Last Thursday, the Washington Post published a poll of 504 self-identifying Native American adults, 90 percent of whom said they aren’t bothered by the name of the local NFL team. Although some supporters of the name continue to insist that this means any lingering opposition to the name comes only from white liberal journalists, multiple Native American voices have criticized the poll.
The National Congress of American Indians has called it irrelevant, and the Native American Journalists Association has questioned whether ongoing use of a dictionary-defined slur should be the subject of public opinion, regardless of the outcome. Now, the co-founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry has challenged both the methodology of the poll and the decision to conduct it.
In an item appearing at TheNation.com, Jacqueline Keeler explores the flaws in the polling process, from failure to verify that the self-identifying Native Americans are indeed Native American to skewing the group polled in a way that does not properly reflect demographics like gender and age to using a geographic distribution that fails to properly represent the Native American community.
“Even if the poll was conducted perfectly and even if the results had been completely reversed,” Keeler writes, “the Washington Post did a grave disservice by utterly ignoring studies that clearly demonstrate the harm mascotting causes to Native youth — the most vulnerable population in the country by almost any statistic.”
Keeler explains that Native American youth “suffer measurably lower self-esteem after exposure to a Native American mascot,” and that those Native Americans who claim to have no issue with terms like the name of the Washington team “actually experience a greater drop in self-esteem.”
Via Keeler, Scott Clement of the Post responded to the criticism from groups like the NAJA by pointing out that the newspaper “pursued this poll without any idea as to how it would turn out and had no vested interest in the outcome.” Clement also defended the poll by explaining that “it’s entirely appropriate for a news organization to conduct a survey to test any assertions made about the breadth and depth of offense among Native Americans” by those who oppose the name, adding that it is “customary for any other public policy issue.”
“But is this really customary?” Keeler asks. “Are pollsters judging the ‘breadth and depth’ of how offensive other dictionary-defined slurs are? Tragically, it is only Native Americans who have to suffer this kind of humiliation, especially when the multibillion-dollar brand of the paper’s local football team hangs in the balance.”
And so the Post poll definitely won’t end the debate, even though many supporters of the name believe it should. If anything, the criticism of the poll should spark a meaningful debate over whether it’s proper to make any dictionary-defined slur the subject of polling or debate.