At one time it was popular to adorn North American yards with the cast-iron or cement figure of a lawn jockey, such as the one at right. This was seen as a nice decorative touch, much appreciated by the neighbors, and little, if any, thought was given to how people of color might react to encountering such a degrading caricature. If such distasteful "ornaments" are thankfully rare these days, it's not because they were made illegal. Society simply evolved to the point where people eventually saw them for what they were: racist kitsch. And so off to the dump they went.
But sometimes such evolution is painfully slow in coming and it's often hindered when money is involved. Take the case of the Washington Redskins football franchise, for example, which last year pulled in 330 million dollars. You would think that a sports team representing the nation's capital would be the most neutral, politically-correct team in the league. But the case is exactly the opposite, thanks to the team's name, logo, mascot and related merchandising gewgaws, not to mention the deportment of "fans," who deck themselves up in faux "warrior" regalia and have a fondness for war whoops.
Objections to the Redskins name and logo go back decades but owners of the team have always resisted changing them, with its current proprietor, Daniel Snyder, vowing "NEVER" (he likes using capitals for this) to move on. Last week Synder remained defiant after the US Patent Office did the right thing and revoked the team's trademark, stating that,“We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans.” Right on, as they used to say. Snyder has vowed to appeal the decision but if it's upheld it will no doubt lead to increased pressure on teams still employing such dubious names and iconography.
Some will see this as yet another example of government overreach, of destroying cherished traditions, of trampling free speech. But most of us will simply breath a sigh of relief. And there's an upside such team owners aren't seeing. While traditions, however offensive, are all fine and good, there's something to be said about the energy that can be triggered by a well-executed rebranding. My advice to Synder would be to hire Pentagram, Interbrand or some other top agency, throw a ton of money at them (hey, he can afford it) and launch a fresh identity for the team that will last the rest of the century. That's my advice but I'm not holding my breath.