Roger Ebert has roused the ire of the teabaggers, which is actually pretty easy to do. The occasion was a news story about a group of five privileged white kids who decided to flaunt American flags on their apparel on Cinco de Mayo, and who were sent home from school. Ebert made this comment:
Kids who wear American Flag t-shirts on 5 May should have to share a lunchroom table with those who wear a hammer and sickle on 4 July.
This prompted a series of comments from right-wingers, gloating over his disfigurement and prospects of his death. They are such a classy bunch.
In contrast, Ebert did post a classy response, explaining that the students were being deliberately provocative and offensive, and deserve the kind of rebuke he suggested.
I agree. As a certifiable expert in being provocative and offensive, I think my reaction has a special authority to it, too. I differ with how the school authorities handled it, though, and in particular, we’re chastising the students for the wrong thing. They were offensive, all right, but there are good reasons to be offensive; what seems to be ignored by everyone is that those all-American boys were also craven little cowards.
For instance, I own this nice t-shirt.
Now, if I put my “Arrest the Pope” shirt on and walked down the street to the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and attended Sunday Mass, I would be acting like a jerk, attempting to irritate the church attendees just because I felt like being jerkish. I might have a serious message — the Catholic hierarchy has become an immoral defender of child rape — but that doesn’t mean I should hammer every Catholic in my town with that message all the time, especially not when they are engaging in activities that have nothing to do with pedophilia, no matter how silly they are.
Provocateur that I am, I wouldn’t do that. It makes the message simply random and made with the sole intent of being rude.
On the other hand, if there were a public rally in town to proclaim the innocence of the church in all these scandals, well, then I would intentionally put the shirt on and wear it…I might even make a big sign. I’m still being rude, but it’s rudeness with a purpose, to make an issue of a problem that this rally intends to cover up. That’s fair; that’s free speech. And this is where I differ with the American flag boys.
I presume that this group of friends organized with the intent to protest the celebration of Cinco de Mayo in the public schools — that’s the only plausible explanation for their coordination. As long as they were peaceful about it and doing nothing but wearing a flag shirt, they should have been allowed to do so, and the school was in the wrong to send them home (I think they were also awfully condescending when they said they did it because they thought Mexican-American students would riot over it.) They should have been allowed to non-violently express their opinions.
But here’s the funny thing: what were they protesting? The fact that Mexican-American students are proud of their heritage? That’s where the cowardice of these students shows up — that is a ridiculous and petty thing to complain about. Do they also show up on St Patrick’s Day in orange, flogging leprechaun dolls? Are they resentful of the fact that some Minnesotans celebrate their ancestry on Syttende Mai? When you actually confront these teabaggers with the absurdity of complaining about fellow Americans taking pride in their families, they wilt and collapse and start making pathetic excuses.
There’s the “they wear those shirts all the time” excuse. So it was just an accident that they all happened to wear their jingo on that particular day.
Dariano said her son has at least four T-shirts with American flags that he wears often and did not try to cause any conflict at school.
Well, gosh, Wally. When they discovered their entirely unintentional faux pas, then the boys should have been quick to affirm their sensitivity and do something about it, don’t you think? That’s not the case, though; it’s a lie. Rather, they were quick to assert their indignation.
Then there’s the “it’s unfair to the boys” excuse.
“I’m more hurt than anything,” she said. “It is so hurtful and disrespectful the way this has turned. These are American kids.”
Note the oblivious attitude: this mother is talking about her son when she says “American kids”. Guess what? The Mexican-American students at the school are also American kids!
Note also the “give me respect” excuse, which is carried to a ludicrous extreme.
The boys told Rodriguez and Principal Nick Boden that turning their shirts inside-out was disrespectful, so their parents decided to take them home.
Man, these teabaggers are so focused on respect: it has to be given to their kids when they’re being pointlessly provocative, and it even has to be given to their shirts. (And that is also weird: once upon a time, the act of chopping up the symbol of the flag and using it as clothing was regarded as disrespectful. Is turning it inside out more disrespectful than cutting, folding, sewing, and putting a row of buttons up the middle of the flag?) The only objects that don’t deserve any respect are the Mexican-American students. The Fox News report is entirely about the white boys and how their rights were trampled upon, but the browner part of the student body seems to be ignored.
I concede that it was wrong of the school to silence their valiant message of silent protest. The sad thing now, though, is that the boys and their families are suddenly silencing themselves, realizing that their message might have been a little, errm, misplaced, and when exposed to the bright light of day, looks an awful lot like racism. Instead of hiding behind weak excuses, they ought to be proudly declaring the object of their protest: the existence of brown-skinned students of Mexican descent, and the celebration of a culture different than their own. Own your bigotry, boys! Don’t run away when you’re asked to articulate it! Unless, that is, you realize that you are bigots, and are a little ashamed of it all now.
Say…one of those boys is named “Dariano”. That sounds suspiciously Italian, like maybe some of his ancestors were…immigrants, and not just any immigrants, but ones with darker complexions who spoke English poorly or with funny accents. I sure hope he doesn’t celebrate Columbus Day.