Five Takeaways from the Covington Catholic Controversy

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.

A Confederate General's Great-great-great-granddaughter Speaks Out

I was eight years old, curled up on the naugahyde sofa in my grandmother’s basement, when I found my great-grandmother’s copy of Gone with the Wind, the commemorative movie edition.   I read it literally to pieces and I can recite the entire first paragraph by heart.
gone with the wind cover
In grade school I was taught that the Civil War, to my surprise at the time, was NOT inspired primarily by the desire to continue to enslave African-Americans, but by an argument over States’ Rights.
My great-great-great-grandfather was a Confederate brigadier general, and I was raised on family legends of his valor.

Col. James Hagan
My ggggrandfather Confederate General James D. Hagan, who was born in Ireland.

Up until my house burned down, I owned a small Confederate battle flag, which at one time I displayed along with the flags of the United States, Scotland, and Ireland, a small tribute to my ethnic heritage as I understood it at the time.
This is where I come from.  I am proud to be a Southerner.  In my blog bio, I describe myself first of all as “Catholic and Southern.”  That’s at the core of who I am.
Like many Southerners, particularly those with ancestors who served in the Confederate army, I feel an attachment to statues like the one in Charlottesville.  But the character of those who rallied on Saturday in protest prove that its removal is necessary.  This confederacy of dunces would have been denounced by General Lee, who was not even in favor of secession, and by James Hagan, who was repatriated and worked for the U.S. government for the fifteen years prior to his death.
Emily on the General's Grave
My oldest child, Emily, at the grave of her great-great-great-great-grandfather, General James D. Hagan

 
As his descendant, I disavow and repudiate the Unite the Right protesters and anyone who shares their hateful beliefs in the strongest of terms, and I call upon all descendants of Confederate soldiers to join me in condemning them.  They don’t represent the South and we don’t need these modern-day Carpetbaggers to tell us how best to preserve our heritage.
We do no honor to the memory of the Confederate dead by supporting disgusting displays of racism.  I do not judge my ancestors as harshly as some might– they were the product of a different time.  But that time is long past.  If you feel that Robert E. Lee deserves to be honored and remembered for valiantly fighting for what he believed in–his home state of Virginia–then do what he asked after the fighting ended: “Remember, we are all one country now. Dismiss from your mind all sectional feeling, and bring [your children] up to be Americans.
 

Let's Hear It for Skin

UPDATE: I wrote this last week, before the internet exploded with discussions of racial identity fueled by a white woman passing for black, before our hearts were broken by Charleston’s violent reminder of one real possible consequence of being born black in America.  In light of all that, my post seems both prescient and naive.  We are not as far along the road of compassion [feeling WITH] as I had hoped.
skin
 
When I posted the above on my Facebook page, it received an enormous number of likes.  I don’t know where it originated, but it’s a popular picture for sure. When I first saw it I was immediately reminded of this Sesame Street video, from back when my kids were little:

I’ve always admired the way Sesame Street “does” race.  It reminds me of Star Trek (the original series, not that preachy TNG).  Both show a positive vision–people of all colors working side by side, respecting one another, playing together.  No one talks about it much; it’s just accepted.  As in the Vulcan ideal of IDIC – infinite diversity in infinite combinations, people don’t fear differences; rather they rejoice in them.
It has to be clear to anyone with eyes that our society is still deeply divided along racial lines, that many if not most of us still harbor prejudices, sometimes even despite ourselves.  Yet the fact that so many people “Like” the sweet picture above gives me hope.  We aspire to acceptance and love of all races even if we aren’t quite there yet.  We acknowledge the beauty of our many different colors, and that’s a start.
1000Speak
I have posted this on the #1000Speak for Compassion linkup, and you can (and should) read the other posts HERE.
#1000Speak
Linking this up today with #worthrevisit, which gives Catholic bloggers a welcome chance to recycle some posts!  Check out the rest of the collection by clicking below.   Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb are hosting; take some time to check out their blogs too!
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