Doing an imitation Native American chant and a gesture to jokingly mimic Native Americans is what I would call textbook racism. And racism is a sin. Our faith requires us to look upon our neighbor as “another self.” We also believe that “Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.” Not excused as kids being kids. Eradicated as incompatible with God’s design. And a public act of racism carried out playfully as if it’s a joke adds to the racism the sin of scandal— making others think that a sin is fun and okay.
Philips posed no threat to them. He was one geriatric Native American saying a prayer. The Black gentlemen protesting on the street posed no credible threat either (which isn’t to say they weren’t being incredibly annoying). The Covington students ought to have walked away or ignored it, but instead, from everything I saw, it looks like they chose to escalate at every opportunity. Up until then you could have said they were just stupid kids handling a scary situation unwisely. But mocking a Native American for being a Native American is overt racism, and publicly taking part in something like that while wearing your Catholic School gear is the sin of scandal.
They were behaving irresponsibly and escalating conflict however they could, which is bad enough, but putting on a show of apparent racism on top of it is even worse. There is no another-group-of-non-whites-scared-me-so-I-mocked-this-non-white exception to that rule. It’s just wrong.
My only amendment is that we need to be even more dismayed at the chaperones and teachers who enabled this situation to go on so long, and on any parents who never bothered to teach their sons that it’s okay to ignore hecklers calling you a cracker, and worse things, when you visit a big city.
Q: But they were BOYS being shouted at by MEN!
A: Those “boys” were in high school and I assume at least some of them were eighteen. An eighteen-year-old boy is a man, and everyone older than elementary school age needs to know how to ignore or de-escalate a conflict if they’re going to be allowed to go on a day-long field trip to a big city– PARTICULARLY when they’re going to a demonstration of any kind. People shout terrible things at March for Life demonstrators, and if you’re going to demonstrate you have to know how to deal with that ahead of time. We did back in my day. I was fifteen and sixteen and I didn’t shout back at people. If you’re too young to know how to handle a small pack of weird counter-protesters yelling hurtful things, you’re too young to go to the March for Life.
Q: Mrs. Pezzulo, do you really think white men actually have an obligation to de-escalate and behave in an extra non-threatening way in front of Black people and Native Americans?
A: Yes, I do.
Q: That’s not fair!
A: It may or may not be fair, but it’s just. Historically speaking, a great big group of able-bodied, well-off mostly white men (and boys of that age are men, physically speaking) staring down a small group of black men is a very threatening thing– no matter what those black men might be saying. Learn some of the history of the United States. Learn about white people bringing picnic lunches to enjoy an afternoon lynching. Read about hangings, castrations, burnings, bombings, pre-born babies cut from their mothers’ wombs and stomped to death. This is recent history. Some of the people who committed these acts are still alive. They rarely faced consequences. The family and friends of those lynching victims are also still alive, in many cases, and they’ve received no justice. When a group of about forty white people approaches a group of about six Black people and starts booing and jumping around as if they want to escalate trouble, that’s a threatening act whether they realize it or not. They have to mind their manners. They especially have to politely step out of the way rather than jumping about smirking and teasing.
White people especially have no excuse for making racist gestures or mocking a Native American medicine chant. We just shouldn’t do it. Not ironically, not to prove we’re hip, not as a joke, not if we’ve been harassed by a person of color, not even if it’s just for school spirit and not meant as an insult. Just never. Even if you insist on being impolite, do it some other way. “What are you doing?” “Get out of my way, you weirdo!” or even “What the f*ck?” might be understandable. Mocking a Native American prayer never is.
Q: You’re encouraging violence against these young men!
A: No I’m not. Don’t attack them, just denounce them and call on their prep school to start disciplining and educating its students.
Q: But Father Longenecker and Rod Dreher said…
A: I don’t care. I am part of a faith that believes in the integration of faith and reason. The idiosyncratic sputterings of pompous celebrity priests and pseudo-intellectual folk heroes are neither faith nor reason.
Q: Sad you’re believing the lies of the liberal media over faithful Catholics.
A: I believe the Faith of the Church, careful reasoning, and my own eyes and ears, over what people who co-opt my religion for the sake of secular politics instruct me to pretend I see and hear, yes.
Some things are never okay. It is on the basis of that basic moral assertion that we March for Life in the first place. Killing an infant is never okay, hence I’m pro-life.Taunting a Native American like I saw in the video isn’t okay either. It’s not okay if you’re scared. It’s not okay if some other non-whites happened to scare you because you’re not used to being shouted at. It’s not okay if you’re an entitled white kid who hasn’t been told how to behave. It is never, ever okay.
That’s all I was trying to say, really.