The White Cocoon
I grew up in Toronto. It was ethnically diverse then and even more so now. Only 44% of the city is European (which I assume means “white”), the rest is a mix of South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino, Latin American and many others.
There is still a lot of racism here. White supremacy is alive and well in Toronto - but no one raised in this city would ever support the behaviour of the Covington Catholic High School boys.
No amount of back-pedalling or blaming the black Hebrew Israelites for starting it or trying to spin the situation to position Nathan Phillips as the aggressor will change the undeniable tone and actions of the student responses as aggressive, dismissive, demeaning and disrespectful to cultures and beliefs outside of White Christianity.
Covington Catholic HS in Park Hills, Kentucky is symbolic of the intersection of rich, white, male, Christian politics that is the foundation of the current conservative wave of hate that has been on the rise since the election of Trump.
Park Hills has a population of 3000 and is 96% white.
All the students are white. All the staff are white. What kind of life experience do these boys have with people of colour? What is the likelihood that any of these boys has had significant and meaningful interaction with people of colour in their daily lives? How many people of colour are in these boys lives as authorities and leaders? How many people of colour shape their beliefs and form the narrative of their lives?
I’m guessing none. They live in a White Christian Cocoon.
How symbolic that America has white boys, black men and indigenous elders in a clash on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
How symbolic that there are only men involved.
Why is an all boys school on a field trip to protest what women do with their bodies? Keep that belief to yourself and try and control your own women’s bodies, if they’ll let you. Little boys who are barely shaving set loose to protest against things of which they are totally ignorant… except for what they’ve been taught, in their cocoon of white, male, Christian privilege.
Only the most self-reflective and self-aware boys could go through an all-male Catholic high school in Kentucky and enter the world prepared to be a member of a globally diverse society. These boys are moulded in an exclusive environment of wealth and homogeneity that doesn’t reflect the world outside their town in any realistic or helpful way. They exist in an environment where rich, white, male Christians are the only people of worth or respect. When tested by push back from diverse cultures that protest and resist white supremacy, these boys were in no way prepared or equipped to come to the table as equals, to listen, nor engage in meaningful dialogue.
The response was aggressive, dismissive, taunting and disrespectful. They cannot say it’s not true, because I saw it with my own eyes.
Nathan Phillips is needed and necessary medicine
Nathan Phillips was giving good medicine. Nathan Phillips was giving needed peace and healing.
I trust Nathan Phillips.
A veteran, an elder, an Indigenous youth activist - I trust his judgement and his actions in that situation. I’ve watched the whole hour + long video. The antagonism between the white catholic boys and the black Hebrew Israelites (described as “Black Muslims” by a mother of one of the students - exposing another point of bigotry) was ugly and aggressive and antagonistic - on both sides. The school chants in response were not an attempt to diffuse the situation. They were a show of tribal aggression towards the black Hebrew Israelites who were treated as an adversary who the students hoped to intimidate into silence.
Nathan Phillips calmed the situation with drumming and prayers of peace and healing. He was singing the American Indian Movement Song - an intertribal song that has no words. It is an invitation.
Anyone can join in - and the students did.
In the video between 1:12:45 and 1:13:30 you can see a diffusion of the antagonism and initially the students crowd around him and clap and sing in rhythm - and then it all goes to shit.
What initially looked like a group of students engaged with Phillips turns quickly into another aggressive battle of adversaries.
The Black Hebrew Israelites didn’t help. They’re not responsible, but they didn’t help. They continued to throw taunts and aggressive insults at the students and claimed Nathan Phillips as their own elder, claimed that he had come to drum on their side, which wasn’t the case.
Phillips was there for prayer, for peace and for healing. Nathan Phillips was there on his own path and purpose.
I’m afraid that this conversation, the conversation that needs to be had which must include the wisdom of indigenous elders is being co-opted by a debate over viral video and fake news. This isn’t about neutral news sources - although that is absolutely necessary and essential and valuable as a side conversation. (Reuters for the win, by the way.)
This is about how we interact with each other when different cultures and different beliefs come into conflict. This is about the toxic, sheltered and one-dimensional education an all white, all boy, private Catholic school education provides for a generation of boys who are expected to live in a global society. When does white supremacy get called out for what it is? Who gets to decide on the narrative? Who takes responsibility? Who decides what is true and what is false? Who gets to decide what voices are heard and amplified?
Nathan Phillips has agreed to meet with the students of Covington Catholic and start a discourse on race relations.
The “statement” - crafted by RunSwitch PR firm in Louisville. This is not a statement I trust to reveal truth.
I trust Nathan Phillips to use this moment to facilitate the most healing for the most people possible. I trust Nathan Phillips to attempt a metamorphosis. I trust Nathan Phillips to be able to show these kids that there is greater beauty and wonder available to them, outside of their limited cocoon.
Yes, the Indigenous man in this video is Nathan Phillips.