January 23, 2019


The History of the Covington MAGA Teens' Racist 'Tomahawk Chop' (Robert Silverman, 01.23.19, The Daily Beast)

Amidst all the ref-working, bad faith arguments, false equivalencies, and targeted attacks on reporters by the far right since videos showing a group of teens from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky hooting, jeering, and mocking a Native American elder were made public, one piece of evidence can't be hand-waved away or pettifogged until the truth is unrecognizable: the Tomahawk Chop.

In multiple videos, the students--some of whom, prior to gathering at the Lincoln Memorial, were allegedly howling "MAGA!" at random female passers-by--can be seen engaging in the familiar chant, bringing their arm downward as if wielding a tomahawk while belting out a crude version of traditional Native American songs. Fans of the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, Florida State University, and numerous high schools with Native American mascots have been chopping away for decades. But make no mistake: The chant in and of itself is considered a slur by Native Americans and advocacy groups have plaintively asked sports teams to stop rubber-stamping this behavior since it first gained prominence.

It isn't just the Covington Catholic students -- MAGA hats are a teen trend: The red baseball caps are a provocative way to signify you're on a "winning" team. (Rebecca Jennings,   Jan 22, 2019, Vox)

MAGA hats, however, hold special significance for some middle and high school students. Travel to any tourist destination in DC and you'll see swaths of school groups, many of them wearing hats purchased at nearby souvenir shops. It's not a coincidence that most of the kids wearing them happen to be white: All over the country, there have been reports of students in MAGA hats bullying their Latino, Middle Eastern, Black, Asian, and Jewish classmates (BuzzFeed found 81 instances in one year between 2016 and 2017) on the basis of race and religion.

Students wearing the caps, like the group from Covington, often repeat the slogans that the president built his campaign around. "Fake news" and "build the wall" became their own memes, pithy phrases tailor-made to be shouted by large groups of people. But just like the hat and its slogan, these phrases have far-reaching consequences. The press, and truth itself, is under direct attack from the president, and Trump's demands for $5 billion of funding for his border wall has now contributed to the longest government shutdown in US history, which so far is estimated to have cost the American economy more than the cost of the proposed fence.

These are problems, however, for adults to worry about and for kids to make fun of. In a 2017 report on the draw that MAGA hats hold for teens, Hilary George-Parkin noted that the more that adults wring their hands about the potential dangers of Trumpist symbolism, the easier it is for kids to laugh about how dramatic they're being. "I think kids think of [MAGA hats] as more of a joke," a 14-year-old named Julia from New Jersey told her, "and adults don't."

Plus, the more taboo the hats become, the more power they hold, at least from a fashion standpoint. Teens have always been quick to embrace clothing that adults find distasteful or uncomfortable, from visible underwear to rude novelty T-shirts. For some teens who wear MAGA hats, it's no more than a fashion trend. "I only got it because everyone else was," Julia added. "I doubt I'd wear it after the trip because I'm not really much of a hat person anyway."

But for those for whom the phrase "Make America Great Again" refers to only a small slice of who or what "America" is, it isn't just a hat. One Muslim American mother whose son went on a middle school trip to DC in which "every single white kid besides maybe one or two" returned wearing a MAGA hat said that the red caps became a familiar marker of exclusionary preteen politics.

"I think 12-year-old boys use it as a form of bullying -- identifying themselves as part of this group to the exclusion of others just for the fun of it," she told George-Parkin. "That's what it seemed like to me. Us over here with the red hats, and you over there ... you're not even an individual anymore. Now you're just one of the brown kids and you're not one of us."

Posted by at January 23, 2019 4:18 AM


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