negative attitudes to the American Indians were deeply entrenched. So while it may have originated as a neutral term in the mouths of American Indians, it may have been received into English as a pejorative.
The OED notes that it’s now “somewhat dated and freq. considered offensive”, and that highlights the point that whether the term is offensive or not is not determined by its origins, but by whether people are offended by it.
I don’t think that quote shows that. It’s not saying that “redskin” was used as a pejorative, but just that Indians weren’t trusted. Which is to say, it’s possible that “redskin” was a neutral term, but that Indians themselves were just looked on negatively, which seems to be what the rest of your cites suggest.
From an interesting article in the Washington Post 2005:
Not perjorative there. The article goes on to statements by Suzanne Harjo, who is an activist opposing the use of the term Redskin and the use of an actual people as mascots to a sports team.
Goddard says :
In context, then, French Crow’s use of the term “red-skin” appears to be a little less (self)-perjorative, to me anyway. After this, the article talks about the term entering the popular culture, becoming ever-more perjorative.
Goddard’s take on whether the term entered the various Indian languages from another (French) language or not:
ETA: University of Connecticut historian Nancy Shoemaker says “even if the Indians were the first to use it, the origin has no relationship to later use. What happened at the beginning doesn’t justify it today.” I concur.
Politically Correct sensitivities sometimes seem to go overboard just looking for something to be sensitive about.
Why is the team name “Atlanta Braves” considered racist? It hardly seems to be an offensive term, referring instead to a perceived quality of American Indians – bravery – that is highly prized. What’s the offense there?
You don’t see how reducing a people to a sterotype of violence and warfare could be offensive? Or how it’s not just the name, but it’s coupled with stereotypical violence imagery as well (tomahawk, and the old image of a mohawked warrior)? Or how a city like Atlanta really shouldn’t be celebrating its Muscogee heritage…especially as it did, with a pic of what looks like some sort of…Iriquois? Mohegan? Fucked if I can tell…
Sports are all about violence or at least supreme physical effort. That’s why mascots are typically fierce or powerful animals or people.
It’s intended to call to mind bravery/courage, physical and/or moral strength, agility, etc.
That’s why people are amused by oddball mascots like the Boll Weevil or Banana Slug.
The Chicago Blackhawks were named after the WWI infantry division, in which the hockey team’s founder had served. The name of the military unit happened to be the same as the name of the well-known and commemorated chief of a tribe of Indians in Illlinois, so it seemed fitting in the pre-PC era. The hockey team uses a likeness of the Chief on their sweaters.
FWIW, the NCAA after some effort finally got North Dakota to drop their Fighting Sioux nickname in 2012 and for the time being have no nickname at all. Florida State gets to keep the Seminole name because the local Seminoles in Florida say its okay. The Lakota people in the Dakotas weren’t quite so okay with North Dakota using their name.