If you follow sports even a little, you’d know that one of the principal social-justice issues of the last half decade has been the quest to wipe the ugly stain of racism from the National Football League. The Washington team is named the “Redskins,” and all decent people just know that the term is a horrific and offensive slur, tantamount to the use of the “N word” or similarly grotesque language. It’s triggering, it’s a macroaggression, and it dehumanizes and disrespects Native Americans every time it’s used.
ESPN and CBS allow broadcasters to boycott the use of the name when announcing games, and multiple announcers, writers, and pundits simply refuse to say it. Legislation has been introduced in Congress to force a name change, members of Congress sent a letter to Redskins owner Dan Snyder demanding a name change, and last year a federal judge canceled its trademark registrations on the grounds that the name “may disparage” a “substantial composite of Native Americans and bring them into contempt or disrepute.” The Redskins are appealing, claiming a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech.
By this point, the conventional wisdom was set: The Redskins were wrong, and only Snyder’s racist stubbornness was blocking social progress.
There’s just one small problem with the narrative, however. Someone forgot to tell actual Native Americans to be outraged. A new Washington Post poll finds that only 9 percent of Native Americans find the name offensive. A whopping 90 percent say that they’re not bothered:
There’s consensus, there’s overwhelming consensus, and then there’s near-unanimity. It’s hard for 90 percent of any group of Americans to agree on anything, much less an allegedly contentious racial issue. The verdict is in: Not even Native Americans care about the Washington Redskins’ name.
#share#But if you think this settles the issue, you don’t know the social-justice Left. Here is the simple fact of progressive activism: When it comes to contentious social issues, the culture doesn’t decide — the subculture does, and the subculture cares about no opinions but its own. In other words, when progressives in the academy, the elite media, the bureaucracy, and influential corporations reach consensus on an issue, they not only have the immediate power to change the terms of public debate, they often have the raw economic, social, or government power to bend the rest of the country to their will.
Ordinary Americans — who possess a fraction of the power and influence of elite progressives — then typically acquiesce. Perhaps they don’t really care that much about the issue. They have an opinion but no passion. Perhaps they really care but believe resistance is futile. Or perhaps they care and actually try to resist, but they simply can’t organize a critical mass of allies. In other words, because of the staggering disparities in power and influence, battles are over before they’re even fought.
This, in a nutshell, is why most boycotts fail. Why would a person rationally forgo goods and services they want when they know their individual voice will have little impact? And it’s why the cultural Left has achieved such stunning success in transforming the terms of American debate on religion, race, gender, and sexuality. When the Left can change the language and the law, the people are left with few options.
Battles over team names and bathrooms represent the ways in which progressives are the civil-rights heroes of their own stories.
In this instance, it’s possible that the poll results, combined with Snyder’s stubborn opposition, will take at least some of the wind out of the sails of the movement in the short term. But even the existence of an offended 9 percent — much less the much more important existence of legions of white progressives who are offended for the 9 percent — means that the fight will drag on and on. And with one perspective dominating the debate, always accompanied by an assertion of moral superiority and scorn for dissent, it’s entirely possible that the offended 9 percent will become the offended 20 percent, then the offended 30 percent.
Social-justice warriors would call this moral leadership, and indeed there are people who have legitimate and debatable concerns about the team’s name. But the incredible speed at which each new cause achieves near-unanimous elite progressive support demonstrates the power of something far less admirable: progressive virtue signaling.
#related#Battles over team names and bathrooms represent the ways in which progressives are the civil-rights heroes of their own stories. As Hans Fiene noted in his insightful piece in The Federalist, progressive activists suffer from perpetual “Selma envy.” Having missed the real civil-rights movement (when probably very few of them would have had the courage to actually journey down south), they’re constantly looking for its equivalent. So just as black Americans faced dogs and fire hoses in 1963, so do trans Americans face the horror of a urinal and Native Americans face the nightmare of a football team’s name. In 2016, it’s all Jim Crow, all the time. Only progressives can save us now.