The Hat and the Reverend

Condemned by perception. Condemned by inference.

Reverend Joshua J. Whitfield, pastoral administrator for St. Rita Catholic Community in Dallas, and a frequent contributor to The Dallas morning News writes a lengthy piece which, very interestingly, from beginning to end he admits his prejudice and perception condemned Nicholas Sandmann. At the beginning of the article and at the end he admits his prejudices and condemnation without apology against the young man because he wore THE HAT.

The Reverend’s repeated refrain is ‘THE HAT.’ ‘That Hat’ that for him – not the student, not the other students, not anyone else wearing ‘THE HAT’ but “for him”  he “immediately recalled the darker images of our past, specifically those background faces in pictures from a half-century ago, those cold, gleeful, indifferent faces preserved in black and white photos of 1960s sit-ins.” He admits that what is driving him is his perception and prejudice. His perceptions drive him to relate what he sees in a smiling young man with “images of Charlottesville; my mind couldn’t help but draw in dark lines on my brain all those ignorant, angry men — and from there, other images and fears, both the history and future of our inhumanity.” (side note-a quick perusal of Charlottesville revealed no photos of folks wearing THE HAT).

The Reverend then notes that the wider story was “more complex” and that “perhaps my first associations were wrong.” He then admits that what we have is a “world collapsed into media” which has “conditioned each of us to render judgments based on imagery and aesthetics [he swings back around to this] alone” which he admits that he “did in an instant” joining the throng of “confused fools taunting each other.” In all of this he sees in this “surrealist play” “no weakening of the tribes” because there were “no conversions” and I would add because there were no conversations, which he himself has failed to engage.

He identifies the essence of the icon of the “strange scene at the foot of the Lincoln memorial” as “an image of two people not speaking to each other” (one wonders why Nathan Phillips chose to chant instead of converse).

Then the Reverend places himself squarely in the middle of this icon and returns to his admitted and insurmountable prejudice. THE HAT, is something he “can’t get over”, “an image” he can’t help but “associate with other images” in his mind, revealing, because he has apparently decided not to try to understand, much less speak to Nicholas Sandmann, not Nicholas’s values and intents but rather Reverend Joshua’s inferences, perceptions, and prejudices. He would rather Nicholas align himself with Reverend Joshua Whitfield’s “aesthetics” and wear, not THE HAT but rather one of Reverend Joshua’s choosing, a hat imbued with his iconic aesthetics.  He would rather Nathan ensure that his image did not trigger some “darker image” in Reverend Joshua’s (or any number of other folk’s whose inferences and perceptions that Nathan has no inkling nor control over) admittedly highly prejudiced and trigger-able mind which he states (and demonstrates repeatedly in this article) causes him to “render judgments based on imagery [THE HAT!!] and aesthetics.”

The Reverend expounds at length about the problems of our society revealed by the violent and unreasoned responses to one Catholic young man standing and smiling respectfully after being approached by an old Indian chanting incoherently in his face. No comment on why Nathan Phillips did not put down his drum and converse with Nicholas Phillips about the black men hurling expletives and racial slurs at him and his group. No comment of Reverend Joshua being triggered by confrontation of the boys being slammed and slandered by him and those like him who happily and quickly attack with no pause or probing  (did it affect the Reverend at all?), only a concern because Nicholas Sandmann wore THE HAT.

The truth is that Nicholas’s Christianity was not demonstrated by what hat he wore, be it to the Reverend’s liking or for some other aesthetic, but by the fact that he was at a march to support the life of the unborn. But, the Reverend was more concerned for what is for him first in Catholicism-“witness and beauty” apparently demonstrated, not by what you stand up for in a march but by what hat you wear. THE HAT for the Reverend “betrays a Christianity . . . hollow of imagination and guts [really? After what Nicholas has gone through?!] and covers itself in the pathetic mantal of political interest” which in this case goes very much counter to the Reverend’s political interests apparently.

He sees this as a failure of Christianity’s confrontation with a society, which in this case, swirls violently around the life of the unborn. He admits throughout this article that what he perceives as a failure is born in his own mind, perceptions, and prejudices because he solidly sides, not with the young man who is marching to protest the wanton and widespread slaughter of the unborn (1 million annually) but with those who, like Reverend Joshua Whitfield, allowed their prejudices and perceptions to attack and hate Nicholas Sandman because he wore THE HAT.

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