In the course of an average week, there are over a hundred comics released, each of about twenty pages, and each of those pages with between one and six panels. This makes for several thousand panels in the course of any week which are released. In the middle of that whole mix one panel was printed this week, and it might have been noticed and it might not have. In fact its place might have been there simply for historical accuracy, or it might have been a bit of a jab at an ongoing controversy. The panel was from the new comic series 1872, part of the massive crossover that is Secret Wars. This story is set in the year 1872 in the Old West, with Steve Rogers more or less becoming Wyatt Earp and Tony Stark becoming Doc Holliday. Part of the background of this story is that it involves a tycoon diverting water away from a small town for his mine, and the town struggles in the middle of a desert to find a way to live. Among those struggling is a Native American, who plans to blow up the dam controlling the water and thus giving water back to the area. He is caught in the act of sabotage and strung up in a noose ready to die, before Sheriff Rogers intervenes. While the story is interesting for its recasting of the characters into different roles, the panel in question comes from the execution scene involving the native. As the executioner hits the horse upon which he sits to tighten the slack on the rope, he utters a phrase which is one which is charged with so much debate in modern culture – Redskin.
There is one specific reference to this word which causes so many issues and that is the name for the Washington team in the NFL, the Redskins. Many have had issues with the team name before, stating that it is offensive, much along the same lines as people are troubled by the Cleveland Indians. Other teams have addressed racism claims in different ways, but the Redskins approach is perhaps the only one which says that it is using the team name out of respect for the brave Indian fighters known as Redskins and not as a racial slur. Despite this claim, it is evident that the team has struggled with racism throughout its history, though its defense (or more accurately non-defense) this has been primarily targeted at black people, not at Native Americans. The team’s original owner George Preston Marshall was the last holdout in terms of racial assimilation in the NFL, having held out for almost twenty years after other teams had been drafting and playing black players, and only did so after being forced to do so b y the federal government.
The claim and partial defense of the Redskins is that their name is not offensive, but rather is meant as a token of respect, that there were brave warriors from the past that used the name. While this itself is up to debate, it is only an attempt to try to slice up a small piece of history and to leave the bigotry behind. This panel exemplifies that perfectly. At someone’s execution, one wouldn’t talk about the highlights of their life, or to describe their status as a brave warrior, instead one would probably shout all kinds of obscenities at them, including in this case the use of the term Redskin. There have been other examples of the same, and even closer to the historical source. For instance, the comic Western Fighters used the term on its twenty fourth issue in the early 1950. At this time there was far less concern for racism in pop culture, as it was before the civil rights movement, and thus the truer use of the term was more apparent.
Thus while the Redskins say that it is used out of respect, it is actually a lot of historical revisionism, framing an offensive word in a way that makes it look like it is not offensive. From a legal standpoint they might have the right to use the name (though this is also being slowly eroded), but their moral stance that this is done out of respect for an obscure group of warriors has no ground to stand on. It is racism and it is racist, and there should be no history to hide behind on this subject, and that was highlighted this week by a single panel in a single comic.