Sunday, January 20, 2019

On the Covington Catholic School Incident

The best part of this issue, if there can be a good part, where a bunch of high school boys surrounded Nathan Phillips to get a little kick from exercising their power over another human being, is that they're being skewered on social media. Their action has precedence. It's easy to do. It's a power grab that's free to take by even the youngest set of privileged douchebags. But this time others didn't join in, and some of the people associated with them are actually embarrassed. Where once most people would be silent in the face of open racism, at the very least people are not afraid to speak up and denounce this behaviour. Everywhere. Small comfort, I know. We suck.

I'm reminded again of a story that Chris Hedges described about Marek Edelman, the last survivor of a command that led the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, recounting a pivotal episode in his life before the Ghetto even existed. Two beautiful, tall German officers had taken a small, bowed Jewish man and sat him on a barrel, then they began to cut off his long beard a bit at a time with huge tailor's shears. They were laughing the entire time, and the crowd that had gathered were also laughing.
"'Nothing really horrible was happening to that Jew.' It wasn't a big deal, really. He wasn't being hurt. He didn't get cut. He was just being laughed at a little while he was getting an unwanted shave. It's just a joke. But Edelman understood the important shift that had happened: 'that it was now possible to put him on a barrel with impunity, that people were beginning to realize that such activity wouldn't be punished and that it provoked laughter.'"
The school has publicly apologized for the taunting, not so much for bussing a boys' school to an anti-abortion march. They're still cool with that part of it. People associated are upset that it happened - like the Mayor. Well, some people. Their moms are a different story with one explaining that, somehow, black Muslims are to blame for their child's behaviour in the now infamous video, and the moms are going to sue for ... something?.

In that main video, the boys are chanting "Build the Wall," which, of course, clarifies that the wall is not about illegal immigrants stealing jobs but about enforcing blatant racism. But there's a second video where one student explains,
"Land gets stolen. That's how it works. It's the way of the world." 
Awesome. That ideology was taught to them. There's not much we can do to stop parents from raising their kids to be entitled twats, but we can be a vocal majority slamming every bigoted act and view online, and some of us can affect how schools talk about these issues. Well, provided that the school administrators and the politicians overseeing education aren't completely racist too. That's a shaky stipulation.

The kids come by their views "honestly" as we used to say. When the President of the U.S. is openly racist, all those closet doors swing wide open.
The president has repeatedly linked immigrants to violent crime, despite studies showing otherwise, and pursued a draconian immigration agenda that has sped up the deportation of undocumented immigrants and separated thousands of migrant children from their parents at the US-Mexico border. As a candidate, Trump infamously declared that most immigrants crossing the southern border were “rapists” and criminals, and pledged to ban all Muslims from entering the US. . . . Trump blamed “both sides” after a white nationalist drove his car into counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one and injuring several on 12 August 2017. . . . Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly accused of racism – it is because of our silence when things like this are said. . . . Wilson said many Republicans in Congress were reluctant to weed out those associated with white nationalist groups entirely, because they ultimately relied on them for votes. “There’s a certain degree of winking tolerance that’s been built up with a lot of these Trump guys where they know there’s a crazy, racist uncle in the basement,” he said. “They don’t want to admit it out in public, but they sure know that he’s there.”
But, we have to keep other socializing institutions in check as well:

These boys are not children anymore. Every one of them is old enough to think for themselves. It takes courage to stop a scene like this, but they could at least step back and refrain from joining in on the jeering (see the full mob effect here).

And I wonder if any did. Are any boys just outside the camera's scope, looking sheepish for their peers and feeling absolutely horrified at the scene?? Like Mr. Rogers says, in a tragedy, always look for the helpers. In a group abuse, can we look for the burgeoning heroes (small-h heroes) who at least refuse to participate - like that one kid who didn't pose with a Nazi salute. Or did they all drink the koolaid that actually convinced them that some people are less than human and don't deserve their respect? And now what do we do with them. How do we undo the teachings from their formative years?

It takes courage to go against the crowd. On top of teaching inclusivity and compassion, we need to teach kids the courage they'll need to walk in this world. We just need to keep being louder than they are.

Check out David Walsh's thread asking teachers how they've dealt with racist students in the classroom and this one on that line we have to walk in order to be inclusive of the people in the room, but not of the racist views:

Since that's not an option, I'll go Albert Schweitzer's route: "There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."

Penny's snuggled up from the cold.
How Nox sleeps - she's a bit odd


ETA - On a similar incident given a different spin.


The Mound of Sound said...

When I watched the vid of that kid mocking Phillips, one word came to mind: Backpfeifengesicht. That's a lovely German word meaning "a face in need of a fist." I know, that only would have made it worse but still....

Marie Snyder said...

I think you're not alone with that reaction. It's the smugness in that "I OWN you expression" that sees itself a winner and begs for an expedient takedown. Imagine standing face to face with that without letting it get the better of you! That's some real strength on display by Phillips.

rww said...

"The school has publicly apologized for the taunting, not so much for bussing a boys' school to an anti-abortion march. They're still cool with that part of it"

It's one thing for a private Catholic school in the US to do that. it's another for publicly funded Catholic schools in Ontario doing it.

Dustin Vinland Jarl said...

Don't get me wrong. The Right has its own severe problems with pretentious phonies like Jordan Peterson. But phoniness is built into the Left in a way that it is not built into the Right. Why? Because like I keep saying, in this world, everybody is looking for something. There is no such thing as altruism. Yet the Left are the ones who pretend that there is, and that they are the altruists. Guess what, it's totally phony. Everybody in this world is looking out for "Number 1". And those who deny that are the phoniest people of all.

Marie Snyder said...

@Dustin (sorry, this got stuck in my spam folder)
I agree with you. The left often has similarly bad policies just prettied up better.