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Letter to the Editor: Lonsberry, “maybe you need to start a new tradition”


By Rich Stevens

I grew up in Wellsville and Andover, so it was jarring to see someone in that area – particularly an adult with a considerable followership – claim that “Redskin,” as uttered by a white man, and invented by white people to refer to a population of people who did not look like them, should not be considered an offensive term and is a “family name.”  It is, at best, racially insensitive, and it is offensive to those people it refers to (and those of us who don’t agree with it). 

I hope you understand that the term actually means what it says…it is referring to a group of people by their skin color to differentiate them from those who coined the term.  Using a racially insensitive term for a long period of time does not turn it from offensive into a “family name” that should be honored and protected, it is just a sad testament to how callously the term has been used and accepted over many years. 

I could understand Mr. Lonsberry’s argument more if it had been the Canisteo “Senecas.”  At least that would give rise to a colorable argument that it was meant to celebrate a tribe of Native Americans, instead of denigrate them.  Would you openly refer to any other group of people by their skin color in that way?    

Before you reject my opinion by calling me some label, like “Liberal” or “woke” which is often the counter to an opinion such as mine, consider this…  I am a former military officer and a huge supporter of the military and police.  I support free speech.  I hate taxes.  I prefer smaller, decentralized government.  I am a gun owner.  I grew up in the country, and I still have chosen to live in the country.  You can be all of those things and still actually have empathy toward others.  And have reason.  And hate the divisiveness in our society and government. 

My argument against using that term isn’t based on any political affiliation, it’s based on the fact that my mother taught me right from wrong.  Referring to a Native American as “redskin” is, in a very obvious way, wrong.  There is a simple rule in my book:  “If you walked up to a member of a racial/ethnic group on the street and referred to them by whatever term is at issue, would their reaction be positive or negative?”  I’m pretty sure that if Mr. Lonsberry walked up to a Native American on the street and said “Hey there, redskin!” he could expect a pretty negative reaction, and perhaps a bloody nose.  So, it seems using that name fails that simple test. 

I certainly understand the importance of tradition, and I live outside DC where this very debate has concluded with the Washington Commanders football team…and we have somehow survived despite the name change.  The past players, and teams, and accomplishments of that NFL franchise were not erased by the name change.  I may not have given that name a second thought if I attended Canisteo as a teen.  But, at some point you grow up and, hopefully, become more open minded to issues in the way we interact with each other as people.  If it is tradition for you to refer to someone in a way that offends them as a person and as a race/ethnicity, maybe you need to start a new tradition?

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