It’s okay by me that the Cleveland Indians will be the Cleveland Guardians even though “Guardian” is a colorless term and they might’ve done just as well with Employees or Tenants. And “Indians” is hardly a slur. I grew up admiring Indians as a boy and trying to imitate them — I had no desire to be a cowboy, I was an Indian, and I can see how my Indianness was a natural step in wanting to be a writer and not a cog in a corporation. To me, then as now, the real insult is the title “vice president.” My Ojibwe friend Jerry uses the word “Indian” freely because, as he says, “There are too many tribes for even an Indian to keep track of.” I’ve never heard the words “native American” come out of his mouth.
It’s fine for the Washington Redskins to rename themselves, and I suggest, thinking of Washington, that Lickspittles would be appropriate or Filibusterers. As for Minnesota, I was never fond of Twins as a nickname but it’s an improvement over Gophers. The gopher is a rodent, a cousin of the squirrel and rat. There are more distinguished rodents, such as the porcupine or beaver, but the gopher is near the bottom of the gnawing order, along with the hamster. No athletic team will be named the Hamsters. Count on it.
My high school took the nickname Tornadoes after the town of Anoka was hit by two devastating tornadoes back in the Thirties, which was a brilliant idea, to adopt the identity of a terrifying disaster, though the football team back in my day was more like a gentle breeze than a tornado. People died in those actual tornadoes and I can imagine their survivors might come forward and demand the nickname be changed, out of respect for the dead, and then we shall become the Gales. I don’t care because I am not and never was a Tornado. I am closer to an Indian.
Words matter, I keep telling myself, but as I get older I feel more careless about them. Thanks to my fundamentalist upbringing, I am unable to use common curse words you can hear on any elementary school playground — I can say them only when quoting someone else, never voluntarily, it feels like I’m chewing someone else’s gum I found stuck to the bottom of a bench in the bus station. But otherwise I’m in favor of looseness. My wife feels nauseated if she hears someone say, “Her and me went to the store.” I don’t.
Back in the day, I was wary of being incorrect, but that was back when girls used powerful adhesive sprays to make their hair look shell-like and now I see girls who do their hair by driving 80 miles an hour with their head out the window and they look terrific. Boys kneel down and kiss the ground they walk on.
But there are language vigilantes roaming the land and some of them carry a noose and know where they can find a scaffold.
A friend who is a Unitarian minister tells me that her church demands that she submit her sermons two weeks in advance “to make sure there are no problems” — apparently, the problem is that she has used the word “fellowship,” which raised concerns on the church board, some members preferring the term “community,” “fellowship” seeming too masculine.
Fellowship is the friendliness of people united in a faith. My Episcopal church has a woman rector and assistant rector and I feel fellowship with them. I don’t feel community, any more than I’d address a male friend as “My good fellow” –– I’m not P.G. Wodehouse, I’m an American.
When liberal New York Unitarians decide to censor their clergy, you know we’re in serious serious trouble. Pretty soon the Freemans and Trumans and Petersons and Olsons will need to degender themselves and then how shall we make Los Angeles not threatening to agnostics? St. Paul will have to change its name to East Minneapolis. And why do we keep the name America, honoring the navigator Amerigo Vespucci who sailed our coasts and thought he was in Asia? Do we know for a fact that the man dealt fairly with indigenous peoples? No, we do not. Out it goes, and Columbia too, and Washington, for all I care.
You kids fight it out among yourselves. I was privileged to grow up Indian in the woods along the Mississippi, just us boys, no grown-up supervision. Nobody tried to make us imagine we were marketing consultants. I’m white now and I accept that but I enjoyed being free at one time.
UNIFICATION The Mississippi at its mouth Joins the Gulf of Mexico, The west wind mixes with the south, High pressure with the low. Nothing in nature stands apart, All things rendezvous---- And I would like to mingle with you. Intermingled, intertwined, This is what I have in mind, A sudden urge To merge. The compound that is chlorophyll Formed as the light increases Makes every little flower thrill With photosynthesis. The morning glory mingles With the honeysuckle vine, Come wrap your little tendrils around mine. I've been lonely as a cloud, Drifting miserable and proud, Lonely as a limestone butte– Handsome, noble, destitute, And I need you, I confess Let’s coalesce.