Here’s what’s substantially missing in most of the talk surrounding the young white teens from Northern Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School accused of mocking a Native American leader in Washington, D.C., this week after they attended a pro-life march: The red MAGA hats.
It is true — these are really only boys, albeit, privileged white boys who attend an expensive all-boys school. But they needed to understand that to many (most?) people, those Make America Great Again hats are a reflection of everything that is wrong with President Donald Trump. To many (most?), the hats are a hateful symbol of racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, a lack of empathy and, yes, sexual assault and infidelity.
How can they not be? They display Trump’s campaign motto, and we all know Trump is all of the above and more.
So, kids – apparently with their adult chaperones’ approval – wandered out near the Lincoln Memorial and became embroiled in multiple protests going on.
The icon of this ugliness is Covington Catholic junior Nicholas Sandmann, seen with what appears to be a smirk just inches away from tribal elder Nathan Phillips, a veteran of the war in Vietnam, who was chanting and beating a drum as part of the Indigenous Peoples March. Meanwhile, Sandmann’s classmates can be seen in the background laughing and gesturing in what The Washington Post said “many interpreted as mocking.”
And it was, no doubt at all about this, mocking.
At one point, the MAGA hat-wearing teens were doing the Tomahawk Chop – often seen at Florida State University and Atlanta Braves Major League baseball games – which many (most?) Native Americans consider disrespectful. They were also, Sandmann claims, doing their Covington Catholic school chants as the Native Americans were singing, in effect competing with the Native Americans’ serious march with frivolous boyhood conduct.
The Post reported: “(Sandmann’s) whole frame is that they were somehow attacked and behaving defensively,” said Daniel Paul Nelson of the Lakota People’s Law Project. “No, they were not, not towards Nathan. What they did to Nathan was completely offensive, not defensive.”
Perhaps the boys were in way over their heads, but their behavior on the Mall wasn’t the only time these Catholic schoolboys stepped in it. They were taped shouting “MAGA” at women, as well, even before they made it to the Mall.
The ultimate sadness and disgust is that these kids were apparently chaperoned by adults, who should have known better, but who, like the boys, had no clue how offensive the MAGA hats can be — how disrespectful it is to attempt to drown out Native American chants with school chants and how ugly it is to do the Tomahawk Chop during a march of indigenous peoples or, in fact, anywhere.
People need to understand that, like the Confederate Battle Flag, the MAGA hats are offensive to many, many (most? most?) people because they’re seen as a symbol of racism and other vile beliefs and conduct. If somebody supports Trump, he also is endorsing Trump’s beliefs and behaviors. There is no way around that, though I’ve had people try to hatesplain it to me.
Covington Catholic High School had to close because of threats, and that is absolutely wrong. And threatening the boys and their families with harm for boyish behavior is absolutely wrong.
But sending a group of boys to Washington, D.C., to march against the rights of women to control their own bodies and make decisions about their own health also is absolutely wrong.
Sandmann’s parents hired a public relations firm to handle the fallout of their son’s – and his chaperones’ – bad judgment, but a PR firm can’t do much about the symbolism of MAGA hats. Or the mocking Tomahawk Chop. Or the laughing and jeering. Or shouting “MAGA” and hateful taunts at women. Sandmann’s attempt to boysplain his and his classmates’ behavior away was pathetic.
Nor can a PR firm undo Phillips’ fearing for his safety as he marched simply to bring attention to the bad treatment his people have received – from white Europeans, no less – for their entire lives, for their entire ancestors’ lives.
Not surprisingly, the boys’ bad acts could get the kids an invite to visit Trump at the White House.
We saw what we saw, and we heard what we heard. Nick Sandmann’s weak attempt to boysplain it away isn’t going to work with many (most?) of us.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected].