Steve Chapman

So why do most people prefer to leave it alone? Not because they're all bigots. A poll by The Washington Post found that about four out of five Redskins fans want to keep the name -- and that only 11 percent of Americans support a change. In a country that has twice elected a black president, it's hard to make the case that 89 percent of the population is racially backward.

One reason for the prevailing sentiment is that many Native Americans don't object to the name. The Post reports that the leaders of three Virginia tribes -- the Pamunkey, the Patawomeck and the Rappahannock -- say it doesn't bother them. "About 98 percent of my tribe is Redskins fans, and it doesn't offend them, either," said one.

ESPN's Rick Reilly found high schools with mostly Native American student bodies that call their teams the Redskins. If even Indians disagree about the term, it's easier to justify keeping it.

Haidt says other elements also come into play. "The right tends to value group-loyalty and tradition particularly highly, and to hold symbols of their groups sacred, particularly when those groups are engaged in intergroup conflict," he said.

Traditions count for a lot among conservatives. To abandon a tradition without a very good reason strikes them as disloyal and unprincipled. Among liberals, by contrast, tradition is viewed as something less important, which is often used to excuse the inexcusable -- and sometimes has to give way to evolving standards of morality.

If we all thought it through the way Haidt does, we might have a more generous attitude toward those who disagree with us. It's too easy for either side to work itself into a lather, viewing the other side as totally clueless. But on this issue, both sides have plenty of clues. They just have different ones.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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