Who knows what the term “redskin” originally meant, or implied? We know it referred to American Indians. We know the first appearance of the word, in writing, was in 1699, in a personal letter by Samuel Smith, collected in Colonial Days by Helen Evertson Smith (1900), p.49. The term “Red Skin” is not at all derogatory, but references the strong physique of the American native:
I do well remember ye Face & Figure of my Honoured Father. He was 5 foote, 10 inches talle, & spare of builde, tho not leane. He was as Active as ye Red Skin Men & sinewy. His delighte was in sportes of strengthe & withe his owne Hands he did helpe to rear bothe our owne House & ye Firste Meetinge House of Weathersfield [Connecticut]
So the term was obviously well-established by the end of the 17th century. In a simple, household letter, it referred to the athletic nature of the American Indian. What else might it have signified?
There were certainly numerous violent encounters between the natives and the European intruders between 1608 and 1699. There was plenteous occasion for derisive epithet to evolve in the language of both sides (though we know of no such names in the Indian languages for “white” people, then). And this is to say nothing of the earlier Spanish encounters. “Savage” is about the only word used that can be considered definitely negative, but the term obviously applies to both European and native in the way of brutality.
When and where “redskin” came to be utterly derogatory is non-demonstrable. How it came to be a synonym for brutality, savagery, or any other such term for unwanted, hideous human behavior, is left to the imagination.
It does appear, however, that by the early 18th century, that a dualistic stereotype of the American Indian was set in the minds of the English who were writing about Indians. Cadwallader Colden wrote (in 1727):
The Five Nations [Iroquois] are a poor Barbarous People, under the darkest Ignorance, and yet a bright and noble Genius shines thro’ these black Clouds. None of the greatest Roman Hero’s have discovered a greater Love to their Country or a greater Contempt of Death than these Barbarians have done.
The History of the Five Indian Nations (1727, 1747), p.vi. And then Colden (p.xxi) quotes Monseur De la Poterie, whom he presumed wrote of an earlier experience pertaining to Poterie’s captivity among the Iroquois (1647):
When one talks of the Five Nations in France, they are thoguht, by a common Mistake, to be meer Barbarians, always thirsting after Human Blood; but their true Character is very different: They are the Fiercest and most Formidable People in North America, and at the same time as Politick and Judicious as well can be conceiv’d. This appears from their Management of the Affairs which they Transact not only with the French and English, but likewise with almost all the Indian Nations of thie vast Continent.
The term “Red Skin” was just not making it in the lingua franca of educated white European men, if perhaps widely used in the vernacular. It does also appear, however, that most of the popular stereotypically negative images of American Indians developed during the 19th century. American media had more greatly developed by then, so that by the time of the plains wars, the Sioux, Comanche, and Apache were the national image–and that was plenty bad! And yet, the noble savage was equally present in that imagery.
David Yeagley, great-great grandfather Bad Eagle, in the Washington Times, July 16, 2012.
That, today, the liberal white psychologists would seek to eradicate history in the name of beneficent face-lifting for those whom the liberals deem oppressed or “hurt” by such terms as “savage” or “redskin,” only indicates a certain presumptuous naïvete. This childlike pretense, in lieu of the vicious coercion behind it, would tell the great “savage redskin” that he is to be hurt, offended, demeaned, by any reference to his history of noble defense of his own, and by any record of white reaction to Indian resistance.
I have personally fought (recently) for the honor which Indian mascots represent, and for the essentially innocent term “red skin.” The historical American Indian image represents something everyone wants to be: brave, bold, and noble. Indians were the “red” John Wayne, the Clint Eastwood, the Steven Segal, of an entire era. The white man has offered that impression of the Indian. Even the Negro indulges himself in it. Everyone wants to at least play Indian. How is this dishonor? What’s to protest?
Nathan Fenno, writer for the Washington Times (a known conservative paper) seems not to have studied out the matter any too carefully. Seemingly a nice enough guy, he completely and dramatically misstates the entire issue. (Fenno obviously consulted popular (liberal) online definitions of “redskin,” instead of researching actual history, or looking at the eight interviews a Comanche Indian did for Washington Times.)
Nathan Fenno, for Washington Times.
In “Redskins nickname an unwanted ‘honor’” Fenno parades every liberal and false view of the matter possibly contrived. This is most disappointing. Maddening, I should say. Fenno makes the same old liberal moves. Quoting Ben Campbell as a buttress for such arguments is particularly weak and misleading to ‘low information’ observers. (Campbell has never been regarded by Indians as a spokesperson. He is simply a liberal politician who happens to be part Indian.) Fenno’s otherwise well-written piece is nevertheless a compendium of hackneyed formulae generated by white liberal pop-psychologists, and offered up as superficial and specious political sociology. It is really quite immature and very wrong.
But, it is emotional. It is full of pity. It appeals to superficial, emotional reactions of everyone. It is a ready indulgence of compassion, of programmed pity. What I cannot understand is how the Washington Times would advocate such a position, even after posting the Comanche interviews. (Maybe that’s because, like Campbell, I don’t officially represent Indians either. I just speak my mind not as a chief, but as just another brave, as a Comanche conservative.)
This is just another case where white people, even caring white people, want to tell the Indian how to feel. If white people say “redskins” is bad, then all Indians are supposed believe it is. If white people say Indians are supposed to be hurt, then Indians must be hurt.
I call this weakness, of the lowest order. This is profound racism, of the worst kind.
Mr. Fenno, we can all thank you for your professional style of writing. We can all appreciate your concerns and utility as a writer. However, you are grossly out of place in your “Redskins” piece. Your position is retarded, old, and very uninformed. I don’t know what else to say. I seems to me that you are trying to rob the Indian of his distinction, of his historical honor. Like all liberals, you mistake “equality” for honor. Those of true distinction will never surrender to such a deceptive ploy.