Are You Offended?

Sep 042003
Authors: Pete Schulman

CSU lost the big football game against CU, but the Buffalos still had to go back to Boulder after the game. We at least got to drive home to Fort Collins. So I ask, who was the real winner Saturday?

But even Fort Collins has its share of annoying people. During a radio show on KCSU over the weekend, a listener called in to say that he was offended by the DJ names “JAH” and “Massablassa.” He complained that Massa is derogatory because that’s how slaves called white people “master” and that JAH, the Rastafarian word for God, is derogatory; “how would you like it if someone called himself the Christian God?” he asked. The caller then hung up before either DJ could explain themselves.

Jon, a.k.a. JAH, explained to me “[The caller] was worried I was making light of it, of God or the religion. My name is out of respect for the religion, really… I got the name as a result of my Caribbean heritage, my dad was conscious of the fact that my initials are J.A.H. I was not named out of disrespect, but out of respect, not to make a mockery of the religion.” Mike, a.k.a. Massablassa, had similar comments. “I got the name from a Stevie Wonder song that is about Bob Marley called Masterblaster (Jammin’ part 2). I just said it a little quicker so it sounds like Massablassa. I mean, I’m a reggae DJ, I don’t try and say any race is better than another, reggae is just accepting in general.”

This sort of thing happens in sports as well as radio. The NFL’s Washington Redskins have been under fire to change their name and mascot. There is currently a case in federal court between the owners of the team and a group of Native Americans. Washington Post staff writer Carol D. Leonnig writes “The Native Americans, led by Cheyenne activist and District resident Suzan Shown Harjo, said “the team’s name and feather-wearing Indian mascot trivialize a tragic time when Indians were victims of genocide and forced off their land by settlers and U.S. soldiers.'” Pro-Football Inc., the corporation that owns the Redskins, argues that the team has changed the connotation of the name to one that is “powerfully positive.” However, Merriam-Webster’s Colligate dictionary still defines redskin as “usually offensive: American Indian.” Usually offensive, but not always?

I myself am a big Redskins fan, I would be sad to see the name and uniform I have rooted for since I was 12 go. How would you feel if animal-rights activists objected to the personification of the Rams or the Broncos or even the Buffalos? I do not want to see the only objects considered appropriate for mascots become inanimate or make-believe, such as Comets or Hoyas. But at the same time I think people have a right to not be belittled as a race, even if the Redskins players and management have no such intentions of doing so. I think writer Gregg Easterbrook, the first Brookings scholar to ever write a pro football column, has come up with the best solutions to assuage both the Native American sympathizers and the sentimental fans. He suggests that the team keep the name Redskins, but change the mascot to a bowl of potatoes.

“Alternatively,” he writes, “the team could adopt a genuine native name. Cho nnee means “large people” in Apache — the Washington Cho Nnee would be quite a cool name.”

Apparently you have to be sensitive when choosing a name nowadays. Whether you’re doing it out of respect (JAH) or you just think it’s fun to dress a mascot up like a Native American, it seems someone is going to get offended. I suppose the best solution would be for people to think before offering judgment. Or better yet, not judging at all because no one knows everything. If the Redskins did a little research into American Indian culture, they might have thought of a cooler sounding and inoffensive name. If the caller to the radio station had bothered to find out about what JAH and Massablassa meant to Jon or Mike, he might have realized that there was nothing but love behind the names. And that is the ultimate advice I am leaving: everyone is coming from a different perspective. You owe it to them to try and empathize with them before making judgments about what is offensive to you and what isn’t. And you should listen when I say this, because I am God.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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