I’m interested in one running theme of the debate: the immense confidence some of the critics have that they know the truth of the matter based on the way the kids look, and specifically based on the face of one of them, 17-year-old Nicholas Sandmann.
In Slate, Ruth Graham writes that Sandmann’s face is the key reason the story went viral: “It’s the kid’s face. The face of self-satisfaction and certitude, of edginess expressed as cruelty.” …
… Graham draws a connection — others have drawn it, too — between Sandmann and Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Liberals had a lot to say about his face, too, none of it flattering.
“The face of a boy who is not as smart as he thinks he is, but is exactly as powerful,” Graham summed up. …
… In many other contexts, it would be called stereotyping. We like to think that we are more alert to the dangers of generalizations about groups than earlier eras were, and about some of those dangers we probably are. But the habit of mind is hard to shake.
Sandmann had a MAGA hat, which helps explain some of the continuing vitriol directed at him. It’s more defensible to criticize him for his choice of headgear than for having a particular facial expression while white.
But the assumption of much of that criticism, sometimes explicitly defended, is that anyone who wears that hat (even a minor!) is a conscious agent of white supremacy. It’s an invalid inference based on membership in a large group that is more heterogeneous than the critics allow.