By now everyone in America has heard about the encounter between a Catholic high school student and a Native American man this past weekend in Washington DC, both of whom were in town for separate marches. You could predict how Americans would part like the Red Sea in their interpretation of the events.
As you may have guessed by now, I hold some pretty liberal views. I heard about the latest controversy, and then checked a few different news sources so I wouldn’t get an unfairly unilateral story. And when I was done, I shared a meme on Facebook in support of Nathan Phillips who appeared to be a peacemaker in the situation.
My high school friend – let’s call him Doug for purposes of this story – responded to the meme. What struck me initially is that I heard from him at all. We both moved away from home to different cities and have seen each other rarely over the last 30+ years but we’re friendly when we do see each other. We don’t have a lot in common but I would say there is genuine affection for one another.
I’m a prolific Facebook user; he is not. I’m pretty sure I can count on one hand how many times I’ve interacted with him on social media over the years. Despite not having a lot of interaction with Doug, we’re still friends and I like that.
The second thing that struck me is what he said in his post.
“The only thing I saw in the video was the kid standing there as [Phillips] beat his drum in his face.”
To which I replied, “Then you don’t know the whole story.” I had planned to leave it at that. Doug was more of a jock back in the day, not one to be interested in current events. So not only do I never hear from him, the one time I do, it actually has something to do with politics.
That’s C U R I O U S. But ok.
I still hadn’t planned to get too engaged on the topic. See, I have a tendency to explain my points rather thoroughly, shall I say. I’ve learned that no one cares, thinks about, or dissects anything to the degree I do, so I figured it was better off limiting my response. (Case in point: I am writing a blog post about this, a couple of days after the fact!)
However, I do know that Doug is a Trumpster, and right or wrong, I took his response as short-hand he thought the whole high school kid/Native American thing was being blown out of proportion.
Yeah, well you know what I did. I engaged, and the conversation played out pretty much like I thought it would. He remained unmoved in his viewpoint and I in mine, but he made a couple of comments that resonated with me for a couple of days. I didn’t bother responding at length on Facebook, because again, he made it known how little he cares, in contrast to how much I do. To paraphrase, here’s what he said:
- The Native Americans and the Black Israelites were “nut jobs” (direct quote) and the high school kids were passive victims.
- I/Liberals believe name calling by the Black Israelites is “ok” whereas smiling on the part of the high school kid is “cruel”.
- Left wingers blow things out of proportion.
- Chants of “build the wall” were redacted and it was clarified that the students were doing school cheers.
- Liberals lose their mind over everything.
- Who has time to get upset over every little thing?
- “Smirks” are considered offensive.
- Liberals act like Trump is the apocalypse…but has he actually made my life that miserable?
So here we go:
- From the sounds of it, the Black Israelites were disruptive and rude, and trying to get a rise out of anyone within earshot. Maybe they are “nut jobs”…I don’t know. I should have called out their bad behavior, and I didn’t. However, I don’t consider the Native Americans present to be nut jobs, and I think it is wrong to call them that. These high school kids were not passive victims. They were wearing MAGA hats, which I consider to be today’s equivalent of the KKK white hood, the only difference being they have no problem being SEEN wearing one.
- What the Black Israelites did was wrong. I should have called it out. We should all be calling them out on it. However the high school kid was not simply smiling in a friendly gesture. He was smirking and defying Phillips in a non-violent but very active way, and it was wrong.
- Trumpsters think “left wingers blow things out of proportion”. Blowing it out of proportion? No, I wouldn’t say that. I would say liberals are calling out every instance of hate, fear, and lack of normalcy every chance we get because social norms and values are disappearing before our eyes in the proverbial death by a thousand cuts. Maybe this is the time I came of age politically, but it seems to me that Mitch McConnell established an environment that involved complaining and criticizing every.single.thing the (Obama) administration did, even when the administration was doing good. Republicans accepted this sort of hyper-critical behavior as normal a decade ago; they just don’t like it now that the tables are turned.
- Perhaps chants of building the wall were not said. But their high school chants were not benign and innocent. Shall we link to the photos of the students in blackface mocking a black opponent during their high school basketball games?
- Liberals lose their mind over everything….yes, yes they do. Who has time for that? I do! Social norms are eroding before our eyes. I will not remain quiet. There is a famous circa 1950s poem by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller as follows:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Let me tell you a little story, circa 2008 give or take a couple of years. The exact date is marginally important because we all know how the financial markets tanked in 2007 resulting in wide-spread job loss in 2008 for years thereafter.
I was a trustee for our small church. We were trying to sell a piece of land on the church’s property. We struggled to find buyers, but we had at least one.
Shortly after learning this news, our church president, who I’ll call Thomas for purposes of this story, stood before the congregation during a parish meeting to tell them we had been given an offer, but it was well below our asking price. Still, it was an offer. What he shared next stunned me.
He went on to say the buyers were Indian and that made them notoriously stingy. Cheap. And he was inclined not to sell to them.
I was shocked to silence. I couldn’t believe my ears. Here was a man I respected in the big scheme of things, who stood before a body of Christians and stereotyped the buyer based on their ethnicity.
I was so shocked, but I said nothing. I didn’t want to derail the proceedings because it was really about whether we should accept, negotiate, or decline the offer. But I was horrified by what I heard.
And then I was ashamed of myself for saying nothing in front of that group of people. It was the first in a long time that I heard anyone display prejudice toward another ethnic group. I thought as a society we were past that. Remember, this was ten years ago. How wrong I was!
Fast forward a few months later to a subsequent board of trustees meeting at the president’s home. Thomas did it again. He mentioned the “cheap Indians” who continued to extend an offer he refused to entertain.
I can’t remember if it was official board business or the casual socializing that happened afterwards, but this time, I couldn’t stay silent.
I approached Thomas, trembling, chin quivering, with tears in my eyes. This giant of a man listened to me. I told him how shocked I was that he had to bring ethnicity into the conversation about the buyer each time he did it. I asked him why it was necessary to do that. Why couldn’t he just describe them as buyers who submitted an offer that was too low for our consideration, in his opinion. I explained that he didn’t need to disparage an entire ethnic group based on the actions of one party. I told him if they were recent immigrants, they may be supporting a family back in India, in which case it was entirely possible they were simply being frugal, and we didn’t need to be bitter about a whole ethnic group when we declined their offer. I told him I was ashamed that we characterized these buyers this way in front of our parishioners…what kind of Christians does that make us? What year was this anyway? I mean, didn’t this sort of Archie Bunker talk fade into the sunset decades ago?
I admitted to Thomas that he likely wouldn’t understand why I took umbrage with his blanket insults directed toward these people, but from the very youngest of age, I always tried my best to evaluate the character of a person and not their skin color. Was this the influence of Sesame Street? I don’t know… I told him I was ashamed I didn’t say something the first time I heard him make these comments. I told him I questioned what message was I sending as the mother of three bi-racial kids when I allowed someone else’s ethnicity to be disparaged publicly. Was I sending the message that my kids’ particular brand of Asian-ness is OK, but Indians, huh Indians (!)… THOSE are the people you need to avoid?
I told our Thomas that I could no longer stay silent because doing so meant I was sending mixed signals to my kids, and it was time I got crystal clear with them. They are watching me, and integrity is everything. I admitted to Thomas I had a lot of nerve calling him out about this matter within his own home, but it was something I had to say.
There I was, in my early 40s, cancelling my white privilege membership. “White privilege” wasn’t even a thing yet… It was years before anyone named it “white privilege”. But I realized then, if I am not an advocate for racial equality, who will be?
Thomas heard me out. He thanked me for telling him. He explained that he was speaking from his personal experience with Indians, as a long-time businessman who had lived overseas for several years with his family after getting an international transfer with his employer. I can’t recall if he apologized for his behavior, but he certainly had the largeness of spirit to understand where I was coming from. We hugged after this talk and I thanked him for listening. He helped me make this transition into a baby social justice warrior just a tiny bit easier.
Who am I kidding? I’m no social justice warrior. I’m a social justice cross-walk guard.
Like I said, this story happened over 10 years ago. Thomas passed away three years ago. I loved that guy. And to this day, I send air kisses to heaven to thank him for listening to me, and loving me even if I ticked him off.
But my God, if Thomas could so easily say things like that, anyone could. And so I’ve learned how true that is.
There is a certain level of irony that this particular church had selected St. Thomas, one of Christ’s disciples as its patron saint. After Pentecost, where did Thomas travel and settle to preach the word of God? India. Sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up.
- Back to my friend Doug who wonders who has time to take umbrage with every little thing. I do. It’s my job now. Yes, I’m weary. Yes, it’s tiring. I need to take better care of myself. But I won’t let this sort of thing become ok.
- “Smirks” are considered offensive? Yes….and at least Doug admitted that this high school kid wasn’t simply smiling in a congenial way. He WAS smirking. He knew exactly what he was doing.
- Liberals act like Trump is the apocalypse. Funny you should say that. If you read the Book of Revelation in the Bible, and really listen to the description of the anti-Christ, he sounds awfully familiar!
- Has Trump actually made my life that miserable? Funny you should ask that question of me too. So far, things for me personally are status quo. I’m a white woman, after all, so things are decent, but not fantastic. I’m not a white male. But make no mistake, freedoms are eroding. Social progress is reversing. And I have never been one to care exclusively about what’s in it for ME. I care about what happens to society as a whole. Plus Jesus said, “Whatever you do unto the least of you, you do unto me.” So I care about what happens to Americans, to refugees, to children, to people of all races… So what’s happening, and has been happening these last few years, is killing me.
These are the things I wanted to say to Doug but honestly, I don’t think he cares. If I had to guess, all he really wants is what is in front of his nose: a job, his friends, and some beer. He doesn’t really want to have a conversation about social justice and progress and American ideals and integrity and economics and prosperity and competition and world leadership and grace and integrity and #MeToo and race relations and truth. Obviously I can go on and on. No, these are not conversations Doug is really interested in having. Hell, he isn’t even interested in saying, “Hi, how have you been these last few years?” I could be wrong, but I’ve learned to trust my gut on stuff like this.
I can’t help the way I’m wired. And I can’t really fault the people who don’t feel as strongly as I do but I don’t have a whole lot in common with them. I long to talk to people who believe in the things I do. It’s not as much fun for me to fix broken things. It’s WAY more fun for me to take average or so-so things and make them AWESOME. However some days, you gotta operate in triage mode, and that’s where I’ve been for over two solid years.
If you want to call that liberal over-reacting, you go right ahead. I’m not the least bit ashamed.
Photo by Lindsey LaMont on Unsplash