If You Are Raising a White Child in America, Watch These Videos With Them

ADDENDUM:  Given that this story has been contextualized since this post was published, I wanted to add a couple of things.  At the time I wrote this, I did not know of the small group (4-5) of Black Hebrew Israelites who, as can be seen on video, were clearly harassing both the small group of Native Americans as well as the larger group of Covington Catholic students.  That harassing behavior appears to have influenced the subsequent actions of both  groups.  Additionally, I originally wrote that Mr. Nathan Phillips was a Vietnam veteran.  I have added the word “era” to my original post to reflect that while he served during the Vietnam War, he did not serve in Vietnam.  Other than adding that one word, I stand by my original post, even after having read much commentary and having watched a significant amount of video from other vantage points.  I believe the students from Covington Catholic acted very inappropriately on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and I believe their chaperones failed them.  

Yesterday in Washington, DC, the March for Life took place.  I know from the Twitter that lots of kids were there with lots of support from the adults that brought them to our nation’s capital in protest of a women’s right to choose.  Conservative commentator Laura Ingraham posted a photo of a group of smiling white teen boys at the march with the caption, “They are our only hope.”

Fast forward a few hours and we are seeing the ugly underbelly of “our only hope.”  A disturbing video of a group (some would say mob and they would not be wrong) of students from Kentucky’s all boys Covington Catholic High School who were attending the March for Life is making the rounds on social media channels this morning.  The boys are seen chanting and taunting and mocking and surrounding and intimidating a small group of Native Americans staging their own protest at the simultaneously held Indigenous Peoples March.

The first time I watched the video, I cried.  The second time I watched it, I resolved to show it to my ten year old and use it as a teachable moment.  The third time I watched it, I dusted off my keyboard and started researching and writing.

The older gentleman playing the drum is a Native American elder named Nathan Phillips.  Mr. Phillips is a Vietnam era veteran who lives in Omaha.  He is also the former director of the Native Youth Alliance and coordinates an annual ceremony honoring fallen Native American veterans at Arlington National Cemetery.

You can see the grace and resolve in which Mr. Phillips, known in the Native community as Uncle Nathan, continues beating his drum in the face of his teen harassers.  He does not back down, he is not intimidated, he does not debase himself or his community by engaging with these, lets call them what they are, thugs.  To the contrary, Twitter also informs me that the chant Mr. Phillips was singing was a medicine song meant to calm anger and toxicity.

Watch the video and see for yourself:

Reports from those on the scene describe that Mr. Phillips and a small group of Native Americans were leaving the Indigenous Peoples March when they came upon the group of 50-70 kids, many of whom were wearing MAGA hats and Trump gear.  Quickly, the group of Covington Catholic teens surrounded the group and started taunting them, mocking the Native chants, and hooting and hollering.

In this America where the President frequently mocks a Senator by calling her Pocahontas, none of this should surprise, but the visual of these white teens acting so hatefully, full of ugly bravado, is still jarring to me.

When we teach our children that it is acceptable to mock, taunt, intimidate, and harass, they will never Be Best.  When the adults around them cheer on bigotry and walls, that stink trickles down to the humans we are raising, as can be seen in the feverish ode to ugly these boys from Covington Catholic displayed yesterday.

If you are parenting white children, I don’t care how old they are, watch the video with them.  Teach them what is and is not acceptable behavior.  Teach them some actual history of Native Americans and how the U.S. government has treated tribes throughout its existence, and not what children are taught at Thanksgiving.

I’ve got no doubt that if you are like me, you won’t know the actual history.  There is no shame in that, as most of us were never taught it.  So, yes, it will require a bit of effort on your part.  To get you started, Google things like Wounded Knee, Trail of Tears, the Pickering Treaty, or Custer’s Last Stand.

I first got interested in researching this history when my family took a road trip through South Dakota a few years ago.  Now I regret never having written a post about that trip, but the title I was going to use still stays with me, “The Shadows of South Dakota.”  Perhaps it’s not too late.

After you’ve watched the first video with your kids, I strongly encourage you show them this one, with Mr. Phillips reflecting on the harassment he experienced yesterday perpetrated by the Covington Catholic boys:

Again, Nathan Phillips shows his humanity, the humanity lacking in those teens, wishing that they would put their energy into something more productive than mocking, taunting, and intimidating Native elders, to use their youth and energy into “making this country really great.”  The kind of great that has nothing to do with wearing red hats and participating in mob behavior.

I only hope that I can conjure the hope and grace that Nathan Phillips does when I watch these videos with my sons.  May you do the same.

Hate in America, Or, You Know, Monday

Two days prior to a gunman bursting into Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue where he killed eleven Jewish congregants, a Kentucky father wore an SS officer costume, accompanied by his five year old son who was dressed as Adolph Hitler in Owensboro, Kentucky’s “Trail of Treats” Halloween event.

There is so much wrong with that sentence I just typed that I don’t know what to make of it.  This is America in 2018.

What we know about the synagogue shooting is not pretty, but it is predictable.  A white man, armed with an AR-15, hopped up on anger and hate towards HAIS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, stormed into the Squirrel Hill neighborhood synagogue where a bris was taking place.  He yelled “ALL JEWS MUST DIE,” as he shot into the group of worshipers.

Victims from the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting.

The gunman, his hate fueled by exchanges on the social media platform, Gab, a popular site for white nationalists/supremacists and neo-Nazis who embrace “free” speech, a site which has since been disabled, left a post that alluded to his intent, “Screw your optics, I’m going in,” he wrote.

The brutal irony of this hate crime/mass shooting occurring in the hometown of Mr. Rogers is a sad analogy to where we are in this woeful moment of American culture.  Squirrel Hill is approximately 40% Jewish, home to temples, synagogues, delis, Judaica stores — a cultural center for Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.

Roughly 500 miles southwest of Pittsburgh is Owensboro, Kentucky, the state’s 4th largest city, with a population of nearly 60K residents.  Last Thursday, the town sponsored its annual Halloween event, “Trail of Treats,” a local event where kids can dress in costume and merchants host trick or treaters.

I legit cannot bear to research if Owensboro’s “Trail of Treats” is a riff off of the Trail of Tears, but my increasingly cynical self fears it might be.  For folks not in the know, the Trail of Tears was the forced migration of tens of thousands of Native Americans from five separate tribes (Choktaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Seminole) into Oklahoma, legalized by the Indian Removal Act of 1830.  It is estimated that perhaps 10K of the 50K+ Native Americans relocated died of disease, starvation, and exposure during the forced journey.  The Trail of Tears passed through the western part of Kentucky, so, yes, it is possible this is the reference of the event.

And, just to out myself as ignorant and not knowing any better, when I was a young mother, I would jokingly refer to the toys my young toddlers left around the house as my personal, “Trail of Tears.”  Yeah, not good.  Horrible, in fact.  As a child, we had never really been taught about what the Trail of Tears was and how the US government was complicit in it.  I know better now.

But I digress.

Last Thursday, a local man brought his family to the Trail of Treats in Owensboro.  He was dressed as an SS officer, with quite an authentic looking costume, I might add, and he dressed his five year old boy as a mini Adolph Hitler, complete with armband Swastika and moustache.

The mother and father were indignant when confronted by others at the event, per their follow-up Facebook posts, where they both complained about the shoddy treatment they received by some of their fellow trick-or-treaters, and tried to justify and rationalize their choice of costumes.  The father wrote:

“….we saw people dressed as murderers, devils, serial killers, blood and gore of all sorts. Nobody batted an eye. But my little boy and i, dress as historical figures, and it merits people not only making snide remarks, but approaching us and threatening my little 5 year old boy. … Yes liberalism is alive and well. And we had the displeasure of dealing with the fruits of the so called “Tolerant Left.”

And, not to be outdone by her husband, the mother commented in a series of comments, railing against Jewish people:

“The Jewish community want us all to feel sorry for them to get more money and power.  They’re the ones who control the banks and mass media and the government at large.  The truth is the media is controlled by the Zionists.  The so-called “gas chambers” were de-lousing showers.  He [Hitler] created work camps, not death camps.”  

So, yes, this is where we are at in America in 2018.  More and more, it looks like Germany of the early 1930s.  Hitler did not come to power overnight, he played a long game with surgical precision.  He leveraged hate and fear and othering that we are seeing more and more of in America.

On a side note, while researching this post, I came across a piece of information that adds depth to the deep roots and longstanding tradition of American hate.  It turns out that Owensboro, Kentucky is home to the last public hanging in America.  In 1936, on the town square, a black man was hung after being convicted for raping and murdering a white woman.  News reports document hot dog vendors, popcorn, and children in attendance.  The crowd mauled the man’s body after he died.  Whew.

Everything is connected, folks.  Hate is an enormous tapestry that weaves together a young family in Owensboro, Kentucky with a gunman in leafy Pittsburgh with a black man killed on the public square for sport.  Right now, it seems, the looms are working 24/7 and the fibers that hold our hate are coming closer together, strengthening, bonding, intensifying.


Acknowledging the hate we live among is hard, but it is important.  We must hold out hope and engage in work so that our love will trump hate.  Read about the victims from the Tree of Life shooting HERE and share some love and kindness today in their memory.  

To the Two Boys Sitting Behind President Trump Last Night at the Rally in Mississippi

I see you, in your sport coats and ties.  You look so handsome.  Your parents must be proud of you.  I am a mom to two boys just like you.  My older one loves to wear a coat and tie, too.   Just this morning I sent him off to school in his finest clothing for picture day.  I wanted him to wear his navy sport coat and polka dot tie, but he chose gray.  Boys don’t always listen to their mamas, do they?

But that’s neither here nor there.  Full disclosure, I am worried for you.  You got a front row seat last night to the Divided States of America under President Trump.  I don’t care what your politics are, red or blue, Republican or Democrat, it is not a good place to be.

I am sorry for that.

We adults don’t always get things right.  We make mistakes.  Often.  These days too many of us are making too many of them and the stakes are getting higher and higher.

What you witnessed last night was one of them.  Regardless of you or your folks being Trump supporters, you should not see the President of the United States of America mocking and making fun of a woman who has claimed to be the victim of a sexual assault.  She is not evil.  Democrats are not evil.  They are your fellow Americans.  They are your teachers and your doctors and your police officers and your soldiers that protect you.

I’ve been interested in politics since I was younger than you are now.  One of my very first memories was watching former President Nixon resign his office.  I remember my folks being glued to the TV for a few days.  In the 4th grade, I got to go to our local high school and see President Carter give a speech.  I remember feeling full of awe when the Secret Service went through my backpack.  Did they do the same to you last night?

President Carter did things a wee bit differently than President Trump.  He held a town hall type of meeting where average Americans, my neighbors, were allowed to ask questions.  I remember the husband of my 3rd grade teacher, Mr. Kast, was sitting near us and he asked a question about traffic lights.  No joke.  Traffic lights being too long was the problem he wanted to address when the President came to town.  It seems like a different world.

I miss those days.

What you saw last night was not normal.  It is not normal for the President of the United States to refer to roughly half of voting Americans as evil.  I know being a kid, you’ve only lived under two presidents, so you’re batting .500 here with presidents that do this, but please, trust me when I say this level of anger and hate and vitriol (look up that word on the Google — it’s a good one and will impress your teachers) is not normal.  It’s not healthy for our democracy either.

Some folks might think that you’re too young to be political or have political opinions that mirror or oppose those of your parents.  I disagree.  From my own childhood, I know better.  It is very possible for kids to think about these things.  I encourage it.  Be more political!  Read!  Ask questions!  Look for folks to talk with that both agree and disagree with you.  Question everything you read and are told.  You’re never too young to form your own opinions.  Look at those kids from Parkland.  They are changing the world.

But listen closely and hear this:  People who disagree with your political opinions are not inherently (another word to check on Google) evil or your enemy.  Women who have come forward with allegations of a sexual assault are not people you should mock or belittle.  Ever.  Under any circumstances.  Disagree with them.  Use healthy skepticism, sure, always, but never demean or belittle.

There are lines that President Trump not only crosses, but destroys.  Some things are sacred, or should be.  Basic common decency is one of them.  He appears to lack that or think it makes him stronger or more powerful to abuse human decency.  It does not.  Know this.  All those adults cheering him on last night?  That was also not okay.  Or decent.  Or kind.  Or compassionate.

It’s a tough thing to ask a child to be better, do better than the adults who surround them, but here I am, asking and encouraging you to be better and do better than the adults around you.

I am sorry to put you in this position.  It isn’t really fair.  But that is where we are at in the Divided States of America in 2018.  It shouldn’t be this way, but it is.  For your sake, and the sake of my sons and all the kids of America, I hope we get it together quickly.  I worry for us.  All of us.

Adults are supposed to protect children, the younger generation.  We are not doing that right now.  Probably there are a lot of folks out there who think me speaking to you so frankly is a bad thing.  They want to protect you, no doubt.  I will take that risk because looking at you, I didn’t just see two handsome boys in their coat and ties.  I saw your discomfort, your dis-ease.  Those are the things that give me hope these days.

Trust that discomfort.  Trust your gut when it tells you something is not right.  Last night was not right.  Mocking women is not right.  Suggesting that half your fellow Americans are evil for voting a different way is not right.

Trust in that, not in what you saw last night.