• Fred Guerin

When Apologies Become Apologist.


January 22/19



A few days ago after Buzzfeed footage of white teens taunting a Native American elder named Nathan Phillips on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial became viral, a counter-narrative claiming that the initial video was out of context and the real story could be seen in a much longer video began to make the rounds. There was immediately a flurry of apologies by media and Hollywood types saying they had 'rushed to judgement'.


But had they?


When I finally got round to watching the fuller video I saw on one side a group of aggressive privileged white teens sporting "Make America Great" hats (in my view, a symbol of white nationalism and misogyny), mocking native people and looking upon them with visceral contempt. On the other side screaming foul language were members of the Black Israelite cult who believe that Jews are impostors and condemn whites as evil personified.


In between the two groups stood a Native American elder named Nathan Phillips trying to calm things down. From my perspective the original reaction of disgust was even more justified in the longer version of the video. As Laura Wagner says, "If you wanted to compress the history of relations between the powerful and the powerless in America, or the dynamics of the current moment, into a single image, you couldn’t do much better than to present a white teen in a MAGA hat, surrounded by a screaming horde of his peers, smirking into the face of an old Native American man."https://theconcourse.deadspin.com/dont-doubt-what-you-saw-w…


Robyn Urback of CBC claims that the 'rush to judgment on Covington school standoff should be a wake-up call for media'. Perhaps it should--but not because their 'ideological bias' against Trump got in their way or because they 'got it wrong', but because they caved into a habitual and mythical 'middle ground'--a middle ground that invariably reflects the interests of the powerful.


Scott Adams (Dilbert cartoonist) became part of the story when he apologetically confessed he had been hasty in his original judgment that the 'Covington' teens exhibited bad behavior. He apologized that he got it 'wrong' when he blamed the unruly white teens from the posh Kentucky private school called Covington Catholic. The teens, he claims, were the victims here.


That conclusion should not really be all that surprising coming from a guy who voted for Romney and endorsed Trump, repeatedly praising the latter's 'persuasion skills'. Adams should have stood by his original judgement. In my view his 'apology' became no more than an apologetic on behalf of a group of upper-class belligerent teens chanting school slogans, doing a tomahawk-chop motion and mocking the way Phillips was singing and peacefully playing his drum. They refused to let him pass, a few chanting 'build the wall'.


These 'innocent' teens crowded around an elder indigenous man the way a southern white mob might have surrounded a black man they were about to lynch.

The longer video version simply substantiated my original reaction of utter disgust.

Democracy Now interviews Nathan Phillips here:

https://www.democracynow.org/…/i_was_absolutely_afraid_indi…

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