Calling All White People, Part 31: Those Covington teens are no angels

Calling All White People, Part 31

(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)

By An Average White Guy

TODAY’S EPISODE: Wearing MAGA hats should have been the end of the debate  

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

I don’t know how you could have missed the news, but in case you don’t know what I mean when I say I’m going to talk about the Covington teens and Nathan Phillips, here is a link to a Vox article that I feel may be among the more balanced/neutral of the bunch.

So, we started with a viral video that had people decrying the teens as racist and aggressive…then we had the release of a much longer video that shows a group of Black Hebrew Israelites having shouted unpleasant things at the teens and other occurrences that add a ton more context and nuance. The release of that longer video had conservatives shouting “fake news” and saying that the teens were rushed to judgment, though frankly a lot of people have noted that the longer video, while it may make the adults look less sympathetic, might make the teens look as bad as before, and maybe even worse.

Regardless, I’m going to focus on the teens. All indications are that their school is fine with racism (students in blackface taunting opposing Black athletes at games) and that their parents are largely racist as well, because that’s where kids tend to learn this stuff the most strongly.

And I am going to say this: Those teens, especially the smirking future Brett Kavanaugh we see in the face of lead Covington teen Nick Sandmann, are racist.

I said it. I’m not taking it back. They’re racist.

Whether or not the adults in question made the best choices, and whether the initial story was skewed, those teens are not victims here. They were heralds and foot soldiers for white supremacy, and in my mind they got what they deserved.

And no, don’t give me arguments about how they’re just kids when Black children and Black teens are so often killed or harmed by police and civilian white people and we’re told “they should have known better” or “if they had just complied better”…

More importantly, if you’re one of the people who initially thought “those teens were repugnant” and now, in the wake of the longer video and wider discussion, you are ready to defend them or cut them slack, let me break some things down for you:

Those teens were in DC to march against women’s bodily autonomy. Yeah, so what if that’s not related to racism? It sets the stage. The kids weren’t there on some random, innocent trip. They were there as religious foot soldiers. They were there to agitate and apparently did engage in taunting of women while there. Certainly, any pro-choice woman would have rightly seen them as aggressors and opponents, and rightly so. Sure, the teens have every right if they want to espouse extreme views that advance a religious and patriarchical agenda that takes away women’s autonomy. But it establishes that they weren’t innocent bystanders.

They were wearing MAGA hats. This is the most damning thing of all. The whole “Make America Great Again” motto, and especially with those red hats, is a rallying cry of the Trump regime. He has marketed and used it profusely. And the “great again” part of that clearly aims to elevate white people generally and white men in particular. If the teens’ purpose was to rally for the right to life on behalf of unborn children, why are they so prominently wearing what is essentially the modern-day equivalent of a KKK hood? Because they were there to proudly declare their allegiance to Trump’s agenda, to white supremacy and to intolerance, not simply to a “pro-life” stance.

They took that shit right to some Black people. Say what you will about whether the Black Hebrew Israelites were obnoxious or out of line. Perhaps they were. But those teens took those MAGA hats and their MAGA agenda to a spot where there were Black people. Bottom line: Wearing a MAGA hat and approaching any person of color, but most particularly Black or Indigenous people of color, is an act of aggression by its very nature. You might as well be wearing a Nazi patch or some white supremacy pin on your jacket.

They surrounded, blocked and mocked an Indigenous elder. Even if you argue that Phillips should not have intervened to try to head off potential trouble between the Covington teens and the Black Hebrew Israelites…even if you say that his chanting and drumming was “in the face” of Sandmann and therefore aggressive…that boy stood there defiantly with a smirk on his face and a MAGA hat on his head blocking Phillips, and his friends were all around that old man, and they taunted that Indigenous elder with “tomahawk chops” and “war whoops” which is about as classically anti-Native American racist as you can damn well get. And threatening, too. Multiple high-schoolers against a single old guy?

Those teens stuck their foot in it, and they got pushback. If you don’t want trouble, don’t start trouble. And they were there to start it. And when they got caught going too far, they suddenly cried “victim” and the mainstream media gave them all the airtime in the world to humanize themselves. The most peaceful person in the situation, Phillips, is made into a villain, as countless Black and Indigenous and Latinx and Arab and Muslim people have before him.

Whiteness is always allowed that chance to redeem and humanize itself in this country, while people of color rarely get that chance. And that is the ultimate “race card.” Sandmann and the other Covington teens and their parents are playing that card…that “Get out of jail free” card that most white people get in multiples while non-white people get few second chances…and that makes them racist. Out in the media crying “foul” when they were the foul ones to begin with.

Not just racist, but white supremacist. Trayvon Martin and other Black youth have been tagged as “they’re no angels” after they became victims, as a way to make them less sympathetic. Well, these white teens are no angels either, and they aren’t victims of anything but their own hubris and cockiness.

And so, while there may be blame to spread around, most of it lies at the feet of white people, yet again. Because they started the shit to begin with.

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The lies can mount, but whiteness still prevails

Late Thursday night last week, Buzzfeed broke the story that the president is doing that shit we all thought he was doing. We’ve pretty much known since November.

Cue the avalanche of think pieces proclaiming yet again that this is the beginning of the end for 45. Finally, this is the lie that the American People will not tolerate! But then Friday comes and objections emerge from Mueller’s office and I can’t help but wonder if any of this even matters.

The question seems to be “Has the president committed a crime?” Well, there are problems with that question. First of all, we’re conflating illegal and immoral. Some of us know who he’s always been and hate it, and some of us are OK with that and wish he’d be a little more of himself. Two versions of right and wrong, but there aren’t two versions of legal and illegal. Of course, that’s no great equalizer as so often the difference is decided by corporations and the wealthy elite. (For other examples of moral/legal differences involving the will of the rich and powerful, please see: Jim Crow, Slavery, Native American Genocide.)

In the end, it comes down to what 45 symbolizes, which is whiteness.

I know, I know. Hang on, hang on! Whiteness?

Yup. Whiteness. Again. But if that word gets in your way, try to think of it as permission. Like if you’re white, you have permission not to be pulled over for the color of your skin. Or if you are white and get pulled over, you have permission not to be killed for your skin color. Or if you’re convicted of a crime, you have permission to get out of jail well before a Black person who has been convicted of the same crime. You get the idea.

Anyway, yes, the president symbolizes whiteness. It’s the apparently invisible through-line for his entire political party. Some republicans will justify their political stances with their Christianity. Others with ideas about fiscal conservatism and others still with some kind of semi-patriotic notion of defending a noble, fly-over, white working class. That was all perfectly plausible right up until they voted for an east coast elite with an exclusive personal history of fiscally irresponsible extravagance and at the very least amorality when it comes to lifestyle.

I know I keep saying this, but…

For five years before he even ran, 45 got in front of every camera he could find, pointed at the Black president and screeched all about how that n*gger ain’t from around here!If you didn’t know anything else about his politics—which you didn’t because he’d been on both sides of every other issue—you knew that.

The hope is that it’s unsustainable. Like, stacking the religious lies and the fiscal lies and the cultural lies of the party, and then the individual lies of the politicians, and then the personal lies of the members and finally, the infinite amount of lies of the president will create some sort of Tower of Babel situation and the whole thing will come crashing down.

That could be true. It’s probably not, but it could be. In the end, whiteness—that is, giving legal and social permission based on skin color—should be a crime, but instead it’s the glue that holds the tower together. And as long as 45 continues to be that glue, I can’t see any limit to the heights he can climb.

On the bright side, just before Rome fell, rather than the wealthy admit the end, they allowed the poor to fall into such desperation as to cannibalize one another!

Wait. That’s not a bright side.

Maybe there’s no bright side.

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In the fear of being racist, failing to be an ally

Trigger warning: this essay discusses sexual abuse and assault.

When I saw Dave Chappelle’s skit in 2003 of a music video parodying someone named R. Kelly, I’m ashamed to admit I thought it kinda gross but also kinda funny. (My shame today wants me to not tell you this, but I won’t let it stop me.) At the time, I didn’t know why he created the video. I also didn’t try to find out. So I didn’t know it had anything to do with sexual assault victims of R. Kelly. I just cringed, hummed along to the song, and laughed. A lot. I’m now horrified I was so dismissive of Kelly’s victims, but this isn’t about me and my feelings.

If you don’t already know about it, a documentary called “Surviving R. Kelly” recently aired on Lifetime television last week. The documentary exposes Kelly as a serial and sadistic abuser of young girls and women. Highlighting interviews with women who survived his abuse, it shows how his career has been “riddled with rumors of abuse, predatory behavior, and pedophilia.” And, “[d]espite damning evidence and multiple witnesses, to date, none of these accusations have seemingly affected him.”

It’s only because I follow many Black women on social media that I became aware of this documentary. In addition to the palpable pain and outrage the women expressed, I saw anger at white people’s silence. Anger at how we didn’t listen, didn’t see, didn’t hear when Black girls and women told us about the abuse.

For example:

Or this powerful tweet thread (several tweets connected together) by @DrSamiSchalk:

I tried to answer her questions (in my mind). Because I’m a sexual abuse and assault survivor myself, I certainly had thoughts about his predatory behavior, but it didn’t feel right to tweet about it. Why? Because he’s Black. I’m not saying I think it’s racist to bring awareness to his crimes, but I am saying part of me preferred speaking up about white perpetrators instead of a Black one. I am sure, too, that I was afraid it would seem racist to “pick on” this particular criminal. Tweeting about Jeffrey Epstein? Sure, but a Black man? Should I really do that?

Back to Dr. Sami Schalk:

Yes, I think my fear of being racist—and in this case, I mean causing harm to people of color as an individual rather than racism as the structure on which our country is founded—my fear is sometimes stronger than my solidarity with Black women and girls. (I recommend reading the whole thread, here.).

The solution for me is not to criticize the abuser himself—though I certainly wouldn’t defend him—but to talk about the system that allowed him to continue harming Black girls. A society that doesn’t value Black girls, doesn’t hear Black girls or women when they speak, or tells them to shut up when they raise their voices loud enough that they’re harder to ignore.

So many people were just like me, laughing along with Dave Chappelle. (Chappelle even went as far as saying 15-year-olds are old enough to offer informed consent to sexual acts with an adult.) Again, I won’t let my shame about the truth silence me: It must be that I didn’t care enough about Black girls and women to notice what they were saying.

It’s because of this that I will be talking with people about the systems that allowed Kelly to abuse these girls and young women. Twitter white woman Erynn Brook has some good thoughts on how to be white and against R. Kelly. The #MeToo movement, started by Tarana Burke, a Black woman, is a movement that stands against all abusers. But the truth is, not all survivors are treated equally. I will actively make sure my fellow white people know about “Surviving R. Kelly,” bringing to their awareness how our society has especially let down Black girls and women. Yes, all abuse is bad. But we’ve got to start recognizing that all survivors are equally deserving of our response; that thus far we haven’t acted like that is true. We need to care about Black girls and women more. We need to do more for and with Black girls and women so we can, together, destroy misogynoir.

If you want to learn more, check out Feminista Jones’ “Surviving R. Kelly’ and the Inherent Violence of Being a Black Woman;” this piece by Morgan Jenkins in Teen Vogue, “R. Kelly and Other Powerful Men Have Always Manipulated Their Teen Fans;” or, especially, this piece that includes viewing advice for those of us who haven’t yet seen the documentary: “After Surviving R. Kelly, What Now? How About Trusting Survivors and Dismantling Systemic Misogynoir?

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Photo by Lorna Scubelek on Unsplash