when white supremacy smirks

January 22, 2019

Covington Catholic High School is like Quantico for white supremacy. Tracking the racially incendiary actions displayed by the private boys school in Kentucky paints a picture of a white-male-toxicity breeding ground that hides its racism under the veneer of religion. Sounds about Conservative. Busing a hoard of white boys to the March For Life in Washington D.C. is only the latest example of an institution that condones its students covering themselves in Black paint for basketball games with other schools. This “Blackout” is justified under the guise of “tradition”, while boys add minstrel make-up for that added touch of racism.


The controversy surrounding what white media called a “stand-off” between Native American elder and Vietnam War veteran Nathan Phillips and de facto leader of the Covington Catholic High School mob Nick Sandmann has become a social-media quagmire of conflicting stories and agendas, supplemented by videos shot from different perspectives. Phillips and company were in attendance at Lincoln Memorial and according to the veteran, he had noticed the crowd of Covington students descending on Black protestors, prompting Phillips to slowly place himself between the two groups.

In an interview with CNN, Phillips recounted his version of events:

“I needed an out. I needed to escape. I needed to get away. I needed to retreat somehow, but the only way I could retreat at that moment…is just to go forward, and when I started going forward and that mass of people started separating and moving aside to allow me to move out of the way or to proceed, this young fellow put himself in front of me and wouldn’t move. If I took another step, I would be putting my person into his presence, into his space and I would’ve touched him and that would’ve been the thing that the group of people would’ve needed to spring on me.”

A second video revealed a group of Black Hebrew Israelites who were allegedly shouting racist slurs at the group of Covington students and the Native Americans taking part in the Indigenous March. According to Sandmann’s statement, the high schooler maintains that he stood in the way of Phillips to “de-escalate” the situation and that the chants from his classmates were intended to drown out the chants of the Black Hebrew Israelites. Hoteps are walking eye-rolls, displaying the kind of behavior shown by the very people they are so eager to distance themselves from, and Nathan Phillips was seemingly putting his body in harm’s way to inject peace into what could have been a more dire headline. How Sandmann and his ilk responded was by taking up space, which could very well be the white male version of de-escalating, because they like to assert their white-supremacy-gifted privilege to (often violently) shut down conflict.

This interaction contains magnitudes. Do we begin with the persistent danger attached to a group of white boys in MAGA hats in the wake of a global awakening to white terrorism? Should we unpack a teenager’s understanding of the power and privilege afforded to white men to take up space and exact callous consequence to anyone who would try and defy their “supremacy”? Or does this story lie in the centuries-long eradication of Native Americans — their bodies, land and culture — manifesting in a spacial metaphor depicting the imposition of white supremacy on their sovereignty and human rights? What can be said is that the backlash displays the growing acknowledgment that soldiers of white supremacy wear white hoods, swastikas and MAGA hats.

Covington Catholic High School issued an apology for the incident:

“We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general, Jan. 18, after the March for Life, in Washington, D.C. We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips. This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person. The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.

The talk is so cheap, it’s on sale. These are high schoolers, but they are not kids by even the loosest definition. No longer will we afford white men the benefit-of-doubt that infantilizes a human being who is fully aware of the power they yield. This is “boys just being boys.” Gillette did an entire add addressing that, and misogynists came out with the full force of their indignation to bemoan a simple request for accountability. Phillips did not yield, which is a powerful image, moment and mood. Sandmann gets to play the victim and paint a Native American veteran as the aggressor because, for racists, there will always be an “Indian” for every cowboy. Racism is nostalgic like that.