The Knicks are short for the Knickerbockers, one of the derogatory names that English New Yorkers called the Dutch New Yorkers whom they had seized the city from. And the Dutch returned the favor by calling the Anglo newcomers, John Cheese or Jan Kees, which eventually became Yankee.
The English mocked the Dutch and the Dutch mocked English and then both terms became part of the city's cultural heritage and even a point of pride. Yankee may still have a derogatory meaning in the South and in Europe, but in New York, it's on every other baseball cap and the Knicks are on every other jersey; including some of the shorts that resemble the Knickerbockers of the Dutch.
This sort of thing happens a lot in a multicultural society. What used to be a point of insult, blends into the common cultural heritage. The minority teenagers wearing Knicks shorts and Yankees caps care as little about the Dutch and English slurs that got the whole thing started as they do about the Redskins, a term that is as equally out of date and nearly as obscure.
It shouldn't be surprising that most American Indians care as little about the Redskins or the Braves as we care about the Yankees and the Knicks. It's the white liberals descended from the Knickerbockers and the John Cheeses who don't seem to grasp that a minority group might not be offended by the same things that they aren't offended by.
Multiculturalism doesn't look a whole lot like the awkward bureaucratic words they are expected to tote around all day. It does look a lot like people calling each other insulting names until those names become part of the cultural background noise. That might not be the liberal ideal, but it's how things work in the real world.
The great battle over the N Word only resulted in the widespread use of Black, which means the same thing in English. The use of African-American is still confined to formal settings. The same goes for Native-American or any other name with more letters than is good for it.
American history is full of insulting names and nicknames whose meanings changed until they became part of the national vocabulary. And like the Yankees and Knicks, it goes to show that our language is shaped by argument as much as by consensus and that sometimes the mutual insults that we exchange are part of the process of finding common ground and learning to live with one another.
That understanding would have been simple common sense to anyone who grew up in the old urban melting pots, but is thoroughly alien to a liberal elite raised in white suburban neighborhoods and exposed to minorities for the first time in Ivy League settings alongside critical race theory and bouts of angry activism. Instead of learning how people get along, they learn to be the white knights riding to the rescue of minorities who they assume always need their help because it makes them feel good..
No Americans Indians actually need their help when it comes to the Redskins. It's just become a toxic reflex of linguistic witchhunters who are always out to fight the demon of intolerance whenever they can find it. And if they can't find it, then they push and prod until they bring it into being so that they can defeat it and win admiring cheers from the crowd.
The firemen of tolerance are also the arsonists of intolerance. They start the fires and then put them out. The debate over the Redskins is a classic example of setting a fire and then declaring that they should be able to do whatever it takes to put it out. Even if it means changing the name of a team they don't like, in a sport they don't follow, so that their Wikipedia entry can forever list them as the man, woman or undersea creature who helped put right a historical injustice that didn't exist until they started on it.
We could go into the historical origins of the Redskins name, which is far less intolerant than Yankees or Knickerbockers, but it would mostly be a waste of time. The history doesn't really matter. Language exists in the present and in the present the Redskins are an iconic invocation of a mythical history in the same way that every other Indian sports team name is.
When people embrace hurtful names and transform them into a common identity, when New Yorkers of all backgrounds began calling themselves Knickerbockers because they associated it with the history of the city and when they jubilantly proclaimed themselves Yankees and when Redskins fans wear feathers, those are good things because they say that these things are part of our common identity. They don't divide us. They unite us.
That was how the old multiculturalism worked. And it worked well. Even liberals remember growing up in a hopeful America that played by those rules where there was unfairness, but that unfairness was being ground down by common contact. That America is being strangled to death by the political correctness of a liberal elite that controls the mediums of national dialogue through its death grip on academia and the airwaves, but has no understanding of how people really live their lives.
The common American identity was based on the integration of the good and the bad, the loves and the hates, the resentments and the joys, it combines the high and low points of culture, it mixed together aspirations and slurs, baked it together into something strange and wonderful.
There is no American identity now in the public space. There are Americans, including those of all races who share a common identity, but they have been locked out by a coalition of angry white liberals and their minority allies who have hijacked the public space for a divisive fractured identity based on resentment and greed. Instead of finding common ground, they are always finding fault.
National unity has become outdated. Instead we are treated to a festival of resentments. Every identity is cut down and sharpened into a weapon. Identity politics is short on richness of culture and long on grudges. Not only is the national culture being torn down, but it's being replaced by phony micro-cultures whose only content is resentment over a thousand imagined slights. These cultural charades fill their gaps and lack of depth with more angry outcries and claims of oppression.
Liberal political correctness is obsessively consumed with the destruction of any common culture not mediated by their commissars. Their divisive efforts seem calculated to break down any areas where co-existence occurs because the great threat to their political power would come from the revelation that they are not the firemen of tolerance, they are the arsonists of intolerance, setting groups at each other and then stepping in to referee the results.
America doesn't need racial referees. It needs some breathing room and time for the force of history to do its work and grind down old grudges and resentments until they are as obscure as the origin of Yankees and Knickerbockers, both terms that have faded far enough to be subjects of academic dispute.
The Redskins don't need to change their name. Their liberal critics need to change their tactics and stop picking fights for their own political profit that they pretend are actually being fought for a minority group that never asked for their help.
If liberals really care about helping American Indians, they can start with problems like broken families, drug abuse, the adoption of Indian children and corruption within tribal society. But those are big problems with few easy solutions and nothing to them that will make liberalism's white knights feel good about themselves.
But let's not pretend that the Redskins debate is about helping American Indians. It's about the selfish egotism of the white knights whose Camelot was the corrupt Kennedy White House and whose round table is a Twitter hashtag where everyone denounces white privilege in unison while embodying it.
Meanwhile the Yankees and the Knickerbockers and the Redskins will go on playing as a reminder that old grudges die when we embrace the things that used to divide us and turn them from a Liberal fetish of resentments into a source of strength for the American Tribe.