Covington High School, Racism and Humanist Reflections on Dignity

Over the weekend - students from Covington High School were in DC to protest women's rights. During their time on the mall - they got into - an "engagement" with other groups. Since then - people have been trying to decide - who is right and who is wrong.  And despite all the rhetoric at who is responsible – the answer – as my mom always pointed out is that it takes 2 to fight. Or in this case 3.

When I first saw the video clip - I did not see what the headlines said Or rather - it did not seem egregious. I saw a bunch of kids being confronted with an Indian song/prayer and they reacted to it nervously and also with some excitement. Many appeared to be grooving to the beat but they also seemed to be making fun of it. I did not know what came before. Or the chants of build the wall that apparently happened. It was clear the elder approached the boy and played the drum in his face, but I also didn't see it as aggressive because the boy reacted as one might if a celebrity came up and played a drum in your face - it's a weird situation.

I just thought the boys were responding to a bunch of indigenous people in a really immature way. If I came across indigenous people drumming, I would have stood respectfully and listened and observed and been super annoyed if a bunch of boys were yelling and screaming over the performance as these boys were. But then I saw another clip where they were chanting - build the wall. And that is racist given the circumstances.  The MAGA hats definitely played a roll in this being considered racist - more on that later.

I think the lesson is that all sides are correct about what THEY personally experienced. The problem we have is we want people to be wrong -  and we want to assign blame - specifically to other people. We want our dignity violations to be recognized and we want to fight for our dignity - not realizing when we violate the dignity of others in the process. All sides - guilty of being stupid. Which isn't surprising - because no group corners the market in stupidity.

Perspectives, Sides and a Humanist reminder

All parties involved share blame for what happened. Including all the people on all sides that have tried to politicize this. The people present - were victimized by what happened.

In reality and in life – there are rarely good guys and bad guys. There are just people. And everyone in the groups present – clearly feels like their dignity has been violated. There have been past violations and current violations that caused all individuals involved to respond the way they did.

The black Hebrews were there to speak about whatever it is they think is wrong with the world and wrong being done to them.

The native Americans – same thing – they were there to represent and to express their feelings over what is wrong in the world and the wrong that is being done to them.

The white boys – were there to express their feelings over what they think is wrong with the world and the wrong they thinks is being done to them and they were apparently responding to the things the Black Hebrews were yelling at them - in a negative way.

People in all three of these groups, are focused on the wrongs they experience and are absolutely convinced that the wrongs the other people are concerned about – aren’t as big a deal – or – aren’t real.  The only thing that is real – is the wrong – they personally experience, - the other people – are perpetrators of the wrong. The people to blame for what is wrong.

This is the nature of dignity violations. People in conflict – are in conflict – because they have been harmed in some way – and are not being heard or recognized as whole and the violation of their dignity isn't being recognized. So they are fighting for their dignity and the dignity of the people they care about.

And all three groups were doing this – and as is almost always the case – they were all violating the dignity of others in their attempts to protect and proclaim their own dignity.  Let's take everyone's statements at face value - and we should for the moment.

The boy in front of the elder – thought he was being calm and de-escalating things when an aggressive elder came and played the drum in his face.

The elder thought – he was de-escalating things when he tried to walk through the crowd of boys and was stopped by the boy who stood in his way.  We actually can acknowledge the reality that both the boy and the man – experienced what happened – differently – through their own lens of experience.  And that both felt that the other was the aggressor, because they were looking at it through their own lens of experience.

There is no bad guy – or someone we can blame. Both are to blame and both are victims.

This is why I teach humanism.  One – it means –  I can see both the boy in the MAGA hat and the elder – as humans. And I can see both their actions through the narratives that they have given us.  And I can acknowledge their POV without demeaning and dismissing the other person’s POV. Both POV’s are valid because THAT is how each person experienced it.

And yes – it would be ideal if we could agree on a common narrative and assign blame to one party or the other. But we don’t need to assign blame to fix the problem. We need to see each other as fully human and with dignity and not as enemies we need to fight.  It is only when we recognize the other as human – that we eliminate the desire to fight.

It was the desire to fight for what each side thinks is right – that caused what happened to happen.  Instead of joining in the fight and picking sides – maybe we should encourage everyone to acknowledge the fact that the other people – have valid points – are valid people – with dignity and worth and that while there are definitely bad people in the world  - not everyone you meet is your enemy.

For instance - had those boys met the indigenous people - before having their experience with the black Hebrews - their interaction with the elders may have been very very different. That doesn't excuse their behavior - it contextualizes it. The kids acted totally inappropriately. So did the Black Hebrews.

The point is - all narratives appear to be true to the individual who has expressed it and to understand what happened - means - accepting those conflicting narratives without having to take sides and entering fight mode with the individuals who were involved.

MAGA Hats are now symbols of racial terrorism. 

Part of the defense of the boys is that the MAGA hats don't mean these boys are racists.  And that is true. Not everyone who wears a MAGA hat is a racial terrorist. Just as not everyone who has a confederate flag is a racial terrorist.

But what the boys and their supporters need to understand is that racial terrorists do wear those hats and fly those flags as symbols of group identity and the group identity of racial terrorists - is racial terrorism. It is a perfectly rational connection to make - given the recent experiences we have with MAGA hat wearing young white men. See below.

white supremacists/nazi's marching in the Trump uniform
in Charlottesville wearing MAGA hats

Nazi's wearing MAGA Hats

Proud Boys wearing MAGA Hats

Nazi wearing MAGA hat at Trump rally. 

People who equate those hats with racial terrorism - aren't doing that arbitrarily. We have seen young white MAGA hate wearing males violently threatening people and in some cases - actually killing people with alarming frequency.

If I saw a large group of young white men wearing MAGA hats shouting at black people - I would assume they were racial terrorists of the type we see above. I would have no way of knowing otherwise. It's one of those - if you look like a racial terrorist and act like a racial terrorist you are probably a racial terrorist - sort of situations.

This does not mean that every young white male who wears this hat agrees with the racial terrorists. But it does mean that young white males wearing these hats and shouting things at black people IS associated with racial terrorism.

If you are a person being targeted by these racial terrorists - trying to figure out whether this particular group of young white males who look like a racial terrorists are racial terrorist or not - is not your safest course of action. The safest course of action for people whose lives are being actively threatened by racial terrorism when they encounter a group of young white males dressed EXACTLY like the racial terrorists and shouting the same things racial terrorists tend to shout - is to assume - this group is probably a racial terrorist group and they might want to hurt me. Especially when it appears to be a mob of highly agitated young white males all wearing the same symbolic hat young white male racial terrorists wear. The association of these boys with racial terrorists - was/is a reasonable assumption to make even if the individuals in question are not personally associated with racial terrorists.

The Covington High School boy
If young white males don't want to be associated with racial terrorists - then it's on them - to make sure they do not signal to others - their affiliation with racial terrorists!  Because racial terrorists have adopted the hat and the Trump uniform as their group identity markers - people targeted by those racial terrorists have to consider the possibility that any young white male dressed like a racial terrorist - might actually be a racial terrorist - even if they are not because racial terrorism - is literally - a life or death matter.

And no- it is not fair to be judged by your clothing choice or the color of your skin. Welcome to how everyone else experiences discrimination. But it is a choice to wear what has become the uniform of young white male racial terrorist and they can chose to not march in lock step with this uniform any time they want to.

And no - I'm not going to not consider them a possible white racial terrorist just because they don't want to be associated with racial terrorists. At this point - wearing a MAGA hat  IS like waving the damned confederate flag. Don't blame the victims of terrorism for responding rationally to the terrorism they are experiencing. Blame the fucking terrorists for being terrorists and for corrupting or appropriating your symbols.

Denying the reality of other's experiences

When POC and indigenous people see a group of young white males wearing and displaying what have become symbols of racial terrorism, responding as if those kids are possible racial terrorists - IS a rational response. Denying that it is a rational response to the symbols of racial terrorism is to deny the existence of racial terrorism! And when you deny racial terrorism - you deny the hurt and harm done to millions and millions of people over a period of centuries! You deny the dignity, existence and legitimacy of the people who have been victimized by racial terrorists in this country.

I understand the young men did not like being called racists and I get that. No one wants to be viewed as a racist. They felt their individual dignity had been violated and they were acting to "defend themselves." The problem is - their defense - was/is to center themselves as victims and to deny the victimization of people who have literally endured centuries of death and destruction at the hands of racial terrorists in this country! This denial of the impact racial terrorism has on it's victims - is NOT ok. It's not humane. It's not civilized, it's not compassionate and it's grossly upsetting to watch.

Those boys chose to wear clothing associated with racial terrorists. They chose to respond to black people telling them they looked like racial terrorist by yelling back and fighting back. And then they pointed their fear and anger towards indigenous people who had NOT accused them of racial terrorism and who in fact - were just singing songs.

The harm of being called a racist by complete strangers - is NOT equivalent to the harm caused BY actual racial terrorism. And again - people who are victims of terrorism are responding rationally when they see people dressed as the terrorists dress and point out - hey - you look like a fucking terrorist. Trying to shift the blame - as the Covington boys are - to the victims or racial terrorism - is inappropriate. The young boys had their dignity violated - but they are NOT the victims in what happened and we should not be pretending that they are.

The appropriate response to having your dignity violated by being associated with people you don't agree with is not to start acting EXACTLY like the people you claim you don't agree with. Their response - with the hats - looked exactly like a young white male racial terrorist mob. And people who saw that and have been victimized by these mobs - responded to the display of young white male solidarity - as one would expect - with fear.

A better learning experience would be for the adults around these boys - to give them a proper fucking history lesson - so they can understand WHY the people they encountered experienced them the way they did. Instead - the adults around them are blaming victims of racial terrorism for responding to a display that looked for all the world like a racial terrorist demonstration they way they did.

The need for compassion & responsible adults

All parties involved experienced "dignity violations" and caused dignity violations. The problem is that the dignity violations the boys experienced - isn't ANYWHERE close to being as bad as the dignity violations, death and destruction that have occurred as a result of centuries of racial terrorism.  I would hope that a Catholic school - would teach these boys compassion.

Compassion compels us to look beyond our own pain - to view and see the pain of others as legitimate. It's a very hard thing to do and I understand these young men - need coaching and teaching and mentoring on it. As do all young people.

Which is why if there is anyone to blame - it is the chaperones and adults around these young men. When the boys first encountered the Black Hebrews - they should have been instructed - to ignore them and not engage with them. No one can take away your dignity by shouting things at you.

When they encountered the indigenous people - they should have been instructed to observe respectfully what was an a form of worship and to learn about the other people - and why they were protesting. In short - they should have been taught to listen and learn with compassion and been given a history lesson as to why Indiginous people would be protesting on the mall. .

Instead - their chaperones allowed this group of young men to work themselves up into a protective fighting force. Which - when you combine that with symbols of racial terrorism - is terrifying!  They boys were failed by their mentors and chaperones and did not act with dignity. Neither did the Black Hebrews. But the Elder - did act with dignity.

As for the boy who confronted the Elder - he appears to have tried to act with dignity - but ... he could have also just - made way for the guy - instead of standing his ground as if the steps of the Lincoln memorial belonged to him. He made a choice to stand in front of this drummer and block his way and he could have just as easily - moved aside and stood down. He didn't. He stood his ground which means he understood what was happening - to be a fight. Does anyone really think he would have stood his ground with dignity - if he had viewed what was happening as a cultural learning experience instead? And again - the blame for this - lies with the chaperones and teachers who did not help the young men understand what was happening and help them choose non-violent responses to what was happening. The chaperones and adults instead allowed the boys to ramp up into a defensive fighting display which - because of their clothing choices - looked just like a terrorist display.

Focus & Truths

Symbols of racial terrorism - really are symbols of racial terrorism. People who point out that symbols of racial terrorism are symbols of racial terrorism - are not the problem.

The racial terrorists - ARE the problem. Refusal to even discuss the racial terrorists and how to stop them and protect their targets IS the problem.

Treating victims of racial terrorism as if they are to blame - IS a problem. It lacks compassion and is a completely inhumane way to treat victims of violence.

Dressing up like racial terrorists and then blaming people who responded to you as if you are a terrorist - is gas-lighting.

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