Yes, Lady From The Federalist, Adults Did Fail the Covington Catholic Boys
You know what, Cheryl, you’re right. Adults did fail those teenagers. Mostly not for the reasons you suggest in your piece, but, hey, it seems as though you came really close to being on the right track for a few brief shining moments.
The trouble is that your thesis mostly seems to consist of, “It’s mean for adults to call out these kids for bad behavior, because they’re just kids.”
I used to teach literature and writing to teenagers. I’m familiar with teenagers. And look, anyone who has spent time around teenagers knows full well that teenagers are dumb and cannot be expected to always be model citizens displaying the best possible behavior. Their brains have literally not finished developing the ability to make good decisions. The prefrontal cortex – the section of brain that is responsible for planning, problem-solving, and impulse control – doesn’t become fully developed until young adulthood. Since that particular lump of brain isn’t finished baking, teen brains tend to use the amygdala for those decision-making processes – and the amygdala’s primary function is a bit more primal – it’s about impulse, instinct, and emotion. So yes, teenagers are liable to make dumb impulsive choices, especially in the heat of the moment, because their brains are actually wired to favor dumb impulsive choices.
The point where you lose me, Cheryl, is the point where you suggest that everyone else owes these teenagers an apology for daring to point out that their behavior was (at best) dumb and (at worst) fucking racist.
What the fuck do you mean that’s “not how grown-ups are supposed to act?” Christ on a cracker, Cheryl, are you an actual grown-up or just several kids in a trenchcoat? Because that sounds like kid-think: “When I’m a grown-up, I’ll never be mean to kids just because they acted like dumb kids.” But of course adults are supposed to call teenagers out on being dumb and/or racist. That’s an important part of the process of their learning to be less dumb and/or racist.
I realize this is the sort of thing a [former] teacher would say, but: Helping kids learn and grow from their mistakes is, like, one of the most important functions of adulthood.
But by god, you and all kinds of other people seem bound and determined to fail these kids on that count. “No, it’s ok,” you murmur to them. “You nice white Christian boys are blameless; kids will be kids and boys will be boys, after all. No, it’s only the black and native men who are to blame. No, boys, no need to interrogate any of your own beliefs or behaviors. Blame the others, identify them as the aggressors, and wrap yourself back in your cozy blanket of unexamined privilege.”
You want to talk about how adults have failed these kids? Adults have failed these kids by hiring a PR firm to explain why their white child in a MAGA hat is Actually the Real Victim™ and is Offended At Being Called Racist™. Adults have failed these kids by being all too willing to accept that nice white Catholic boys obviously could not have intended to be racist, and therefore were not racist. Adults have failed these kids by raising them inside a comfortable bubble of wealth and whiteness and teaching them they don’t have to bother thinking beyond the walls of that bubble. Adults have failed these kids by sending them to an anti-abortion march – a march supporting the denial of women’s rights to make decisions about their own goddamn bodies – and then acting as though it is unreasonable those kids might have encountered other people with wildly different worldviews at that emotionally-charged political event. Adults have failed these kids by snuggling them back into their nests of Privilege Bubble Wrap without expecting them to question anything about their own choices, their own ideologies, their own behavior. Adults have failed these kids by wailing, “But the black men said mean things to them first,” as though bad behavior from one group of people of color excuses bad behavior toward an entirely different person of color. Adults have failed the Covington Catholic boys, and countless other white boys in America, by teaching them that their own perceived virtue is unassailable and that they needn’t be accountable for how their actions impact other people.
You, Cheryl, are failing these kids with your eagerness to let them off the hook.
To be clear: I am not saying these kids deserve to have their lives ruined, though I highly doubt they’re in any real danger of that. For one thing, being told that you behaved like kind of a shithead – though it can certainly be unpleasant to hear – is not the same thing as having your life ruined. For another, wealthy white boys always seem to have better immunity than the rest of us to life ruination, anyway.
I am also not saying these kids deserve threats of violence or death. Let’s all agree that anyone sending death threats to children is a piece of shit. Better yet, let’s all agree that anyone sending death threats to pretty much anyone is a piece of shit, full stop.
What I am saying is that we can and should hold teenagers responsible for their actions and the consequences thereof.
What I am also saying is that we can and should also hold the adults around those teenagers responsible for failing to use this as a teachable moment that could help said teens grow into more thoughtful and responsible citizens.
What I am saying is that all kids behave like shitheads sometimes, and it is the responsibility of the (hopefully) less-shitheady adults around them to say things like, “Hey, kid, how can you learn from that and do better next time?”
Smirking Nick Sandmann’s parents have failed him by allowing him to retreat behind the usual shield of “I’m not racist; I respect everyone” and not forcing him to consider his own position of privilege and what that means and how it might affect his assumptions about what is or is not racist. Every single person out there shouting about how “kids will be kids and they didn’t mean any harm” are failing these teens by pretending like “didn’t mean harm” is the same as “didn’t harm.”
Come on, you guys, it’s 2019 and I still gotta explain that you can actually totally be racist even when you didn’t mean to be? Because especially when you’re a wealthy white Catholic boy, you don’t spend your whole life being hyper-aware of racist shit and thus don’t always notice when something that seems totally normal to you is actually fucking racist. Because that’s how systemic racism fucking works.
Did your own parents not teach you manners? If you step on someone’s foot accidentally, it doesn’t matter that you didn’t mean to hurt them. You apologize, and you make a point to be more careful about where you’re placing your feet in the future to avoid doing it again. Take some fucking responsibility.
Why is it so hard to understand this? Imagine you keep stepping on people’s feet, over and over again, and no matter how many times you do it, you never stop to think about how you could maybe not step on so many feet all the time. And your response when people get mad at you is to whine that you didn’t meeeaaan to hurt them and why are they being so unreasonable about not wanting your goddamn feet stomping all over theirs. Who’s the shitbag in that scenario? It’s you, you sack of turds. Stop stepping on people’s feet and change your own behavior.
Now, I don’t know if these kids have a history of dumb and/or racist behavior, or if this was a one-off because they’d never before been presented with an opportunity to do a tomahawk chop at a real live Native American. What I can say with some confidence, Cheryl, is that, if all the influential adults in their lives allow them to believe that they didn’t do anything wrong, that they bear no fault for any part in the whole mess, that they are the entirely innocent victims in this story, they’re almost certainly going to keep behaving in dumb and/or racist ways in the future.