Is "Squaw" an offensive word?



The New York Times had a front page article describing how American Indians (sorry, if I called them "Native Americans" I could be naming any of the 90% of Americans like me who were born here), want all towns with the word "Squaw" in them to be renamed. States like Oregon are trying to comply, but Indians are coming up with all sorts of unpronouncable names to replace them:

Officials protested that some of the name changes proposed by Native Americans — like Sáykiptatpa and Nikéemex — were too hard to pronounce, prompting the tribes to create an interactive pronunciation guide.

“Seriously, can you pronounce them?” asked Mr. Britton, the county commissioner. “It’s a safety issue. Someone making a 911 call has to say the location, and the dispatcher has to understand and repeat it to the sheriff.”

I'm just glad our American Indians aren't from New Guinea. Then they'd be insisting on all kinds of lip smacking and clicking sounds in the names of places. Can you imagine someone saying "I'm from New (smack! smack!) York (Click! click! click!) City"?

The reasons American Indians want the name changed is because, apparently

English speakers have used the term for almost 400 years, starting in what is now the Northeastern United States. Linguists say it probably derives from terms for woman in Algonquian languages, but Indians often contend that it comes from a word for vagina.

Even if this is true, I can't see why this would be offensive. In fact, if you look at it in the right way, it could be empowering to women, in a feminist way. There may be places called "Sqauw Valley" or "Big Squaw Dam" or even "Long Squaw Tunnel", but there are no places named after caucasian men's private parts. I think if they had places named after men's private parts that most men would not be offended. If there were places called "P____ Town", or "P____ Peninsula", or even offshore land formations called "P____ Rocks" or "P____ Spit", I don't think you'd see white men rushing to rename them.

American Indians suffer from high rates of joblessness and alcoholism. Don't you think there are more important things for them to focus on?

(published in AT)









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