Smug Faces and Beef Between Races: Why I Waited Until Today to Unpack the Incident at the Lincoln Memorial

Source: Deadspin via Youtube

As of this writing, I am in the final days of a month-long social media fast. Beginning on January 6th, I have logged out of Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook and internet message boards. In lieu of being on social media, I found myself reading and watching a lot of news.

There have been some revelations, the most glaring being that I perform a very good job at actively ignoring news and current events. Up until this fast, I consumed news by choice — meaning ‘barely’. I casually followed headlines from the local newspapers, clicking through to read articles if I fell a smidge of relevancy. I blocked CNN, MSNBC and Fox News due to their biases and I let my New York Times subscription lapse. I kept up with enough to know the basics, deep diving into stories that were strong enough to penetrate my own personal paywall.

My self-imposed embargo on news started in 2017 during the initial rise of the #MeToo movement. As a victim of sexual assault and harassment, there was only so much news and opinion I could bear. Although thankfully far ahead in my healing process, I did find myself angry when I would encounter news steeped in victim-blaming and bias, acts I experienced after disclosing to others about my assault. Therefore I eliminated the source and carried that decision up until present-day. So in addition to fasting for Christ, I decided to reopen up the world around me and follow the news.

So when I opened up my Google News app last weekend, I peeped a headline that read like a failed SNL sketch: Teens with MAGA hats harass Native American Vietnam vet. I rolled my eyes and kept scrolling. I later read an article about the March for Life rally in DC, quickly putting two and two together. The next day? I came across a Medium piece praying for all those involved including Black Israelites. “Get the fu…where did they come from?!” I chuckled, read the prayer — which I loved — and kept it moving.

By Sunday, I saw some variation of a headline stating that there were more videos — videos that could exonerate those involved — and that teenagers were releasing statements.

I watched not one video, read not one article.

MAGA hats, Black Israelites, Native Americans, March for Life and the term “viral” triggered me enough to actively ignore the most talked-about news story of the weekend. But is that selective ignorance or self-care?

For those unaware (or were in an active stage of ignorance like me), a video surfaced of White teenagers seemingly mocking an older Native American man during the March for Life demonstrations in Washington DC. What made the video especially noteworthy was that many of the teenagers were wearing red Make America Great Again — or MAGA — hats. On its own, this was enough to cause a huge reaction of social media and later national media outlets such as CNN, Washington Post and the aforementioned New York Times.

As the video made its rounds, details emerged about those involved. The teenagers were a part of a larger group sponsored by their Catholic high school — meaning adults were present. The Native American man mocked and ridiculed? A Vietnam veteran participating in the Indigenous People’s March. White kids in MAGA hats taunting a Native American veteran was enough on its own, right?

Oh, it got better.

Additional video surfaced of what looked like Black Israelites yelling at the teenagers. This seemed to corroborate a claim by one of the teenagers — whose parents hired a public relations professional to craft a statement on the boy’s behalf — that he and his classmates were targeted by the Israelites prior to the alleged confrontation with the Native American protester and that they turned from innocent bystanders to victims twice-fold. In response, the Native American vet has come out to say that the teenager’s story was not true and in fact it was the school group that kept the Native Americans protesters from moving forward in their march.

What’s left of this incident? Not much. Differing stories from all participants, two videos and a brand new news cycle. The story first landed on my Google News feed on Saturday. Once I saw the screenshot and read the headline, I swiftly made a decision to ignore all news about the video until Tuesday.

First, I recognize the world of real-time news that we live in. It’s about reporting the news as you have it, even if you have it wrong. I knew that reports from Saturday would change by Tuesday. That’s the nature of news. I also knew that any substance added to the story would take time to develop, which it did.

Secondly, I also recognize the reactionary environment of Twitter and social media. Tweets count as and corroborate news plus many people participate in an act called “virtue signalling”, which is “publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue.” Example? “I AM MAD. I AM BETTER. YOU ARE TRASH.” And that, in turn, becomes news!

Many folks including celebrities — even a priest! — destroyed those teenagers and then walked in back, leaving Deadspin’s Laura Wagner to say that “these people are willing to give the screaming mob of white teens the benefit of the doubt because it distinguishes them from the emotion-driven hordes. It’s something like virtue signaling, but instead of attempting to signal that they hold any type of moral or ethical principles, these people are attempting to show that they are willing to be chastened, and so are thoughtful. I can admit when I’m wrong, they say, so you can always trust me.”

Many people on both sides expressed their thoughts about this video only to apologize later for feeling as if they jumped the gun. I made up my mind fairly early when I saw the screenshot and subsequent headlines. No video was needed.

The March for Life is the largest anti-abortion demonstration in the country. It is also overwhelmingly White and Christian. Seeing White teenagers in MAGA hats at an anti-abortion rally did not make me upset, it was a big “well, duh” moment in the flesh.

Black Israelites yelling obscenities at those teenagers? I’ve experienced the same as a Black person living in a major Metropolitan city in America. Black Hebrew Israelites quote Isaiah and Malachi to warn you about impending destruction while also spewing anti-Semitism, homophobia and sexism.

In short, I knew some racist, sexist, bigoted behavior went down at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and that I didn’t need to watch a video to prove it. And all the backtracking and published think-pieces have proven me to be correct. But did I feel a tinge of guilt about actively ignoring a news story rife with persecution and pain? Why did I say “no” to this story until today?

I recognize that it is a privilege to ignore certain news. It is privilege to say that I don’t want to read about the government shutdown if I am not one of the 800,000 Federal employees without a paycheck. It is a privilege to choose to ignore stories about anti-Semitism and homophobia when I am not a recipient of that discrimination. Anytime that you are in a position to ignore and act upon it, you are operating from a place of privilege.

But yet when I witness White boys and men wearing MAGA hats, I think about white supremacy. When I witness Black Israelites yelling into microphones and reading the words of the prophets, I think about verbal abuse and harassment particularly towards Christians of color. When I see anti-abortion protesters, I think about the intentional targeting of Black and Brown women outside of clinics.

I am a Black Christian woman who donates to Planned Parenthood. All of what I saw in that screenshot — and read in those headlines — was enough for me to know that I didn’t want to participate in inflicting my own pain. I knew what transpired in that video before I could decide whether or not to watch it. I knew I wanted no parts.

The thinkpiece era we live in is a double-edged sword. Elevated voices releasing words about their experiences with racism, sexism, phobias and violence have allowed for others to understand the plights of the disenfranchised and afflicted. But it’s created an atmosphere where you can be unintentionally bombarded with your pain. Where the substance of the piece is not worth the infliction of stress. You duck and dodge your own Twitter feed and are still triggered. You’re thankful for trigger and content warnings.

Me choosing to ignore this story had everything to do with my agency. And also everything to do with me knowing that in three days, we won’t be talking about this at all. It’s wasteful to be upset about a story that we will all ultimately forget.

Memoirist in spirit and in truth. Christian essayist when both the spirit and truth move me. email: crjtwrites[at]gmail.com

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