What is most grating about the grin that painted the face of Covington High School student Nick Sandmann, as he stood before a chanting Nathan Phillips in the now widely shared clip of their infamous standoff at the Lincoln Memorial, is the reality of knowing he would never face any real consequence for it.
Yes, folks took umbrage against Sandmann and the rest of those little deplorables with training wheels for their mockery of Phillips, an indigenous veteran, at the National Indigenous People’s March, but many of us also knew it wouldn’t be long before an excuse was made on their behalf. And once it was, many – namely white people – were going to don capes en masse in order to spare of them of deserved condemnation. The rescue mission was launched when Reason writer Robby Soave published a story that added some nominal level of context — the students were being harassed by the Black Hebrew Israelites — and off their apologists in waiting went.
Mainstream outlets such as the New York Times and CNN quickly seized upon Soave’s attempt to change the narrative, with headlines such as “Fuller Picture Emerges of Viral Video of Native American Man and Catholic Students” and “A new video shows a different side of the encounter between a Native American elder and teens in MAGA hats,” respectively. There are more headlines from various other mainstream outlets, but I’ll spare you the boredom and keep it succinct: they all read as mighty white as you can imagine.
Meanwhile, this “fuller picture” did not excuse the disrespectful actions of those MAGA-hat wearing kids towards Phillips, but that did not stop the outpouring of apologies ranging from conservative commentators such as Meghan McCain and S.E. Cupp to celebrities like Jamie Lee Curtis. Then came admonishment from more overt racists — namely failed Today show host Megyn Kelly.
Kelly had the audacity to write on Twitter: “Media rush to jdgmt in Covington is typical & dangerous. Pundits/journos now feel the need to immed attack those accused of bad behavior as a means of proving said pundits are virtuous (as if it’s about them). Maybe instead of piling on, they shld 1st ascertain WHAT’S GOING ON.”
This bigot never gave Black victims of state-sanctioned violence the same courtesy, opting instead to further stoke racial animus for a ratings grab during her tenure at Fox News. Kelly wouldn’t know what’s going on if it landed on her blonde head. Unfortunately, the same goes for many non-Black people in media, no matter where they lean politically. I enjoy The View’s Joy Behar, but she is wrong to argue that people “rushed to judgment” about the Covington high school students “Because we’re desperate to get Trump out of office.”
Not everything is about Sweet Potato Saddam, beloveds.
What happened here is not a riddle. It’s what always happens. Racist white folks being racist were given a pass as they so often are. We live in a society where the white majority and the media that largely caters to avoids any substantive conversation about the role racism plays in America. This same media protects those who yield the most power – white men – and the white boys who will soon grow into the fullest extent of their privilege.
This never ever happens to their Black male counterparts.
If Nick Sandmann were a Black male high school student, it is highly unlikely that a PR firm with ties to national figures of a major political party would have taken him on as a client. The current president of the United States would not have rushed to his and his classmates’ defense. I highly doubt CNN anchor Jake Tapper would have been such a willful conduit for their mission to rebrand Sandmann and his classmates as victims. A Black Nick Sandmann would have certainly not have been invited to the Today show to purposely shrink himself in an effort to garner white pity.
He would not have been handed softball questions from Savannah Guthrie either. And he for damn sure would not have gotten away with not only refusing to apologize but making this sort of declaration: “Our school was slandered by the African Americans who had called us all sorts of things.” Those Negroes in question would be the Black Hebrew Israelites, who were promptly turned into menacing figures who somehow forced those Covington students to be disrespectful towards a war veteran.
In fact, do any of us think a Black Nick Sandmann would have been able to smugly stare down the white bigoted equivalent of a Black Israelite while wearing a hat that advertises prejudice the way MAGA gear does and walk away without harm? Black Israelites are antagonistic and annoying as hell, but while they indeed yell epithets at people who walk by them (I can attest to this personally), I’m more afraid of right-wing violence, which is rapidly rising in this country. And when I say right-wing, yeah, I mean white men, who dominate the domestic terrorist roster.
I’m inclined to think that if a Black Nick Sandmann did dare such to do such a thing, he would have been harmed if not flat out killed. And if that did happen, yes, it would be overwhelmingly condemned, but I can’t help but believe that if there was a video of a Black Nick Sandmann displaying that degree of disrespect and arrogance surfaced not long after, some would go out of their way to promptly victim blame. Hell, they might have even gotten a Black person in media to assist with such efforts as The New York Times once did when its writer John Eligon went out of his way to note Michael Brown was “no angel.”
We don’t get extended the benefit of the doubt in the way those white kids do. Most white public figures do not rush to our defense in that same way. If anything, we are largely ignored.
I wonder what Nick Sandmann did once he left the Today show interview. Did he have that same stupid grin on his face after he finished regurgitating the lines professionals fed him? If he did, I can’t say that I blame him. He and his classmates don’t have to be kind, decent, or respectful of others.
They just have to be white and male and let the rest take care of itself.