Washington Redskins, meet Negro Mountain.
One is the name of the Washington, D.C., football team; the other a mountain ridge that stretches from Western Maryland into Pennsylvania. One name is patently offensive to a large majority of Native Americans; the other name overwhelmingly rejected by African Americans.
After decades of fighting separately to change each name, perhaps the time has come for African American and Native American leaders to take a unified stand against this common problem. No name rooted in systemic efforts to dehumanize can be accepted as a so-called honorific by any of us.
When lobbying to change the name of the mountain begins in the Maryland General Assembly and in the Pennsylvania legislature, Native Americans should lend their support. And when the National Museum of the American Indian holds a conference Feb. 7 on the name "Redskins," enlightened African Americans should show up in solidarity.
For those African Americans who see nothing wrong with the use of the word "redskins" - and there appears to be many - the controversy over the name Negro Mountain ought to be an eye-opener.
By the same reasoning used to justify Native American stereotypes in sports, defenders of Negro Mountain say African Americans should be happy to have a geological monument that honors their own kind.
But for all we know, the original designation might not even have been "Negro" but the other "n-word," as some residents who live near the mountain recalled at a Maryland Senate hearing in 2011. It took a long time for people to stop calling it that, too.
Either way, the name is hardly a tribute. Sometime around 1756, during the French and Indian War, a man named Nemesis was accompanying frontiersmen on an expedition to kill Native Americans. Nemesis, who was a slave or a manservant by most accounts, was shot and killed by Indians while protecting his master. In turn, the master memorialized the sacrifice by naming the site Negro.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Rosita Youngblood, D-Philadelphia, has teamed up with Maryland state Sen. Lisa Gladden, D-Baltimore, to lead the effort for the name change.
"The mountain should be named for the man, not the race of the man," Youngblood told me. She noted that the peak of Negro Mountain is called Mount Davis - for a prominent white landowner, John Davis. White top; black bottom. Some honor.
Now, personally, I don't find anything particularly honorable about going out to kill Indians and then dying to protect "Massa" from his comeuppance. But the name Nemesis Mountain would work nonetheless, representing a mountain of torment to this nation wrought by slavery and the colonists' wars against Native Americans.
Although the legislators are seeking the name change through executive orders from the states' governors, the U.S. Geological Survey's Board on Geographic Names usually has the last word on such matters. And its policy on name usage is fairly straightforward:
"The guiding principle of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for the names of places, features, and areas in the United States and its territories is to adopt for official Federal use the names found in present-day local usage," reads the board's policy statement.
"An exception to this principle occurs when a name is shown to be highly offensive or derogatory to a particular racial or ethnic group, gender, or religious group."
So changing the name Negro Mountain need not be difficult. And while the "Redskins" moniker will be more difficult to dispense with, following the same principle of decency will no doubt lead to victory in that fight, too.
Courtland Milloy writes for The Washington Post.