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January 21st, 2019

Enjoy This Heaping Helping of Context

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Memo to Context-Seekers: YOU WANT THE CONTEXT? YOU’RE GONNA GET ALL THE CONTEXT.

A nasty bug and the Trump era pretty much precluded me managing to do my old “search Google News for ‘racism’ for an MLK Day column” schtick, the weekend did bring a shining example of American racism, the Covington Catholic incident on the National Mall, in which a bunch of Kentucky Catholic private-school white kids mocked a Native American veteran there for the Indigenous People’s March. All the teens were wearing MAGA regalia, including the focal point, a leering douchewaffle standing in the face of the Native American drummer.

But this isn’t really about that. That was what couch-Twitter was for. What this is for is the rise of the right-wing (and concern troll centrist) counter-narrative that the thing everyone was yelling at wasn’t the “full story”. Which was both false and irrelevant.

It was more of the story, to be sure. Turns out the MAGA teens didn’t just happen upon a Native American and start harassing him. The drummer was intervening in what the news would call a “racially heated exchange” between the MAGA teen hicks from Kentucky and a handful of nutjob fringe street preachers from the Black Israelites. That’s when the kids started mocking and chanting at the Native American veteran. See? That makes it all better, because some brown people provoked the white people into harassing a different brown person.

But that’s not the full context. Because the fuller context, which nobody seems to be interested in, is that for THREE FUCKING YEARS, Trump paraphernalia and cultural backwash, from MAGA hats and shirts to Trump campaign banners to his various signature Chants For Dummies, have been wielded non-stop as a tool to threaten and intimidate non-whites.

Literally days before the Covington Incident, here in Minnesota, a Minneapolis basketball team traveled to a rural town to an away game, only to be met by a “Trump 2020” flag in the front row. I’ll let you guess the racial makeup of the two schools and the two teams. The people holding the flag insisted they “didn’t have a racist bone in their bodies”, which is a common thing racists say when attempting to employ a plausible deniability defense.

We’ve seen similar stores play out at sporting events, protests, regular gatherings of people of color, pretty much anywhere. Racists invoking the name and imagery of Trump to intimidate and threaten POC. Because the President is a racist, they’re racists, they like that he’s a racist, and they love that POC hate that he’s a racist.

White privilege means getting to pretend that context doesn’t exist while you’re imploring people to learn the full context. White privilege means getting to say “What? It’s just my pooooooolitics!” with a shit-eating grin on your face. And white privilege means the media will also ignore this context, and treat every single instance of Trumpian intimidation as a unique incident, debating the individual merits and nuance of each snippet of video until they find a narrative that ultimately lets the racists off the hook with a “we can’t know what’s in their hearts’ conclusion.

But we know what’s in their hearts, because whether the media wants to accumulate it or not, evidence accumulates. Patterns develop. We know who we need to be scared of, and it’s not aggressive street preachers or elderly drummers. Covington Catholic is a small part of the problem, but small parts of the problem deserve a proportionate response, not zero.