Ever since Palisades Tahoe decided to update its name, there has been an oftentimes not-to-healthy debate between those who are wholeheartedly behind the change and those who abhor it.
I clearly fall into the former category. Those of us who choose to listen to the concerns of Indigenous people and/or are capable of using a thing called Google know that the word "squaw" is racist, sexist, and misogynistic. The word was used as a tool to degrade and dehumanize Indigenous women, making it that much easier to justify centuries of ongoing physical violence. Ceasing to use that word, particularly in the context of a ski resort on unceded Washoe land, is just the beginning of the healing and reparations that need to occur not only in the Tahoe region but around this country.
As individuals, eliminating that word from our vocabulary is neither difficult nor does it impact our daily lives. Changing our language is one way to collectively contribute to building a more just and equitable society.
But some people are deeply offended by the name change. They see it as an attack on their history and their legacy. They refuse to participate in wokeness and cancel culture. While I find that thinking to be rather small and misguided, people have their own opinions. What I’m in control of is my response.
Most of the time I shift the conversation. They use the old name, I use the new name, and then we carry on, establishing the norm that the name is Palisades. But when they double down, that’s when things get interesting. I don’t debate topics and issues that at their core are about the hierarchies of humanity.
So I’ve figured out what stops people in their tracks: an honest, real discussion about why the word is so disgusting. And that might include me using the word cunt enough times to drive the point home.
Case in point, the couple who came into our shop Far Out last week and argued about the name change in response to me simply saying, “We have a demo day at Palisades tomorrow.” They were so quick and so confident to let me know how they won’t be using the name Palisades. Makes you wonder if that audacity stems from a lack of consequences for their language and behavior.
So I paused and looked at them and calmly stated that I’m not comfortable calling women cunts. And then I asked them, calmly but with an are-you-sure-you-want-to-go-down-this-rabbit-hole-tone if they were ok calling women cunts. They stared at me in disbelief. So I explained the meaning of the word and how it was historically used to marginalize and violently oppress Indigenous women. They said they had no idea, which I found interesting, given that they so feel so strongly about it. So then I asked my last question: Will you continue to use that word now that you know?
It was difficult for them to articulate a cohesive answer, which was the point. I didn’t need a response. I needed to create an experience that would make them think twice about so boldly claiming allegiance with a part of history that is inexcusable. I chose to be a mirror to the awfulness that lives inside of us. Because if we can’t see it, we can’t even begin to be better.