Image of Nick Sandmann (left) and Nathan Phillips (right) | Screengrab via YouTube.
A one hour and 46-minute video surfaced on Sunday, detailing the clash between MAGA-hat-wearing students and a Native American elder at the Lincoln Memorial on January 18.In the original 3-minute and 44 second clip a grinning teenage Nick Sandmann is seen with the rest of the student body of Covington Catholic school boys, laughing at elder Nathan Phillips who chants and bangs on a hand drum following a rally in support of Indigenous people.
While the sight itself drew comparisons to the black student protests of the 1960s, many came to Sandmann’s defense, including documentary filmmaker Arlen Parsa who self-righteously refused to reveal the name of a “dumb kid” while affording him the time to “soul search.” Two days later, the longer video in question surfaced. In it, a group of African American men known as the Hebrew Israelites confronted the teens, throwing racial and homophobic slurs in their direction. Phillips and crew can be seen getting in the way of the two groups. And to add to the story, CNN published a statement by Nick Sandmann Sunday night, who defended his actions, and accused Phillips as being the aggressor with himself as the defuser. Republican Rep. Thomas Massie, went on to support the boys as did others, who “were honorable and tolerable,” and the victims of a social media mob.Regardless of who said what, or who “started it,” people rushed to defend these white kids without any defendable context. Every video angle was a display of intimidation and respect that was later labeled as “confusion.”
And I want you to observe how fast that all happened. In four days, a group of MAGA-loving kids—caught on camera mind you—were afforded the benefit of the doubt. They had reasons to do what they did apparently. They were egged on. They were young, and innocent. And you couldn’t find a straighter, plainer, and simpler example of how much that bullshit smells.
As a black person, you can wish upon a star, clap your hands together in Sunday prayer, and never benefit from that same white-branded socialization. Being a twelve-year-old kid like Tamir Rice won’t help you. Walking down a dark street with skittles in your hand didn’t save Trayvon Martin. And being a woman defending yourself from a rapist like Cyntoia Brown was can’t shield you—thankfully she’s now free. The stubborn marriage between colour and perception makes our guilt seem inevitable, unchanged by any evidence of innocence. And nothing reminds me more of how fucking black I am than seeing that contrast through this treatment of a few white kids—a thought that many black men have certainly had over the years.For example, in a recent tweet in response to the treatment of Nick Sandmann, host of NPR Sam Sanders said:“Sometimes nothing reminds me that I am a Black man in America as much as seeing how white men and boys behaving badly are treated by our society.”Hearing those words is like knowing the lyrics to Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together. There are some truths through black experience that are 101, hands-on courses in survival. Like many, I’ll grow up knowing about how much Martin Luther King Jr. is beloved, but that’s tempered with the fact that he was a government threat before they gave him his day. As a black man, there’s a certain strut I control, a certain voice I pitch, and a specific style I avoid to not appear life threatening—but judging by my interactions with cops, it hasn’t always worked. And everytime another black individual is shot down, convicted or imprisoned, my thoughts head for the worst. The yearly statistics that repeat the overwhelming results of being black, and therefore more guilty only add to that perception—as opposed to dudes like this.
There’s no room for naivety.
When I spot global incidents like white boys being given ample opportunities to argue for their innocence, it’s amazing to me how that same skin, and the perception that comes with it, side-steps history. By the numbers, people who looked like the MAGA-hat wearing teens were responsible for beatings, lynchings, whippings, murder, rape, and the slavery of an entire civilization. Yes, that will sting as I tie that ugliness to a colour that you may have, but fuck it, perhaps you’ll feel a sliver of what it’s like to be on our end everytime we see a quick working efforts to exonerate whiteness.As long as we keep extending an olive branch, and going high for some (white folks) when they go low for so many others (POC), we only feed into the perceptions that have already been made powerful with history. We continue the suggestion that whites are uniquely blameless people with the opposite being true for POC. I say let them accept the blame for what’s blamable, when we have the power to do so. Let them be exposed and held accountable so perceptions that shift to a more equal ground, where they ought to be. Way too many of others have been forced to do so on the lowest end of that scale with their lives, and they far more innocent than some MAGA-wearing school boys.Follow Noel Ransome on Twitter.Sign up for the VICE Canada Newsletter to get the best of VICE Canada delivered to your inbox.