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Despite a rush to judgement, Covington high school students still bear responsibility Despite a rush to judgement, Covington high school students still bear responsibility
by George Cassidy Payne
2019-01-30 10:32:19
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Needless to say, what happened in our nation’s capital with the Covington High School students has become a tinderbox. It turned out later that a lot of outside observers chose to draw conclusions without knowing what they were writing about. Generally speaking, there has been a worrisome eagerness to have a few young men represent all white males, and one adult represent all Native Americans – forcing a simplified representation even after it had become clear that this incident was not so simple. The incendiary role of the Black Hebrews, for example, was not reported in the initial rush to judgement. The actions of Mr. Nathan Phillips, the Native American drummer who decided to intervene with his prayer, have also come under scrutiny after more footage of the confrontation has emerged. 

conv001_400Be that as it may, I am still deeply unsettled by the actions of those students. Any effort to whitewash their behavior denies them an opportunity to take responsibility for their own participation in that ugly scene. Regardless who instigated who, videos clearly show several of the students doing the Tomahawk Chop, dancing inappropriately, and mocking the Native American marchers. They also made insensitive statements regarding the demonstrators. As reported on Democracy Now, one student told a reporter that “people get their land stolen all of the time. That’s just how it works.”         

Besides, the simple fact that the students were donning MAGA hats is problematic. Maybe the president does not see an issue with that slogan but I do. When was America great? Was it when only white males could own land and vote? Was it when a black person could be lynched without a trial and due process? Was it when women were allowed to be sexually harassed in the workplace? Was it before we had homosexual candidates running for office? Was it before transgender soldiers were allowed to serve their country with honor? Was it when slavery was the number one economic institution in the nation? When was America great? Was it before a black man was allowed to be president? Was it when Native Americans were divided, disorganized, and lacking cohesive power as a national and international movement? Was it when we knew who the enemy was and believed that we had God’s blessing to destroy him? The MAGA hat is an overt symbol of racism and xenophobia. There is no way to rationalize, justify it, or turn it into a benign message of economic prosperity.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln: “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”


George Cassidy Payne is an independent writer, social justice activist, and adjunct professor of philosophy at SUNY.

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