Tuesday in Mooseville – A Rant and a Reminder 1/22/19

Yelling at a young black family moving into an all-white development near Philadelphia; 1963.

This isn’t what I planned to write about, but I remain distressed and disgusted by the actions of the Covington Catholic group, especially as directed at Nathan Phillips. I typically don’t write about Native issues, because I know enough to know that I don’t know enough. But I do know about Whiteness, and the Covington Catholic students gave us a full display of its ugly side…and maybe its only side.

I’ve seen the first video that went viral and viewed a good portion of the longer one that some are claiming (unbelievably, to me) is exculpatory. I’ve seen the argument being made that Mr. Phillips was the aggressor; that by virtue of being an adult, he was perceived as threatening and the smirk was really a smile, being used to “diffuse” the situation. I’ve read that yes, the boys were in the wrong, and they just need to spend some time with Native Americans; maybe a mission trip to a reservation could be arranged? I’ve seen comments that it’s really the adults who are to blame: the parents; the chaperones; the teachers; the priests; the school administrators. I’ve noticed some touting the viewpoint that it was just a moment in time, and we (adults) don’t want to do anything too harsh that may ruin his (Nicholas Sandmann’s) life forever.

And all I can say is, “Bullshit.”

Like so many, I know that smirk; I saw it when I was in high school, and I saw it when my daughter was in school. It’s the smirk that says, “What are you going to do about it?” because they know they are protected in some way, whether it’s by superior size and strength, by a position of power or proximity to power, or, in this case, by Whiteness. And when any of that is challenged, they resort to threats and lies and tears and cries of victimhood. I don’t for a second believe the Eddie Haskell-esque letter written by (or on behalf of) Nicholas Sandmann; I’m not June Cleaver and never will be.

Nor do I believe those students were too young to know better and merely got caught up in a moment. Exhibit A for my disbelief: the MAGA hats. These are young men who first attended a “March for Life,” and whether they brought them from home or bought them in DC, a large number decided this was their sartorial choice. This choice screams agreement with the idea that Mexicans are rapists; that women are mere objects to be grabbed at will; that America is only great when its direction and purpose are decided by white men (and an occasional woman, if she is subservient enough). The MAGA hat is the 21st century equivalent of the white hood, and it was worn with [White] pride.

I won’t believe these boys were too young to be responsible for their actions until Whiteness/White people extend the privilege of youth to the Trayvons or the Tamirs; until the practice of shipping students away to boarding school where they were stripped of their language, their heritage, their identity, their spiritual practices to force assimilation into the White man’s world is acknowledged, taught, and remembered as an act of genocide; until the hijab-wearing women who have made a choice that feels right for them and their religious expression can walk down a street without harassment; until immigrants can speak any language they please without being questioned, attacked, or detained.

I’m angry, I’m upset, and I’m reminded that allyship is not and can never be a passive activity. I’m also aware that even as I wonder where the hell the chaperones were, I can’t say for certain that I would have acted with any personal courage. Short of full training in deescalation methods, the only way to come close to ensuring one would speak up and speak out is through ongoing visualization of situations and reactions; in other words, practice. Here are a few reminders to help with that practice (h/t this article What It’s Like to Be Harassed for Wearing a Hijab):

1. Don’t be a silent bystander. If you had been in the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial, can you imagine a way to support Nathan Phillips without escalating the situation? What if the chaperones (or anyone for that matter) had started circulating through the boys, saying things like, “Excuse me, I want to get to the front to hear the singing.” What if, once at the front, some adults had engaged in some old-fashioned shushing, with the same message. What if an adult had managed to sidle up next to Nicholas Sandmann and said, “Isn’t this amazing? We’re hearing a song that may well have been sung longer than Europeans have been here.” Would it have been 100% effective? Probably not; but allyship requires trying to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

2. Don’t betray yourself to make “them” comfortable. I have, far more than once in my life, been guilty of this betrayal. I would laugh uncomfortably, but not call out; I would ignore or deflect or act as if I hadn’t heard, rather than deal with a racist situation head-on. It’s the easiest thing to do. It’s the most “polite” way to react. But allyship doesn’t center one’s own needs; it centers the needs of those with whom one is claiming to be an ally. De-escalating a potentially explosive situation may necessarily be an initial strategy, but accountability must follow. Imagine yourself as a chaperone from Covington Catholic, finally back on the bus and headed home to Kentucky. Would the ride home be all 99-bottles-of-beer-on-the-wall (or whatever is the Good Catholic version), or would you speak up and express your dismay and shame at their disrespectful behavior? Would you have decided that it was up to the school to handle the situation, so it was time to just let the boys be boys? Or would you have attempted to have a few one-on-one conversations, either with students, other chaperones, or school officials? How does one work towards accountability?

3. Don’t allow yourself to be weaponized against your allies. This is a popular tactic for those who assume that Whiteness is the only alliance that matters. It’s a tactic that justifies: “Maybe the journalist shouldn’t have called the skee wee of the AKAs ‘screeching,’ but it’s ok because she just didn’t know,” rather than “The journalist exemplifies the drawbacks and dangers of the lack of diversity in reporting.” It’s a tactic that claims faux universality: “Well, who wouldn’t be more than a little intimidated with an Indian and his war drum right in your face?” rather than “More than 100 years of White misinformation has taught that drumming by Natives is synonymous with war, but it would be helpful to understand the role and place of drumming in Native traditions.” It’s a tactic that prioritizes religion/race over morality/humanity: “You can’t tell me that you don’t see a bearded, dark-skinned man in an airport and feel a little bit of fear,” rather than “I can’t imagine how difficult it must be travel to and in the United States when so much hatred is directed to people based only on their looks.” It’s the tactic that says, “Good grief, it’s only a silly tomahawk chop; people need to lighten up.” Rather than _______________________. I’ll let you respond to that. Consider it practice.

  9 comments for “Tuesday in Mooseville – A Rant and a Reminder 1/22/19

  1. basket
    January 22, 2019 at 9:17 am

    Good morning DoReMI. Definitely a lot that needs to be said and unpacked regarding this situation. What was particularly concerning to me was people who believed Mr. Philips at first and then sympathized with Sandmann once his “statement” was issued. I mean, that was transparently a piece of crisis and PR management!!!

    I don’t support doxxing in any way of anyone, but I do wonder if potential colleges/employers are going to hear about his actions and what they would do.

    • DoReMI
      January 22, 2019 at 10:31 am

      Transparently and reported: https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2019/01/21/covington-catholic-runswitch-pr-helped-student-in-controversial-video/2638400002/

      I don’t support doxxing either, but at least the one kid will be remembered, and I doubt the name of the school will be quickly forgotten. But these kids are also not likely to be applying to bastions of liberalism (as they see it), and I don’t see places like Notre Dame or Seton Hall or Xavier viewing their actions as disqualifying. That’s part of why it’s so important for the “disinterested observer” to become interested; we have to be the voices that say, “This can’t continually be swept under the rug.”

  2. January 22, 2019 at 9:42 am

    Thank you, DoReMI. Your post states the situation very well indeed and we would all do well to follow your suggestion to defuse similar situations. That smirk on Sandmann’s face bothers me horribly: it’s just so unpleasant! Probably it bothers me because I’ve seen it so many times before, directed at women.

    And Marlon James’ words are a zinger:

    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DxdmqqkW0AIXucT.jpg:large

  3. JanF
    January 22, 2019 at 10:23 am

    Besides the misuse of “diffuse”* (when it should have been “defuse”) getting on my nerves all day, the tweets claiming that discriminating against someone for their wearing of a MAGA hat is just like discriminating against someone for the color of their skin made me scream at my screen. JHC! If you choose to put a hat on that says to everyone “I am a white supremacist and I support a political party that puts babies in cages” then you deserve to be vilified. It is like putting a confederate flag on your truck – it shows both your ignorance and your hate.

    *The statement “by” the teenager was written for him by a PR firm and they should have known better. I cry for the future of my country as proper grammar becomes optional. :(

    • DoReMI
      January 22, 2019 at 10:51 am

      LOL, about diffuse (which came from the PROFESSIONAL PR letter!); MSNBC is the only place I saw it corrected. As far as all the second-take defenses of Sandmann and Covington Catholic, I’m still calling BS. All we’re seeing is the usual defense of Whiteness, because White people can’t be wrong; they can only be wronged. I think the only good news in all of this is that these takes are becoming transparently obvious. I hate to admit it, but ten years ago or so, I may have been calling for holding off on a rush to judgment until more facts were known. Now I’m [getting] to the point where I can predict what form the defenses will take, and surprising no one, it will always center the white person as the victim.

      • JanF
        January 23, 2019 at 9:26 am

        Excellent framing: “White people can’t be wrong; they can only be wronged.”

        And now the rich parents have hired an attorney to sue anyone who dared call their son a white supremacist and have not apologized. The Covington Kavanaughs are not an outlier, the need to protect their privilege is what led them to vote for tRump – they are desperate to hang onto it.

        • DoReMI
          January 23, 2019 at 10:46 am

          Seriously? I missed the news about the lawyer, but I shouldn’t be surprised…standard intimidation tactic. I really have to wonder what they think they’re accomplishing though. If their goal is to protect their son and his future prospects, all they’re doing his ensuring that his name is remembered when college apps go out. And I’m not sure why they would be so worried anyway, because the RW Grift Machine takes care of its own.

          • JanF
            January 23, 2019 at 12:47 pm

            He will probably have scholarships from Liberty University waiting for him!

            But you are right. If my child was the subject of unwanted online attention, my goal would be to get it to stop as quickly as possible. I suppose that when you are in a class that is effectively immunized against the consequences of your actions, you would see no reason to lie low. His photo will eventually be as famous as the ones in your post.

  4. bfitzinAR
    January 22, 2019 at 10:31 am

    {{{DoReMI}}} – This really is a “teachable moment” for folks who want to be allies and aren’t sure how. It’s not up to folks being abused or victimized to be our teachers, although it’s much appreciated when they do. But paying effen attention to situations like this one, responding in support of the folks being abused or victimized, listening to them and hearing what they are saying about it. And then shaping our behavior based on what they say to support them better. That’s what allyship is all about. (& yes, I recognize that smirk. I know it well, have known it since junior high at the very latest. I will not be gaslighted by anybody trying to tell me it isn’t what it is.)

    Thank you for the reminder of how to handle – as an ally – the abusive situations. As to your question at the end – considering we’re dealing with a bunch of kids in a Catholic school, I’d liken the “tomahawk chop” insult to crossing oneself before the altar – not that I think even that would reach the boys but it might reach the teachers.

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