Covington Catholic Wins Racist Bingo: Blackface as ‘School Spirit,’ Feeling ‘Threatened’ by Hebrew Israelites

Illustration for article titled Covington Catholic Wins Racist Bingo: Blackface as ‘School Spirit,’ Feeling ‘Threatened’ by Hebrew Israelites
Screenshot: Today Show, NBC

No matter how many times we go through it, it’s always a wonder to witness a spin job in real time. And make no mistake—this latest series of media appearances by the Covington Catholic High School students, who went viral last weekend after their confrontation with a Native American elder and veteran, is exactly that.

It’s easy to explain why the viral interaction has been so compelling for people throughout the political spectrum. It’s like someone compiled all the Infinity Rings of racist, stupid shit and gathered them together in one ongoing fiasco.

There’s a gaggle of white Catholic school students, gleefully mocking a Native American elder. There’s Hebrew Israelites in Washington, D.C., being Hebrew Israelites in Washington, D.C. There’s a staunch defense of the innocent white racists from the commander in chief and what seems to be a pending White House invitation (once the government shutdown ends—don’t want to serve these young lads Wendy’s by candlelight). There’s a bevy of handwringing, chastened journalists who have—willfully or otherwise—lost the plot in order to maintain a semblance of “objectivity” (a word, we’ll remind you, is as loaded when it comes to matters of race as “PC culture” or “neutral”).


Oh, and there’s a PR firm to mop this mess up.

For now, let’s zero in on that final aspect of this slow-moving debacle: the clean-up job. We’ll start with the centerpiece of all mea culpas that are not, in fact, actual mea culpas: the morning talk show. In this case, the Today Show, which featured an interview between co-anchor Savannah Guthrie and Nick Sandmann—the Covington Catholic student seen smirking in the face of tribal elder Nathan Phillips.

As Guthrie explains, Phillips had been interviewed several times by various news outlets. After his parents hired a PR firm, it was now Sandmann’s turn to tell the firm’s carefully constructed his version of events.


Bereft of any visible emotion, Sandmann told Guthrie that he had “every right” to stand in front of Phillips, and that he didn’t walk away from the Native American man—who had walked over and began chanting in an attempt to calm down tensions between the massive group of students and a handful of Hebrew Israelites—because he didn’t want to be “disrespectful.”

And because he was acting out of respect, Sandmann felt that neither he, nor the dozens of his classmates gleefully mocking Phillips and doing tomahawk chops at him, owed Phillips an apology.


“My position is that I was not disrespectful to Mr. Phillips. I respect him. I’d like to talk to him. I mean, in hindsight, I wish we could have walked away and avoided the whole thing, but I can’t say that I’m sorry for listening to him and standing there,” he said.

Notably, Sandmann also attempts to place the blame for his peers’ racist taunting of a Native American man on the Hebrew Israelites who were at the Lincoln Memorial—a group of four or five black men who were throwing insults at passersby because...Well, have you ever walked by a Hebrew Israelite? It’s kind of their thing.


And if you’ve walked by Hebrew Israelites, you also know that the best way to deal with their bullshit is to literally walk past it. But that option apparently was not available to the dozens and dozens of Covington students at the Lincoln Memorial that day, who chose to escalate the situation by chanting and taunting back.

Or, as Sandmann referred to it, “being positive.”

Sandmann also confirmed that he felt “threatened” by the handful of men, despite the fact that he and his classmates vastly outnumbered them. When Guthrie pressed him on this, Sandmann replied, “There were a group of adults and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next.”


Ah, a veiled insinuation that a black man, or a small group of them, somehow posed a real threat of violence, even in the absence of any evidence to support the claim. It was only a matter of time before we arrived here.

Guthrie also asked Sandmann if he and his classmates shouted any insults or racial slurs back to the Israelites before Phillips attempted to intervene.


“We’re a Catholic school and it’s not tolerated,” Sandmann said, referring to racist behavior. “They don’t tolerate racism and none of my classmates are racist people.”

Fascinating. Because that’s certainly not what one would believe from images and video of Covington students wearing head-to-toe blackface during basketball games (the videos have been deleted, but the screenshots remain).


In one particularly troubling still from a 2012 basketball game, a crowd of white kids can be seen aggressively yelling at a black player from an opposing team about to inbound the ball. On either side of him, a white student in blackface can be seen yelling. According to Snopes, some Covington community members defended the practice as part of “black out” games, where supporters wear all black.


Neither Guthrie nor Sandmann addressed the culture at Covington Catholic—though additional reporting about the school has revealed that the school has had issues with race for years.

It was a pair of Covington boys—also at the Lincoln Memorial that day—that summed it up best in an interview with Steve Doocy on Fox News. When asked to explain the “black out” image, one of the students defended his school by saying “the kids meant nothing by it, it’s just showing school spirit.”


Of course, Covington’s interpretation of “school spirit” was very much on display in D.C. last weekend too.


Here’s what’s certain: The half-baked, over-glazed answers these kids have given to the media will certainly be sufficient to all the people who were going to hand the Covington Catholic students the benefit of the doubt anyway—that these kids are gauche, but understandable. Idiots, perhaps, as teen boys are wont to be, but certainly not dangerous.

For those who believed what they saw the first time, and the second time, and the 12th time, this may be what’s most troubling about watching another predictable spin cycle: In papering over a racist incident of Covington’s own making, the elite school—its kids, its parents, and its administrators—only had to do the bare minimum to wipe their hands clean. Which is what they did, and all that we can expect them to do.


It is all that’s ever required of them.

Staff writer, The Root.

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There’s Hebrew Israelites in Washington, D.C., being Hebrew Israelites in Washington, D.C.

I laughed because it’s so true.