I want to state right off that I'm white and have no idea what it's like to experience racial abuse, let alone what it's like to be a Native American having to listen to a bunch of rich white kids in MAGA hats chant "build that wall" at you when they're the descendants of the real invaders who committed genocide upon your people and is still making life hell for you upon your stolen land to this day.
But I have been harassed by a group of mostly white boys who knew targetted me because I was vulnerable and knew they'd be shielded from any consequences. And I know much of my fellow white people are more likely to listen to me about this than any person of color, so listen up.
The video of the kid standing in Nathan Phillips' face with that smug smile on his face while his shitty little friends cheered him on and laughed at Phillips did something strange to me, and it took me a few hours to realize that it was triggering old memories. Me, greasy-faced and hunched over on the school bus seat as the boys behind me quickly lean over to whisper obscene things in my ears, kick my seat, yell and laugh as loudly as they can, all while the bus driver does nothing.
Anyone who was bullied as a kid recognized the look on those kids' faces. Many, many women flashed back to the men who have gotten in their personal space with that same kind of look, intimidation and threat written all in their body language but not touching! And the smugness that comes from a mind that knows, 100 percent, that they will not face any consequences because they know they have the power and you do not.
They know exactly what they're doing. They know, instinctively, that if they don't touch first, they won't get in trouble. They know that if they smile they can say they were just "joking around." They know just how to send the message to their victims that they can descend and hurt you at any moment and that they hold all the power in that moment while keeping just enough distance to be protected from backlash.
In that situation, the victim has only two options. Take it or fight back and be called the villain.
This tactic has been used by white men and boys for decades, maybe centuries. It was used on a woman I admire and call a friend years ago when she accidentally wandered into a group of Trump supporters, started debating with them, and ended up surrounded. You can see the same smug smiles as she begs for them to let her go, as she panics. And the very second she fights back against this coordinated intimidating tactic guaranteed to cause panic attacks in mentally ill and traumatized individuals, she is assaulted, injured, and blamed for the whole thing.
Those boys won't be expelled. Do you have any idea how much prep schools for rich white boys get for every rich white boy that attends? Without their rich white parents writing them checks, Covington Catholic is gone.
The boys know that. Just like my bullies knew that I wouldn't go to the school administration for help because I knew they wouldn't do anything and probably would only make it worse for me. Thirteen and already we knew who had the power and who didn't.
I say this because some right-wingers have the nerve to claim that the Covington Catholic boys were just "enjoying the music." I refuse to believe that any of them really think that. At the very least, some of the individuals making this claim have essentially forced themselves to believe this because they can't confront reality, in the same way that far too many of this have convinced ourselves that a violent man really does care for us and wants to change. But deep down, we all know the truth.
Human beings have evolved the capacity to both express and recognize irony. Every person over the age of five who watched that video recognized that the boys were mocking Nathan Phillips. We all know that the gestures they were using and their gross "singing" were explicitly racist against Native Americans. The boys knew it, too.
If you've never been in a situation where a privileged person went out of their way to put you in a situation where they had total power over you and gleefully made sure that you were completely aware of it, count yourself very lucky. And know that it's one of the worst feelings in the world. Generally, the less privilege you have, the more often you've been there. Some of us have been put there by bosses, by cops, and/or by the entire U.S. government.
That feeling of helplessness is something that we as human beings put a ton of energy into avoiding. We're terrified of it. It's why Nathan Phillips cried. It's why I could barely force myself to watch the video of those kids taunting him. It's why the video is so disturbing to just about everyone, whether they'll admit it or not. Some don't want to admit it because doing so would threaten all the power they've inherited which prevents them from ending up in a situation where they feel that helplessness.
I almost wouldn't wish it on them, though maybe they'd gain some empathy from it.
This "bullying" that we're supposed to care so much about in America. This is exactly what it looks like. And yet as long as the bullies are privileged enough, we allow it and even encourage it every single day. It's what this country was built on. It's why I believe in revolution rather than reform. Because the smug grin of that kid standing too close to Nathan Phillips as his friends cheer him on - that is the face of privilege, the face of power over others, and the face of America.