Essential DC, History, Interviews, Life in the Capital, Opinion, Special Events, Sports Fix, The Features, They Make DC, We Love Arts

Local Indigenous Artist Showcases the Racism of Redskin

(c) Gregg Deal

(c) Gregg Deal

Those who think the continuing movement to change the name of the local pro football team is a waste of time and trivial were clearly not at the recent Art All Night event here in the District. Secreted in one corner of the venue was local Indigenous artist Gregg Deal. His project, “Redskin,” took on the racial overtones of the team moniker and projected it at his audience.

What he, nor spectators or his helpers predicted was just how pointed it ended up being.

Deal first let me know of the project in early September. What initially struck me about his proposed performance piece was the fact he was willingly subjecting himself to some serious abuse. Natives in the area–as well as those protesting football games elsewhere in the country–have always been subjected to abuses by team fans, especially if they’re open about their opposition to the name. (Witness the reactions by fans, as recalled by several Natives, during a recent taping for The Daily Show.)

So why do it, especially in an art venue? “As people of color, or more specifically, Indigenous people, we deal with something called microaggression. It’s the needle pricks in our general American society and culture that says or does things that are offensive to Natives. They’re called ‘microaggression’ because they are passive aggressive enough to get by your average person, but still aggressive,” said Deal. “For example, when I worked at the National Museum of American Indian in 2004-2005, someone asked me if I still lived in a Tipi. This would be microaggression because it’s an insane questions that is based on stereotypes, but it’s also a statement about what this person believes quantifies me as an Indigenous person.”

The term ‘redskin,’ painted faces and faux headdresses, drunken war chants – these are all examples of microaggression. Deal’s performance piece was meant to use all of these abuses, commonly found in tailgate parties at FedEx Field and used by team fans around the world, over an eight-hour period. “I ended up calling it after just over four hours,” said Deal. “All of us–my friends who were helping me and myself–were just mentally and psychologically drained from the experience.”

Bryce Huebner, an Associate Professor at Georgetown University, was one of Deal’s assistants who played a part of one of the abusive fans. “I said things that I would never say in real life, in hopes of making it clear how ugly and harmful the casual racism against indigenous people in the United States is,” he said. “I was struck by how difficult it was to start playing that role, when I arrived my heart was pounding and I could hardly speak; but more troubling by far was the fact that it became easy to continue as I started to play off of the other actors. There’s an important lesson there: if you surround yourself with people who espouse hostile attitudes, it’s much easier to adopt those attitudes yourself.”

Deal said a lot of the audience mentioned to him how truly real it felt, watching it unfold, and he agreed. “After it got rolling, the invective felt truly real, like a few situations I’ve found myself in around the District.” When I mentioned that a Huffington Post review said it was unauthentic because he had used his friends as the antagonists, Deal laughed. “They should’ve been in my place, then. It certainly felt real to me.”

Deal (seated) in the middle of his "Redskin" performance. (c) Darby

Deal (seated) in the middle of his “Redskin” performance. (c) Darby

Tara Houska, a board member of Not Your Mascots and a big proponent of the name change movement in the District, was one of the audience members. “The experience of watching Indigenous-based racism being hurled at a Native was difficult, to say the least,” she said. “Some of those phrases hit too close to home, and brought me back to moments in which I’ve experienced racism. At times, it was hard to keep in mind that it was a performance. I wanted to yell at the antagonizers to back off, and felt the hurt Gregg must have been feeling.”

Both Houska and Deal were also participants in the recent Daily Show segment that showed a panel of team fans and a panel of Indigenous people who, after separate discussions, confronted each other through the show’s direction. The segment has had mixed reaction in the press, with a lot of sympathy generated for the four white fans (who all self-identified as some fraction of various tribes, but with no real knowledge of their heritage – or, in one case, how generational fractions work). The incidents taped at FedEx field later between some of the Native panelists (specifically, the 1491s) and fans weren’t shown, which is unfortunate.

“Honestly, both the Daily Show and my art performance felt very similar,” said Deal. “The racism against Indigenous people in this country is so ingrained it it’s culture that the only way a team could exist as a mascot (which is defined as a clown, a court jester, by the way…nice ‘honor’) in the first place. The Washington Redskins–and other Indian mascots–are a really good illustration of not only how disconnected America is from it’s own history, but how disconnected it is from the issue of equality towards Indigenous people is. We are literally sitting on an issue where a significant amount of this country’s Indigenous are saying ‘it’s offensive’ and the answer is ‘no, it’s not offensive at all!'”

Gregg Deal with "Colonialism"

Gregg Deal with “A Nice Can of Colonialism”

Deal went on to say the whole movement to change the name isn’t really about offense, but about equality. “What you’re looking at is the tip of a very big iceberg of issues that are simply illustrated by this specific issue. The fact that we don’t seem to own our identity enough for someone to allow us to assert that identity appropriately, but that a corporate sports team is making billions from our image and likeness and has the audacity to fly it under the flag of honor is insanity,” he said. “Let’s be honest here, it’s not about honor, tradition, or any other lame excuse Dan or his constituents are saying. It’s about money, and the fans have all bought into supporting one of this country’s financial top one percent.”

Houska felt that Deal’s passion really came through in his performance piece, and she applauded him for taking a stand in such a public way. “I think it was a very in-your-face method to get locals aware that Natives experience racism, including the racist imagery and name of the Washington team,” she said. “We have all experienced being belittled and told to ‘get over it.’ I hope that people walked away with a sense of understanding that microaggression is a very real and damaging thing. And how it feels to be deluged by caricatured Natives via the Washington football team and having no say in it, despite being the subject of that caricature.”

Deal agreed. “I believe the term REDSKIN, if it belongs anywhere…it belongs to Indigenous people. In the same way the Black community essentially own the N-word,” he said. “While there are different schools of thought on that word and it’s usage in the Black community, it’s understood that if you use that word outside the Black community, you’re a certain type of person. The word ‘redskin’ belongs to us, and it’s not up to [non-Indigenous people] how it’s used.”

For more information on the name change social media movement, visit Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, Not Your Mascots, or follow the #changethename hashtag on Twitter.

History, Opinion, Sports Fix, The Features

Hey R**skin Fans, Snyder Cares! (Not Really)

With little fanfare, Washington pro football team owner Dan Snyder slipped a letter out to the team’s fan mailing list this past Sunday. It was a masterful work of self-service. In it, Snyder finally realized there were problems in Indian Country, based on a supposed 26 visits to various reservations around the country. The visits – all cherry-picked to councils who “agree” with him about the “non-offensive” nature of the team’s moniker – apparently opened his eyes to the plight and ills of reservation residents.

Let’s set aside for a moment that Snyder refuses to meet with tribal councils who oppose the name, including the still-open invitation from the Oneida Nation in New York. Snyder quickly jumped to the “hey, there’s more important issues to deal with than changing a football team’s name” defense, pointing out the horrific poverty rates, unemployment, poor health, and abysmal education found on many Native reservations. And yes, these are real problems. Big ones. Continue reading

Essential DC, Life in the Capital, Opinion, S/He Loves DC, She/He Loves DC, The Features

Why I (Still) Love DC

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since I wrote one of these. (Not that I’m required to this time around.) During yesterday’s festivities at a friend’s house – a place my wife and I have celebrated Independence Day for the last seven years – someone new to our gathering asked me how long I’d been writing for WeLoveDC. That’s when it dawned on me that it’s been half a decade since we unveiled the site to the world.

When we initially launched, our crew of rebels all wrote a piece on why we loved DC. The more I thought about it last night, the more I realized that I needed to revisit my own thoughts on the matter. Five years is a long time here in the District, especially at the speed of digital noise in which we traverse our daily lives. Continue reading

Business and Money, Downtown, Education, Essential DC, History, Life in the Capital, Opinion, People, The Features

A Conversation on Culture and Change Regarding the Washington [blank]s

Photo courtesy of BrianMKA
FedEx seats
courtesy of BrianMKA

By now, local Washington media has covered the internet with their summaries of a timely – yet still largely ignored – issue involving a particular football team located in this area. While Racial Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in American Sports spoke to the broader issues regarding Native American culture and peoples and their use as sports logos and traditions, make no mistake: the local NFL team’s moniker was a lynchpin in the discussion. The topic was subject of one-third of the day’s symposium, and itself is well-covered elsewhere. (You can watch the recording online in its entirety.)

I couldn’t attend in person, so I settled for the live webcast. And I’ve spent time re-watching the panels as well, because there was so much information and passion involved I couldn’t catch all of it the first time around. I could probably write several blog posts about the topic, and may yet in the future.

But what I wanted to really comment here and now, since other outlets are more focused on the local team aspect, is some key comments made by Director Kevin Gover at the start of the day. Thanks to NMAI, I received a full copy of his remarks; they provide a context that is important to the background of the overall discussion. While I won’t simply copy them all here – you can listen to Dr. Gover online for that – I did want to point out some relevant comments. Continue reading

Music, Opinion, The Features, We Love Music

We Love Music: Field Trip: What I learned at Coachella 2012

Coachella at dusk, photo by Martin Silbiger

Last weekend I spent a sunny, super-hot, music-filled 3 days at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, in Indio, California, just outside of Palm Springs. The festival, which has taken place since 1999, features five main stages/tents set up with music of many genres playing from as early as noon each day until after 1am, and art installations spread throughout the festival grounds. This was my fifth year attending the festival. I’ve never written about the experience before, so I thought I’d compile a few things I have learned from the Coachella experience. (While these are based on my experience at Coachella, they can be applied to most big music festivals with success too…)

1. Hydration is key. Temperatures for weekend two of Coachella 2012 got to a high of 106. I think the hottest I felt was during Yuck‘s 3:15pm set on the Outdoor Stage on Friday. I felt approximately like a baked potato, wrapped in foil, on the surface of the sun. I credit spf 110 spray (yes, they make spf that strong), drinking copious amounts of water, iced lemonade and some powerade to my ability to have fun and stay standing, dancing, and running around for 13 hours a day, for the 3-day festival.

2. Ask people who they’re excited to see. Taking recommendations from people on what bands to see can be a great thing. There is nothing quite as magical as discovering a band you didn’t know, or haven’t listened to yet and finding out how amazing they are. And if they’re not your thing, you just run off to the next stage or tent and listen to something else. This is how I came to see some of my favorite acts of the festival! Other Lives and Wild Beasts are a couple of these.

3. Don’t be too shy to dance! Here’s a tip- no one gives a @#$! how you dance, or how silly you look. Everyone is there to have a good time, and they’re paying attention to the band/dj. Let loose- you’ll have more fun!

Kasabian @ Coachella 2012, photo by author

4. It’s ok to hang in the back for a set, but get close to the front for at least one band you like! It isn’t easy to get up front for big acts, and sometimes it isn’t even enjoyable. But it’s certainly a different experience being up close vs. being in the back for a set. There are upsides and downsides to both. Sometimes you just need air and space that being in the back or middle allows. But being close up can be a much more interactive and exciting experience. I was right up front for Atari Teenage Riot, and the energy was awesome. Also I got in the front row for Kasabian, which was super exciting! I didn’t expect Kasabian fans to be so insane- I got crowd-surfers passed over my head, and got bruises in the pattern of the guardrail on my knees. But it was exhilarating and super-fun! Definitely a unique experience. (Truth be told, you may decide being right up front isn’t for you- it’s not for everyone. And to get in the front row you usually have to camp out in that spot for quite a while, and may miss other bands on other stages- that is the compromise.)

 5. Make a plan, but be flexible. When going to a big festival, there are a ton of bands playing, and it’s just a fact- you won’t see them all. Make a plan of attack- who do you have to see, who do you kind of want to see, etc. If you don’t plan it out a little, you’ll risk missing someone you wanted to see. At Coachella this is key, because there are 5 stages, schedule conflicts galore. With a little planning you can make the most out of your time. Compromise is key, and with flexibility you can also check out bands you haven’t seen or heard before, which is one of the most amazing parts of a festival for me- finding new awesome music.

Crime & Punishment, Opinion

Opinion: Why We Worry About Radios and Openness

Photo courtesy of Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie
Nacho #24
courtesy of Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie

If you want a clear explanation about why some of us were – and are – irked by the MPD moving to encrypted police radios, well, look no further than last Friday’s court decision ordering the MPD to release documents that DC law says they must.

It’s not the fact that there was a fight over releasing documents; in the FOIA world there’s a constant struggle between the ‘forces of openness’ and the government employees who don’t always want to share information – whether it because they want to keep it secret or because they just don’t think taking the time is a priority.

What is in this decision that causes worry – now that radios can’t be overheard and we’re reliant on what the MPD chooses to reveal – is the court’s finding that MPD and the city attorney walked some line between ignorance and sloth on one end and flat-out deception on the other. Judge Macaluso talks about the MPD’s decisions to withhold entire documents as sensitive and opens with “this avowal is transparently false for almost every document for which it is asserted.”

Continue reading


Why I Love DC: Mickey

Photo courtesy of furcafe
courtesy of furcafe

“What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery, and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” — Rob Gordon, High Fidelity (film)

DC, I know I love you because you’re so capable of breaking my heart.

I came to town by design in 1996. I was a sailor in the US Navy, and I knew for certain that I wanted to go to grad school at American University and get my Master’s degree in journalism. I campaigned for a transfer from Texas and received it, thanks to the generosity of good shipmates.
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Opinion, The District

Why I Love DC: Joanna Castle Miller

Photo courtesy of ekelly80
courtesy of ekelly80

I moved to DC (okay, NoVa to be exact) from New York via my hometown of Memphis, and love the fact that here I can get moonshine and fried pickles but still have winter sports and a subway system.

I love that DC is misunderstood and can play the victim. The city as a whole doesn’t deserve the conniving (or worse! boring) name it gets in the debates. On the same avenues as the “Washington elite” you’ll meet incredible actors, vocalists, writers and some of the most innovative designers and techies in the business – not political elites, just gifted go-getters who are passionate about their work and more creative than 10 Congresses.

I love that DC is filled with activists who volunteer their rare free time to stand up for things that matter; and I love that people come to DC from all over the world to make their voices heard.

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Night Life, Opinion, The Daily Feed

Classing up MLK Weekend

Barcode mlk

As you may be aware, this weekend is the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, the first in the Nation’s Capital since the new memorial to Dr. King opened on the mall. You may be planning to spend your Monday holiday in service-related activities, or demonstrating for the lack of civil rights in the District, but local club Barcode wants you to drink away the night before with special MLK-themed bottle service and drinks specials.  They’re even using the civil rights leader’s visage on their fliers.

Of course, if that name sounds familiar, it’s not just you. Barcode is the same spot that had a special happy hour and bottle service for the muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr back in August.

I guess there’s no holiday out there that Barcode will leave be.

I, for one, can’t wait for Barcode’s new “Dead Presidents” cocktails for President’s Day, or the Tombstone Special on Veterans Day next November.

Interviews, Opinion, People, The Features

Best of…DC Perspectives

Photo courtesy of Danilo.Lewis|Fotography
courtesy of Danilo.Lewis|Fotography

I’ll admit, I struggled a bit trying to figure out what to write a “Best of…” article around for this week. Sports? Covered. Food? Taken. I had to look deeper than the usual fare: what was it about DC—and about WeLoveDC in particular—that I really enjoyed over the past year? I realized that one of the perks we have is the slew of interview opportunities we’re given for the site. So why not look at some of the more interesting interviews we’ve done over the course of 2011?

Often, I find that through the glimpse of someone else’s eyes and perspectives, we’re given a mirror to gaze into our own lives and see where we are, what we’re missing, and what we can hope to achieve. We wrote quite a few interviews and features on people who live, work, and/or visit the DC area this year and I wanted to take a moment and point out some of the ones that really stand out. I hope you take a moment to dive into these great features and either revisit some old friends, or find your own inspiration to make a better 2012. Continue reading