It was William Shakespeare who posed the question, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
But Shakespeare didn’t know that, by the 21st century, certain names and terms would be considered very offensive, and that “what’s in a name” would matter very much indeed.
At this moment in the global zeitgeist, racism and sexism are at the top of the social agenda, and ignorance is no longer a justification for slurs dressed up as history and tradition.
Protests and demonstrations have been occurring in cities around the world since the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died at the hands of police in late May.
Outrage has poured forth ever since, and now even those who once thought changing names – of sports teams, for example – was caving in to political correctness, are getting on board and acknowledging that just because a name has stood for decades doesn’t mean it should remain so in our woke times.
A ski resort in California seems to be having its own awakening of sorts, and officials there have announced that its name – Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows – will soon be changed to something that doesn’t insult Native Americans.
The word “squaw,” it hardly needs mentioning, is a slap in the face to all Indigenous women, and no one but the most out of touch and – it must be said – racist individual would use such a term.
In fact, it seems odd that the resort has waited all this time to take the matter under advisement and announce plans to change it, but better late than never, as the expression goes.
The U.S. has been embroiled in protests all summer, and according to the resort’s president and COO, Ron Cohen, its officials have realized “a change needs to happen,” he recently told the media.
A new name has not yet been selected – that may take until early 2021 – but Cohen gave assurances that it would be chosen in consultation with Indigenous groups, in particular the local Washoe tribe, to ensure sensitivity and modernity are reflected in the choice.
The name change has been a long time coming. The resort, which hosted the Winter Olympics in 1960 has faced criticism for quite some time.
Now, Cohen said in the statement released on the resort website, “…we are confronted with the overwhelming evidence that the term ‘squaw’ is offensive,” and the facility could no longer let the insulting name stand.
The resort certainly is not the only organization in the U.S. that is facing a reckoning about using a name that is out of touch with the times.
The Cleveland Indians, one of America’s most cherished major league baseball teams, is facing a reckoning of its own over its name, as many perceive it to be woefully passe and inappropriate.
The Washington Redskins finally changed its name recently, and now the football team is known simply as the Washington Football team.
There are some who argue that changing names does little if attitudes and social policies are not changed too, in order to help those who are victims of racism. But there is no debating that changing names is a start, a solid place to begin if attitudes are in fact ever going to evolve.
Language is used to express beliefs, after all, and if insulting terminology is tolerated, even accepted, then so too are the racist and sexist beliefs that are an inherent part of that terminology.
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Ridding our culture of demeaning names and other slurs signals good intentions, even if what matters most is how we follow up those intentions with concrete action.