It’s so easy to point fingers.
And in this case, despite what many media outlets are trying to tell us a week out from that Lincoln Memorial encounter, we should be pointing. It’s right to publicly repudiate that smirking, sneering white face peeking out from under a red cap, planted inches from wisdom being manifest by and through Mr. Nathan Phillips. It’s right to denounce the mocking mimicry of Native dance being performed by white bodies surrounding Phillips and Nick Sandmann; the sarcastic comments you can hear on any of the videos — “dude, what’s going on???”’ repeated not as a real question but as an invitation to more ridiculing laughter; and, yes, even the “tomahawk chop.”
So, let’s publicly mourn. Here’s a group of white youth clearly ignorant about the reality that Native peoples are actual living, breathing, diverse human beings who have inherent dignity. Here is a group of white boys walking around with an emboldened sense of being so untouchable that the thought of showing deference to an elder never seems to cross their minds. (Let us not pretend here. I don’t care who you are or how complex you think the larger context of the day’s events makes things* — we all know those kids would have showed at least some deference if the man standing before them had been white.)
Let us lament. For what’s been held up is a mirror and what’s being reflected back is the terrifying state of our national present and plenty of good reasons to fear what the future may portend.
But, mirrors are haunting for other reasons too. For one thing, the closer you peer into a mirror the more you get drawn in to the never-ending spiral of images that fold and reflect back upon themselves, repeating over and over and over. So, while we’re busy pointing at those kids, those of us white adults who bear the daunting responsibility of actually raising white youth in the United States would do well to look closely and see just who it is we’re actually pointing at.
It turns out: It’s us.
That white kid in the video? That’s, my kid. Guess what? He’s yours too.
Don’t miss me. I know there’s a whole ton, and more, of white caregivers who wouldn’t let their kids go anywhere near a so-called “March for Life.” I certainly wouldn’t. And I’m pretty sure a whole cadre of white kids coming up right now may as well get used to the idea they’re never going to be allowed out of the house in a red baseball hat again. Because I don’t care if it’s actually a National Honor Society logo. If there’s any chance my little blonde child might be mistaken as endorsing the white nationalist agenda currently ravaging this country, even from a distance or for a moment — well, it’s just not happening. My kids will have to live with wearing a different color.
But I’m not talking about these obvious things.
Pointing fingers is the easy part. Too easy. Then there’s the whole ton of us who have no idea what to do beyond the point. In fact, most of us responsible for raising white kids — not just white parents, but coaches, neighbors, uncles, retail clerks, grandmas, clergy people, teachers — don’t really know what we should be doing differently and, frankly, haven’t made it a priority to learn.
That’s so much scarier than even what actually did happen on the Mall that day. And the implications are far more devastating.
Let’s go back to the “tomahawk chop,” for one teeny tiny example.
You’d never know it from the way some journalists are writing about white youth right now, but you know who actually can learn that the tomahawk chop is a racist, anti-Native white ritual?
Young white kids. Like, really young ones.
Kids are smart.
Meanwhile, even if yours don’t watch football, they’ve almost certainly been exposed to performances of the tomahawk chop. So, if you haven’t actively created opportunities to talk through with them what the tomahawk chop is and why it’s so racist . . . well, then, guess what? That’s your kid out there on the Mall.
Our children and youth (like us) are exposed to an infinite array of other images, rituals, cartoons, words, story lines that are also deeply anti-Native. These all nurture and sustain deformed public U.S.-narratives about Native peoples. The narratives are so powerful and pervasive lots of young non-Native U.S. children just assume Native peoples are mythical — more like “fairies” (at best) — instead of actual living and breathing human beings who exist on this land base; many with active land rights struggles going on as we speak.
If I don’t early and often (and over again) interrupt these narratives . . . ? If I don’t teach my white children to learn to notice the ways Native peoples are spoken of and about . . . ? If don’t show them that we who are not Native have to actively seek out different understanding, knowledge and awareness because of the ways our collective colonial-supremacist histories continue to shape our lives in the present . . .? If I don’t then model how to do that. . . ?
Then just who is it that I am I pointing at?
Have we brainstormed and strategized with our white 15-year-olds about how they will intervene, not if but when they find themselves in a group of youth who start to engage in racist “play”?
Have we brainstormed and strategized with our 5-year-olds about how they will intervene, not if but when they’re with a group of kids and one of the white ones makes fun of the skin, hair or name of one of the Black or Latino/a ones?
Then those are our white kids out there on the Mall, my white people. And they’re the next generation.
They don't have to be. White kids can be raised to be anti-racist and interrupt racism even if and as they, like we white adults, remain constantly enmeshed in racist systems that seek to benefit us to secure our complicity day after day.
So, if you — like me — have found yourself among the group of white adults pointing at those kids, then you — like me — have some decisions to make about just who it is you’re pointing at and what your next move is going to be.
*It would be a whole other piece and there’s already plenty of good, important writing out there on it — but since the other finger pointing of last week has been by those claiming that “we” shamed those boys too quickly and that further video complicated the original story, I need be very clear where I stand.
There was, indeed, a larger and more complex set of racial encounters on the Mall that day. But
- Nothing about that more complex set of encounters in anyway excuses or exonerates any of the very obvious (and common) racist group behaviors of the Covington High School youth.
- I’m a Christian pastor and over the course of my life I’ve prayed or been engaged in prayer with others in all kinds of diverse places, spaces and ways. I’ve never seen anyone pray with a smirk and a stare like Sandmann’s despite what claims he was doing (in a statement clearly written with the help of a PR team; I am purposely not sharing the link).
- If you remain unconvinced about what more videos show about who bears the burden of moral responsibility here please read this thread, with accompanying videos shared Lisa Sharon Harper, a deeply respected Christian scholar, faith leader and activist who was at the Indigenous People’s Day. This link I am sharing, click here.
- Please watch multiple video angles and segments that further demonstrate my point one above. Don’t fall for the whitening of this narrative. Our white youth deserve us expecting and demanding better of them.