Their behavior was widely condemned as disrespectful, privileged, and racist.
Then, the news cycle flipped. Now, we are told, in labeling this interaction racist, we jumped the gun. We need to go back and watch the many camera angles to understand that the crowd of menacing tomahawk chops were actually innocent boys in a more complicated and nuanced situation. We are told the takeaway isn’t about racism or privilege, but a much more palatable “don’t believe everything you see online.”
I know what I saw.
….The truth is, Native Americans experience racial hostility daily, but people rarely pay attention. In the now ancient reactions of the first 24 hours of this controversy’s life cycle, Native voices were the first to report and share the video. Rather than expressing shock, most Native voices expressed a tired familiarity of just how common, how everyday these experiences are. We have all seen our prayers, our songs, our culture mocked. We have all been on the receiving end of that shamelessly smug smirk.
….But before the public could learn about contemporary racism against Native people, the truth got squashed — professionally.
…Sandmann’s family hired a well-connected PR firm to spin the story. RunSwitch, whose co-owner Scott Jennings is an adviser to House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and is a CNN contributor, pushed the story Sunday that Nick and his peers were the real victims. After neglecting to disclose its ties to RunSwitch, CNN shared Sandmann’s statement, and the rest of the mainstream media, with its bottomless mercy for white boys and bottomless suspicion for people color, gobbled it up.
…While we are told by Sandmann’s PR firm that the high school students were frightened and intimidated by the group’s insults, on camera they respond by chanting, yelling, and ripping off their shirts.
Countless people have been harassed in public by the Black Israelites and groups like them, but nowhere else do such interactions translate into blanket permission to harass and disrespect other people. How does the behavior of a completely separate group of people justify the students’ treatment of Phillips?
…In what reality do intimidated and frightened teenagers scream, chant, and rip off their shirts? In what universe does singing a hand drum song — the AIM anthem — equal a threat or confrontation? How on earth is staring someone down and smirking an expression of respect and peace?
…Up is still up, down is still down, the truth is still the truth and the actions of the Covington Catholic youth are still racist and wrong. The media pundits who are tripping over themselves to appear neutral and balanced are feeding into gaslighting tactics that are becoming more common in the era of Trump and more effective as our national dialogue is anchored further and further away from the truth.
…The privilege, the racism, the searing hate in the video is undeniable. The only question is whether or not we will call it what it is or — as so often happens — rewrite history.