This will be my first–and I hope last–time weighing in on the post-March for Life encounter between MAGA hat-wearing teenagers from an all-boys Catholic school in Kentucky and Native American activists visiting D.C. for the Indigenous Peoples March. I don’t have definitive answers on the truth of what was actually happening in the viral video (which I will NOT link to), but I do have some observations and thoughts.
What You See Depends on Where You Stand.
That’s pretty obvious, right? There are dozens of videos of this moment taken from many perspectives; if, for example, you watch one that was filmed from behind the boy who was involved in the face-off with the Native American elder, you wouldn’t see his now-famous face (sporting an expression that has been characterized as both a nervous smile and a smug smirk). But I’m speaking metaphorically here.
Where do you stand as you consider this encounter? Are you Catholic? A Southerner? Someone who has participated in Marches for Life? Do you despise Donald Trump and MAGA hats? Are you Native American? Have you experienced bullying? Are you a mother of teenage boys? Your answers to these questions will determine your predisposition to interpret the video, especially since by the time you watched it you had already read opinions about what was happening from the sources you trust.
We Are Angry About the Wrong Things
Don’t get me wrong–we should absolutely be angry about racism, bullying, misunderstanding, misrepresentations, death threats, disrespect, and many other evils that this video and the furor around it have come to represent. However, it isn’t our job to be angry about everything everywhere all the time. Fifteen years ago, no one but the folks involved would ever have known about what happened in those few minutes. It would have been up to them to make sense of it and to perhaps learn something from it. Meanwhile the rest of us should spend more time being angry about–and trying to do something about–the injustices that we certainly encounter around us every day. Would those of us who bravely wield keyboards in the face of injustices five hundred miles away be so ready to actually intervene in person at home when, for example, a co-worker tells a racist joke?
Teenagers Are Not Adults
Teenage boys may look like adults and they may think they are adults but they are not adults. Their brains are not finished developing. They have poor impulse control. They tend to follow the crowd.
Our criminal justice system recognizes this by having a separate system to govern underage crime. We don’t execute teenagers or give them life sentences. We recognize that they can be rehabilitated.
If these boys are guilty of the worst possible interpretation of the video, they are still boys. Stupid teenage boys who can learn to be better. I’ll bet you knew some people who were, frankly, assholes in high school who grew up to be pretty good folks. You might even have been one of them! I know I’m a better person now than I was when I was a teenager. Should they suffer consequences? Make reparations? Absolutely! Should they receive death threats and have their lives ruined forever? I don’t think so.
It Is Not Wrong to Extend Mercy to the Privileged
I have read several posts from writers who have walked back their original interpretation of the encounter and have decided to give the Covington boys the benefit of the doubt. And I have seen those same folks attacked because they are giving privileged white boys that which is denied to other sectors of the population. If you doubt that these boys are privileged, imagine the exact same scenario only with a big group of African-American boys from a D.C. public school. Would the reaction be the same? Would those boys be interviewed on the Today Show and be invited to the White House? I expect some of the very same people who are defending the Covington boys would assume the worst about these hypothetical black boys.
Some seem to be saying that fairness demands we assume the worst about everyone. But look, y’all, what we should be shooting for is a society that gives EVERYONE the benefit of the doubt.
Catholic Students on a Field Trip to the March for Life Should Not Wear MAGA Hats
Nor should they wear I’m with Her hats or Yes We Can hats or any other kind of political hats. They should wear their school uniforms, if you ask me, or matching t-shirts identifying themselves as students at a Catholic school. And they should remember that when they are in uniform, they are representing the Church and act accordingly.
And that’s all I have to say about that.