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raceAhead: When Covington High School Marched On Washington

January 23, 2019, 10:16 PM UTC

Who gets to be redeemed?

I’ve been thinking about 12-year-old Tamir Rice playing with his toy gun, alone in a Cleveland park; killed by a police officer who took just two seconds to decide whether the child was a lethal threat.

I’ve been thinking about the many black girls, ages 5-14, who research shows are viewed by society as older and more sexualized than they are, and less in need of comfort or protection; and the black boys who, by the age of ten, are more likely to perceived by their white peers as older, criminally inclined, and dangerous.

I’ve been thinking about the Indigenous girls and women who remain disproportionately kidnapped, trafficked, assaulted, and murdered.

I’ve been thinking about the glowing reviews that Sue Klebold, the mother of Columbine mass murderer Dylan Klebold, received for her New York Times bestseller, A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy. “Never, since reading [Klebold’s original essay], have I ever blamed parents for their child’s behavior, especially kids in their teen years,” says one.

And then I think about some of the comments on Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil: The Life, Legacy, and Love of My Son Michael Brown, a book written by his mother, Lezley McFadden. “What a total load of garbage. This is just another attempt by the parent of a criminal thug to capitalize on her dead criminal son’s notoriety,” wrote one.

Klebold’s book outsold McFadden’s on Amazon 45-to-1.

I’ve been thinking about forgiveness, blame, redemption, and race, after watching hours of shaky footage from the now-famous incident at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, on Friday, in which students, one in particular, from the all-boys Covington High School in Park Hills, Kentucky appeared to taunt a Native American elder who had been participating in the nearby Indigenous People’s March.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why reasonable people (not trolls or bots) will consider the same event and conclude very different things.

A short video of the encounter went viral triggering a massive online outcry. A MAGA-hatted teen named Nick Sandmann was shown in a standoff with Nathan Phillips and became the focal point of the outrage. Media outlets jumped on the story, and in doing so, may have prevented a full assessment of the event. Many later retreated. An equal and opposite outcry ensued. Sandmann, who has now become the face of the issue, published a statement prepared by a public relations firm, then attempted to make his case on morning television. He meant no disrespect, he said, falling short of an apology.

I’m not sure the additional videos that were later added to provide more context helped all that much. (I’m not going to link to the ones which show the some of the students heckling girls and one making a rape joke.)

This video, posted by Indian Country Today, may be the most helpful context available. It shows a swirling mass of MAGA outfitted boys having fun, behaving a bit like they were in a pep rally, then gleefully returning smirky insults delivered by five members of a provocative group known as the Black Hebrew Israelites. They were annoying, but not dangerous, and the students didn’t seem intimidated by them.

For one thing, the students dramatically outnumbered them.

Then Phillips and his small group approached trying to defuse the back and forth, chanting and banging a drum for peace. The students, who would be perceived by anyone with eyes as a mob, reignited. They continued to beat their chests, laugh, chant, cajole, smirk, shove, and make tomahawk gestures—a little like the type of “boys being boys” behavior that was recently called out in a Gillette commercial, triggering similar outrage.

The students were there to attend the Right To Life March, and the kindest thing I can say is that they appeared utterly unconnected to the mission of their trip and wholly unprepared to do the serious work of engaging in a public conversation about women’s reproductive health.

Perhaps Sandmann is really the face of a different problem.

Adam Howard, an education professor at Colby College and the author of Learning Privilege: Lessons of Power and Identity in Affluent Schooling, tells Vox in a must-read interview, that Sandmann’s smirk has a dark, and familiar-to-many, interpretation. It “communicates that I’m better than you, that I don’t even have enough respect for you to even say anything to communicate.”

But he’s also just a boy who is still figuring things out, a privilege never available to just a boy playing with a toy gun. Or walking home with Skittles. Or listening to music in his car. Or an elder and Veteran who has spent his life and meager resources advocating for the vulnerable and invisible.

Partisan talking points aside, Sandmann is surrounded by a community who so far seems unwilling or unable to do the hard work of unpacking what happened that day, to explore the unearned power of young white men, and reflect on the dynamics of gender, race, and history that played out on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. You can’t respect who you can’t see. And you can’t seek redemption you don’t think you need.

Yes, life is trash in the doxxing age. But this isn’t really about that.

It’s about who gets a pass and who doesn’t and why. I believe that Sandmann and his friends think they did nothing wrong. I believe that they could have done better. So, it makes perfect sense that we would reach opposite conclusions from the same video; after all, we live in two different worlds. Theirs is ripe with unfettered opportunity, mine is filled with black and brown bodies who will never be redeemed. In the gulf between those two worlds lies the work.

On Point

The military ban on transgender troops is temporarily back in effectThe Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the Trump Administration was free to reinstate the policy of barring transgender people from serving in the military. The decision was 5-4, and is not yet final. For Brynn Tannehill, a former Navy aviator and defense analyst, it was a devastating decision. She ticks through both her outstanding career and the history of the dispute, and her ten year effort to stay fit to fly—at her own expense—in order to return to her military career. “I was hoping against hope, throughout this process, that I’d be able to join my friends who had fought alongside me for the right to serve openly,” she writes. While the decision is not final, the damage it can do is profound. “Their decision signals a weakening of any shelter transgender people might find under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment,” she writes.New York Times

One Oscar nomination has spurred a new spate of activism
There was plenty of good news all around in this year’s nominations, though some of us continue to lament the shocking exclusion of Sorry to Bother You, but that’s fine. But this is a truly delightful outcome. Roma, which received ten nominations for the wrenching story of an Indigenous domestic worker, will be available outside of Netflix in special screenings for domestic workers and their employers. The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and Participant Media will host the screenings in twelve cities including Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and Seattle, and they will not be open to the general public. "Domestic workers are the unsung heroines of our families and of our economy… It’s time we recognize and protect this workforce,” said Ai-jen Poo, director of the NDWA.
Los Angeles Times

Ten short films by Latino directors you must see
The Remezcla staff felt this list of short films was necessary because U.S. based Latino directors are working at a distinct disadvantage: Directors working in Latin America often have the benefit of government funding for their film projects. “The glaring differences are evidenced in the vast disparity between the amount of Latin American movies circling the globe at Class-A festivals compared to Latino ones,” they write. The winners were selected from suggestions offered by film experts; so many Latino filmmakers working today are second-generation kids of working-class immigrants, they say, it makes supporting their work even more vital. “Then, we’ll see actual change in the representation of Latinos—both in front of the camera and behind it.” Enjoy.

A Texas wedding venue turns away a same-sex couple
The owner refused Aaron Lucero’s request to book the venue, emailing him to say that the marriage would violate God’s plan for marriage as between a man and a woman. “Given His plan and design for marriage, we dare not veer from His instruction lest we be guilty of altering what He has set forth,” the email said. Lucero chose to make the refusal public in a Facebook post because “they refuse to publicize their discriminatory policy on their website. They want to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community in private.” While there are no anti-LGBTQ discrimination laws in Texas, “we don’t want any other gay couples to experience what we have been through this weekend.”
Deep South Voice


The Woke Leader

Zora Neale Hurston and Eleanor Roosevelt collaborated on the first realistic black baby doll
Black children had long preferred playing with white dolls to black ones, and studies dating back to the 1930s believed the culprit was internalized racism. Well yes, posited some, but it might also be because most available black dolls were either racist stereotypes or white dolls painted a funny color. Activist Sara Lee Creech decided to create a beautiful and realistic black doll and shared her idea with Hurston. Someone else wrangled Roosevelt, who so loved the idea she held an informal focus group with Mary Bethune, Ralph Bunche, and Jackie Robinson, to consult on the doll’s appearance. The Ideal Toy company manufactured the Sara Lee doll, which first appeared in the 1951 Sears Roebuck Christmas Catalog.
Open Culture

Ranky Tanky takes it back
Charleston, SC-based band Ranky Tanky has found a new calling and a booming new fan base of late, by recording their interpretations of Gullah music and spirituals, a body of music passed down through the generations of formerly enslaved people. The Gullah culture is a fascinating part the American experience; a population of people descended from kidnapped Africans, and who developed a unique language and collective memory due in large part to their isolation on the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. The album has resonated with their fans. “What I learned is that everybody can relate to it somehow,” said trumpeter Charlton Singleton. “And this music, coming from this community and those enslaved Africans, everybody can feel a piece of Ranky Tanky.”
Garden and Gun

Ladies: would you like to join the alt-right?
Check out the American Renaissance website, the home of one of the more serious “white movement” organizations. Jared Taylor, the ever-present host, is a grandfatherly Yale grad who shares calmly articulated views and wholeheartedly believes in the revolutionary nature of the alt-right. “[O]ur movement tends to be male-oriented, but every dissident or revolutionary movement tends to be for that matter,” he says, citing Martin Luther and Lenin. “It’s only later that the people who want to change society are joined by women.” Recruiting women is the purpose of this 28-minute conversation with Lana Lokteff, a lovely young millennial who is active in white supremacy circles. They begin with feminism—the domain of bougie-bored housewives, spinsters, minorities and ugly women. Although it’s unlikely that you’ll be persuaded by their arguments, it’s worth understanding how seriously they’re taking them— and how closely they track with “traditional” American values.
American Renaissance


The problem is not just the Department of Justice. We have a systemic problem in Indian Country that started when we signed the treaties. But we can’t keep going back and blaming things on what happened back then. To solve the problems we have to start where we are now and look at how we can collaborate – but we all have to stop blaming each other. What I know about is the process of healing. We all need to be able to see the truth and to bottom out and get honest about what’s going on.
Suzanne Blue Star Boy