Some of the things I have learned, or internalized more deeply, this week, in the wake of the clashing of worlds at the Lincoln Memorial last week:
* I am quick to jump into the dogpile, to join the mob. We think of mobs as being misguided bigots destroying the objects of their hatred, but there are also vigilante mobs that take justice into their own hands, destroying those who are rightly deserving of justice before reasoning justice itself can take place. And this makes the original crime scene so very messy. I think the internet this week has been a little like a vigilante mob, tearing into those boys before reasoning justice had a chance to take place. I might never be the one in the mob who yells death threats or speaks of punching and hitting rude children, but my own energy was certainly part of that mob, and I feel a little sullied by my egging on of the ones at the center.
* I am not ashamed of my rage at the obvious racism, only at my part in the dogpile.
* I think one of the reasons vigilante mobs form IRL and in the virtual world is because we don’t trust reasoning justice to intervene. In the current political climate, with our awareness of the terrible injustices committed by our government toward families trying to enter our country, with our own knowledge of the moral rot at the center of our administration, it is only natural that the mob feel like we are the only justice available when boys seem to be taking cues from our bigoted president to disrespect an elder with a drum.
* I think perceptions are at the center of this story. Those who watched the first video and saw (like myself) aggressive, chanting, jeering boys were not wrong, exactly, but we were not privy to the whole story. Those who watched the longer video and saw a slight difference in how the scene played out were not wrong, exactly, but we were not privy to the whole story. And mostly, I think it’s really important to look at Mr. Phillips’ perceptions. Viewing the second video caused people to question his veracity, but if you were to come upon a large group of mostly white boys wearing MAGA gear chanting and dancing to their sports chants in the direction of a small group of black men, what assumptions would you make? Who would you see as the aggressor?
* The Red Hat and Hatred: We’re that divided. If you support this president, please understand that it’s no longer as simple as us having a disagreement about how this country should be run. We who question his competency as president don’t just think he makes bad policy. We see a dangerous bigot who is not only racist and misogynist himself, but who brings out those things in his supporters. To us, MAGA hats are declarations of one’s own racism and misogyny. Red hat has come to signify hatred. Yes, we’re triggered, but we have reasons to be, and we need you to try to understand why, or we begin to question your intentions as well.
* Sports chants. I am not a sports fan, so perhaps I am not the person to discuss this. Or maybe that makes me the perfect outsider to explain what I see. Sports chanting is aggressive. Sports are rivalries and competitions, and while good sporting behavior is often taught and learned in the context of sporting competitions, the chanting and dancing often moves past simple support for one’s team into primal aggression. Whatever adult said yes to those boys responding to taunting by doing their sports chants was irresponsible and thoughtless. And watching the videos of past sports events at Covington Catholic, it becomes pretty clear that these boys took their chants to a fever pitch of aggression, and aggression which included clear racist markers. I struggle to believe their claims of innocence of the knowledge of the implications of wearing blackface.
* More on perceptions: Did the boys perceive themselves to be acting out of racism there by the Lincoln Memorial? I’m not sure we can say. But I do think, either way, that we can say it was a racist incident. Yes, they were provoked. Yes, they were unprepared. Yes, they were woefully and unconscionably un-chaperoned. But they were acting with all the signs and markers of completely unquestioned white privilege. I might be working to eradicate the racist biases in my own soul, but when I act unconsciously out of my racial biases, then I am being racist.
* Even when (especially when) stories are more complex than they appear on the surface, there are no two sides to racism, no two sides to disrespect for elders.
* Where were the chaperones? I think if we bring a reasoning sense of justice to this situation, the boys certainly need to be held accountable for their actions, but if they’re the only ones who receive opprobrium in this situation, then injustice has been done to them as well, and the real culprits are left to continue ignoring their culpability: the teachers and parents, the school administration, and the chaperones on this adventure. These children have not been taught to question their privilege. They’ve been taught to lean into it, to revel in it, even. They’ve been encouraged to take on the mantle of wealthy white patriarchy. They’re being groomed to carry on the traditions of powerful white men controlling the religious and financial and political institutions of the world. The real culprits, in my opinion, are the ones who are grooming them. Real justice will only be done when the invisible adults are held accountable.
* And the moment I point my finger at those people, I feel a ripple of a shock wave in my own direction. While my own teaching and parenting are geared, to the best of my ability, at tearing down those structures, at getting the young people of my life to examine their privileges and their biases, I know that I, too, work out of my own biases and my own privilege. We who parent and teach and mold the next generation have a great weight of responsibility. And the boys of Covington Catholic, and especially their invisible chaperones, draw that into high relief.
* Addendum: I am so tired of that picture. I feel so manipulated. I feel confused. I feel sullied. I feel the continuing outrage that flows from me, through those boys, to the president. I am so tired of that picture. But: It is a mirror. No matter who put it up, no matter their intentions, no matter the unclarity of the boy’s own intentions and perceptions, it is a mirror. It is a mirror. Can I dare to keep looking into it?
1. Mirrors. The mirror of Nathan Phillips and his drum. The mirror, ugly as it is, of the Covington Catholic boys–I will never learn to question my own privilege if I don’t have to confront it in the ugly mirror of my own assumptions.
2. The holy blue of winter
3. Being able to lay down the weight of first semester and focus on the work of second semester
4. How the cats come up and gently greet me throughout the day when I am at home.
5. Silence and solitude.
May we walk in Awareness.
“Like water, be gentle and strong. Be gentle enough to follow the natural paths of the earth and strong enough to rise up and reshape the world.” ―Brenda Peterson
“Tyrants fear the poet.” —Amanda Gorman, U.S. Youth Poet Laureate
In the very end, civilizations perish because they listen to their politicians and not to their poets.” —Jonas Mekas
“Are you enhancing your power to discern the difference between rash risks motivated by fear and smart gambles driven by authentic intuition?” —Rob Brezsny
“I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being. And even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality. Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable; so did the divine right of kings. . . . Power can be resisted and changed by human beings; resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words. I’ve had a long career and a good one, in good company, and here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. . . . The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.” ―Ursula Le Guin
“I wonder how the world would be different if we grew down?” —Someone in my House, a few years ago