Racialized mascots and their potential long-term effects are a serious public health issue and a pressing problem faced by Indigenous communities. The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) is one of many organizations that advocates for the retirement of racialized mascots and the application of journalistic ethics when reporting on them. It is the position of NAJA that persistent, irresponsible reporting on racialized mascots and team names is unethical and harmful to Indigenous people.
The Washington Post column, “A survey explores how Native Americans feel about the name Washington Red*****. No, it’s not that survey. This one is new,” by Theresa Vargas is based on flawed data – a recurring problem at the Post when reporting on the Washington NFL team. According to Vargas, “the majority of Native Americans still aren’t offended by the name.” That statement is based on a new survey by Wolvereye, a market research agency. However, Wolvereye’s survey methodology, like the Post’s poll conducted in 2016, is unreliable.
According to Wolvereye, the sample was comprised of individuals who “self-identified as Native Americans across the United States.” Verifiable tribal citizenship or descendancy was not taken into account, and some or all respondents may not be Indigenous. This fundamental misunderstanding of Indigenous identity was at the heart of the Post’s survey published in 2016, and despite calls for the outlet to review its methods and publish corrections, the Post has failed to be accountable for its actions. Reporting on Wolvereye’s new survey without understanding how the data has been compromised, as well as The Post’s inability to accurately report its results or correct its 2016 survey, amounts to dishonest and prejudicial reporting.
The U.S. Constitution treats tribes as sovereign nations with legally-established rights – including the right to establish criteria for tribal membership. The Post routinely overlooks these facts, perpetuating stereotypes and reinforcing ignorance about Indigenous people.
The Post has established a pattern of biased reporting that uses flawed data to justify the use of racialized mascots – caricatured representations of Indigenous people and culture that activate and reinforce racial hostility and prejudice. Decades of research have shown that racialized mascots produce negative impacts on the self-perception and self-esteem of Indigenous people and deny Indigenous communities control of their representations in society. The Post’s continued use of prejudicial data in support of racialized mascots normalizes and rationalizes racism and hostility toward Indigenous people.
At a time when white supremacy has become increasingly visible and violent, NAJA condemns the Washington Post for publishing materials that ignore facts, promote discrimination and undermine legally-established rights and protections for Indigenous people. NAJA encourages the Post to consider how its reporting contributes to racism in the United States.
The Native American Journalists Association demands the following corrective actions to address this reporting:
- Retract all commentary and reporting derived from Wolvereye’s study.
- Retract all flawed data from 2016 poll “Most Native Americans not offended by the Washington Red***** name” and all derived reporting.
- Immediately implement a policy for ethical reporting on racialized mascots, and all language and imagery associated with those mascots.
- Require all editors to attend cultural competency and research ethics training.
For more information, please contact NAJA at firstname.lastname@example.org.