When I first saw the so called “confrontation” between the group of Native Americans and many young Red-caped Christians at the national mall, I was bewildered as to why that video was going viral. Beyond that, I thought it interesting that,
- White sympathizers for the Native elder were so disgusted with what they saw
- White defenders were so quick to place the blame on others
I think this incident was like a quick look in the mirror for White America.
I mean, honestly, how often do White Americans really get interested in what is justice for Native America? How often do White Americans ask Native Americans to speak truth to them? Honestly, do you really want to hear the truth of history if it makes your people look bad? Do you really want to know the truth of America’s Indigenous people’s current situation if there is a chance you might be complicit in its perpetuation? Not really, right?
But perhaps our faith, and even our common humanity, require us to go back to that image, that mirror, if you will, and take a longer look at what is really happening inside us.
The video went viral! For a brief moment, many White people were able to see the reality of the contempt present toward America’s Indigenous people. White Americans looked at the video just long enough to see the injustice of it all — to feel how wrong this past relationship has been.
By reflection, White America was able to vicariously defend the Native elder from being shown disrespect and from tokenization. Broadminded White folks could, for a moment, be the “good guys” by expressing their disgust with not just the one individual smirker, but somehow on a grander scale, engage in what seemed to be just and fair for all Native America.
On the other hand, more conservative White folks took the usual course of defense whenever there is a negative encounter between People of Color and Whites — that of White fragility. They sought their own version of truth, which is to take the “high road” (just the facts) and find out there is “more to the story.”
They searched every aspect of the video, finding hopeful glimmers that could somehow be pieced together, absolving the young White, Red-capped Christians from any guilt. They blamed it on the foray with the “Black Israelites.” They blamed it on the Native elder. They blamed it on the chaperones. But in their White fragility, above all else, the young White, people must be seen as the real victims of the story.
In actuality, I believe truth is the victim of this story. I don’t mean truth as facts, such as who did what, when, how, and why. There are many versions of that going around the internet. I’m talking about the deeper truth that I think caused this video to go viral. I mean, get real, Native Americans suffer worse degradation and humiliation every day than a smirk. Poverty conditions, disease, lack of housing, poor health, missing and murdered Indigenous women, unemployment, toxic chemical exposure, post-traumatic stress and post-colonial stress, etc. are the daily fare of Native America. Why get so upset about a smirk?
Perhaps the smirk on the young man’s face, as he faced-off with the elder, reminded us all of something more, something deeper, something perhaps forgotten? Something that White America has still yet to face?
I think both White Native sympathizers and White defenders had at least one thing in common. They were all reacting to a feeling that ran much deeper than the brief video clip. Perhaps by seeing themselves in the mirror in that video, they caught, for a brief moment, a glimpse into the history of our two people groups?
And, there was something else. I think White America looked at these young, White, conservative, Christian Red-cappers and realized, this is the fruit of injustice. This is the progeny of genocidal oppression and settler-colonialism. As we all viewed the video clip, no one liked what they saw.
The disdain toward an American Indian elder was a result of centuries of cultural genocide and truth suppression — in direct contrast to the American Myth of White Supremacy. Now the real question is still about truth, and the truth is this: If you go back to that mirror, and look at it long enough and deep enough, what will you do about it?
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it — not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it — they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22-25)