Don’t sort beliefs by ethnic lines

Kentucky high school students and a Native American drummer on the Mall in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 18, 2019. (YouTube)
Kentucky high school students and a Native American drummer on the Mall in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 18, 2019. (YouTube)

I was in the middle of Ashley Jardina’s insightful new book, “White Identity Politics,” when the Duke professor’s scholarly material sprang to life through a viral confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial.

It was there, of course, that several dozen white Catholic school boys – in town for an anti-abortion march – were approached by a small group of Native Americans. A short video of the interaction focused on one of the boys, wearing a Make America Great Again hat, standing silently in front of an elderly man beating a drum in his face.

The footage set off a wave of hateful indignation in the Twittersphere and most mainstream news — including The New York Times, Washington Post, and Associated Press stories run in the N&O and hundreds of other newspapers. The 16-year-old boy, who later said his smile meant to defuse the situation, was portrayed — on the basis of that footage alone — as a smirking symbol of white privilege. Several high profile writers said the boy should be punched in the face.

Slate’s Ruth Graham wrote the video hit a chord because of “the kid’s face. The face of self-satisfaction and certitude, of edginess expressed as cruelty. … The face is both punchable and untouchable.”

He’s a child. They’re influential adults.

Think about that.

Kyle Smith observed in the National Review — that also ran an egregious piece condemning the boys — that this response was straight out of “1984.” In Orwell’s dystopian society “to wear an improper expression on your face … was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called.”

We now know that ugly rush to judgment was false. The Native American drummer who continues to be handled with kid gloves by the media has been exposed as a serial liar — he was not, for example “surrounded” by the boys but instigated the peaceful interaction. And there was another group on the scene — so-called Black Hebrew Israelites who spewed vile anti-gay, anti-Semitic, anti-white and anti-Catholic venom at the boys.

Although these hatemongers described priests as “child-molesting faggots” and the boys as “dirty-ass crackers,” The New York Times described the Black Israelites, as “sidewalk ministers” who “use blunt and sometimes offensive language, [to] gamely engage in arguments aimed at drawing listeners near.”

This should, of course, be a gut check moment for major news outlets, which violated every tenet of journalism — be skeptical, be fair, facts first — in its initial coverage. Their knee-jerk condemnation of the boys — white, Catholic, pro-life, pro-Trump — exposed biases that suffuse their coverage of most hot-button issues. Their resistance to confront hatred by people who aren’t white males reveals the hypocrisy of political correctness.

It suggests they learned nothing from the Duke lacrosse case.

Jardina’s book on white identity reminds us that something deeper is going on. America is changing both demographically — becoming less white — and intellectually, as we make greater room for varying perspectives. Speaking broadly, the days of the “white view” as the “normal” view are over — the Silent Sam debate — monument to heroism or racism? — being a notable example.

Unfortunately, what could be a new discourse of inclusion has too often become a vehicle for ugly old racist rhetoric against whites and men, who suffer from “toxic masculinity.”

When The New York Times reports that video encounter raises issues of “race, President Trump and the behavior of young white men” it is suggesting white men are a monolith, like, I suppose, “the blacks.”

History reveals the tragic danger of separating individuals into groups and assuming I know you because I know them. As we hurtle toward the future, we must not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at jpederzane@jpederzane.com.