The message to everyone waiting with bated breath in the White House situation room was terse and to the point: “Geronimo-E KIA”: “Geronimo,” the Enemy, Killed in Action. Really? Osama bin Laden was codenamed “Geronimo?” Even if, as the White House later clarified, that “Geronimo” was the codename for the mission, not the target, the choice is ripe with symbolism that reeks of mid-18th century American imperialism and European American racial privilege.
I know I’m going to hear from the folks who screech at the thought of political correctness overtaking American culture and spoiling pop references that used to be commonly used but now can be offensive. I’m going to hear from people who thought I didn’t have a sense of humor when I got angry that Shaquille O’Neal, or Adam Carolla, or Rosie O’Donnell, or Rush Limbaugh pull out the “ching-chong” routine to mock Asians. I’m going to hear from people who think I’m over-sensitive about “yellowface” in Hollywood (the long and still-going history of white actors playing Asian parts) and the use of Asian stereotypes. I’m going to hear from people who defend racially offensive statements or behavior as OK because it wasn’t “meant” to offend — therefore leading to the non-apology apology that blames those who are offended for taking it wrong.
The fact is, if something is offensive to someone, it’s offensive. Period. It’s not about the motivation, or the intent. It’s about the impact.
And the impact of the U.S. military’s use of “Geronimo” — either as the codename for Osama bib Laden, or the codename of the mission that took bin Laden out — is definitely negative in the Native American community.