How We Talk About What Happened to Nathan Phillips

Kitanya Responds to Comments — 33

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It’s been a pretty crazy week. Another one of those ones that seemed to last a month. Like many writers, I gave my take on the Nathan Phillips and the Covington Catholic teens and the response of elite media, which I excoriated.

Sherry Kappel wrote.

The one point I’d debate is the media. At the end of the day, the media is nothing more than a bunch of people who reflect what the rest of the people are thinking. They may know the latest bit of news first, but they’re no more capable of dissecting it than anyone else. They have the same bigotry and biases, and their only real interest is in throwing the latest pieces of hate out there and seeing what sticks — because ratings and sensationalism are the rule of the day. Let the readers sort it out. I don’t know if this makes them better or worse than what you’re suggesting.

I’m tired, and I’m scared, and I’d say that talk of human evolution is overrated.

First off, welcome back! It’s good to hear from you again. I agree that there’s no such thing as unbiased media. We all take the baggage of our backgrounds into every situation. The lives we’ve lived affect our analysis of any situation. A lot of people in elite media come from elite backgrounds. Their worlds are pretty cloistered. I used to think certain issues just didn’t occur to them. But they’ve been told. They’re watching the outcome with the rest of us. I think they’d be perfectly capable of performing the required analysis if their paychecks depended on it. The money is what’s jamming up the gears. The truth nearly always alienates someone, and if you turn them off, it’s harder to take their money.

As for the readers and viewers, I don’t think they can’t sort it all out. Especially not now, not with the sheer volume of information they’re being inundated with. Their education hasn’t prepared them to, and most of them don’t have the time. They assume the journalists are doing most of the heavy lifting for them. News reports are meant to be part of readers and viewers’ ongoing education. I think most of them know something isn’t right, but they can’t pin it down. There are too many moving parts. They can’t parse through the propaganda. Plenty of media experts can’t. I’m not sure how this is all going to wash out, but I hope there is enough pushback happening to at least slow down what could be a full-speed crash.

I wrote, “This story is important and should be discussed because of how blatantly dishonest the propaganda was that was spread this week.” To which Tom Ritchford responded:

Quite the reverse — the story is completely unimportant and should be ignored. I mean, this isn’t the most blatant propaganda I’ve seen this week and the consequences of this were nothing, zero, zip, bupkis.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m a hard-core leftist progressive person, but that doesn’t mean I’ve lost my sense of proportion.

If you want examples of evil propaganda, look at the propaganda for the odious and idiotic wall. Look at the propaganda for the Iraq War (shared by both sides!) which killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people!

As I said — this story isn’t in the top 10,000 issues facing America. No one was injured or killed by this, nor will they be. Nathan Phillips has been doing this is whole life, and more power to him, but I’m sure he’s not losing a minutes’ sleep over having some bozo yell at him.

Considering how many desperately poor people there are in America, it’s likely not in the top 10,000,000 issues. Let’s save our emotion for real problems, like climate change, war, and the looting of our economy by the ultra-rich.

Quite the reverse — the story is completely unimportant and should be ignored. I mean, this isn’t the most blatant propaganda I’ve seen this week and the consequences of this were nothing, zero, zip, bupkis.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m a hard-core leftist progressive person, but that doesn’t mean I’ve lost my sense of proportion.

If you want examples of evil propaganda, look at the propaganda for the odious and idiotic wall. Look at the propaganda for the Iraq War (shared by both sides!) which killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people!

As I said — this story isn’t in the top 10,000 issues facing America. No one was injured or killed by this, nor will they be. Nathan Phillips has been doing this is whole life, and more power to him, but I’m sure he’s not losing a minutes’ sleep over having some bozo yell at him.

Considering how many desperately poor people there are in America, it’s likely not in the top 10,000,000 issues. Let’s save our emotion for real problems, like climate change, war, and the looting of our economy by the ultra-rich.

I don’t know where people get the idea that propaganda has to be about something as big as a war to matter. It is subtle and unrelenting. That’s why it works. If it’s not about everyday life — about people’s identities — in some way then it doesn’t get the job done. It chips away. It doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. Why do you think the U.S. military has insinuated itself so much into popular entertainment ranging from pro sports to superhero movies? Why are American flags plastered everywhere? There’s a reason the backlash against Colin Kaepernick has been so fervid and unhinged. The element of his protest that doesn’t really get framed or discussed properly is that it faced down nationalist propaganda and got people to consider that it might be manipulative and false. Symbolism is a powerful method of communication. If more people understood how important some of these “small” moments are and inoculated themselves against the effects, it would be a much heavier lift when the big ask — let’s go bomb innocent people — comes.

Perhaps it’s fair to say the “smirking kid in a MAGA hat” story shouldn’t have been discussed, but it was, and it was discussed in a certain manner by certain people. One of the most effective tools of propaganda is the removal of context. The context that was removed by the elite media was the entire history of genocide and abuse Native Americans suffered under the European settlers who colonized them. And, for clarity, that colonization and abuse never ended. This story isn’t about a bozo yelling at someone. It is about imperialist, settler-colonial White supremacy. An entire machinery went into full gear to defend and protect that White boy for a reason. Anyone who brushes that off hasn’t taken into full account why, and one of the likely reasons is that machinery not posing a threat to them. Another reason is boiling matters of race down to individual interactions and not considering it structurally.

I don’t trust any analysis of politics in America that doesn’t include race or that shrugs off settler colonialism. All those issues you’ve listed that are so much more important, who is on the wrong side of them? Who is paying the heaviest price? Who is bearing the brunt of the burden as a group? Why do some people want the wall built? Why is it more palatable to slaughter Iraqis and Libyans than White Europeans? Propaganda about who is important, who is to be believed, who is to be protected determines who is rewarded and who is punished. Assigning innocence to Nick Sandmann is about continuing to mark out certain privileges and immunities as exclusively for White people. Demonizing Nathan Phillips is about continuing to mark Native Americans out as savages needing to be civilized. That’s not a small thing. Not on the scale it happened on and not when you consider the reach and power of the organizations that spread the propaganda. Not when you take into account what the MAGA agenda is.

Whiteness is a threat to the rest of us, Tom. Globally. I understand why that’s a difficult pill for White men especially to swallow, but it’s just a fact. Trump, Bolsonaro, et al. really are fascists, and maintaining racial hierarchies through violence is a core part of any fascist project. It’s been a core part of the American project. What happened to Nathan Phillips and how it fits into America’s past, its tumultuous present, and a potentially MAGA-shaped future is important. The players who backed Sandmann are what make it important.

And don’t tell BIPOC to “save our emotion” or what our “real problems” are. You don’t get to tell us how to feel about these things.

On the topic of Whiteness, Marley K. said:

Why is Whiteness always so late to the warning? Do they not have an intuition? Why can’t they see fires, smoke, and danger when people of color can see it months and years prior to an explicit revelation of evil? It seems no matter what happens, the Elite media finds a way to put a slant on it. It’s like they simply can’t admit how bad, how evil, and how cruel Whiteness really is.

It’s never really what we see with our own two eyes. White pundits need to put new terms for the evil of Whiteness in order to soften it up and make it more palatable. It gets invites to the White House, and soft interviews by fragile White women. It gets Medium Feature Story status, and it gets prime time news coverage. America is a fascist nation. Let’s just say what People of Color already know.

There has been so much writing and discussion about the construct of Whiteness and how dangerous it is, and I knew it had failed to penetrate, but something about this week made it really sink in for me. So many White people can’t even meaningfully acknowledge that it exists (“I don’t see color!” “It’s class, not race!” “There are so many more important things to talk about. Let me give you a list!”). Or they talk about it in such a facile way that it doesn’t make a dent in anything. They’re as invested in protecting Whiteness as those billionaires in Davos are in hoarding their wealth. It’s a very similar tapdance that also uses phony benevolence to keep time. Black and Brown people globally get the pointy end of the stick on pretty much every important issue, yet race isn’t being taken into account seriously when the solutions are being formulated. It really, really scares me, because we are on the brink as a species. This could all go either way, and we’re being asked to indulge and cover up for White entitlement and fragility (which is a huge part of the problem) instead of devising and implementing solutions that will lead to more just and equal societies. Anyone who thinks these goals can be accomplished in a lasting way without addressing race and dismantling Whiteness is divorced from reality.

Protecting Whiteness is a big part of why so many people are dodging that “F” word — “fascism.” It is gaining strength, and the threads are connecting all over the world. There seems to be a gathering tide in the other direction that’s focused mainly on reining in capitalism, and it gives me some measure of comfort, but it’s not enough. If the violence and death ramps up even more, it will be meted out along racial lines, the way it always is, and we need to stop pretending otherwise.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy what I have coming next week.

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*squinting in Nanny of the Maroons* | Read my essay collection, DISPOSABLE PEOPLE, DISPOSABLE PLANET: books2read.com/u/mBOYNv | IG: kitanyaharrison

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