The Uproar

Make America Gracious Again

Ella Sinciline, Reporter

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You’ve seen the video: a teenage boy standing face to face with a Native American man holding a drum. The teenager is wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat; the old man is standing very close to the boy; and the teenager appears to have a devilish smirk on his face.

When this picture first surfaced, immediate assumptions were drawn by left wing and purportedly neutral media sources in defense of the Native American man. It seemed to be evident that he was being taunted, as the hat worn by the boy has widely become a symbol of discrimination. And, yes, I know that some people may disagree with that statement, and I fully acknowledge that it may not be the opinion held by everyone, but these assumptions would not have been made if it were not true for a lot of people. Anyway, it only seemed this way.

Within the week following the release of this video, though, clearer light has been shed. A Native American group was marching through the area, led by the man who can be seen holding the drum. The boys, a group from Kentucky who was in DC for the March for Life, had been standing, clustered together as the other group approached. In the video, before the boy and the man even come face to face, the group of boys can be seen giggling, clapping, and in my opinion, mocking the group. They do not look sincerely engaged and are turning around and laughing with each other after the man turns away from each boy.

This situation is a clear mark of what America has become. Neither side budges”

It later surfaced that a group known as the “Black Hebrew Israelites” was also present. And apparently the boys were fighting with the Israelites initially. The boys and the Israelites were reportedly using slurs and escalating tension with each other. In an interview, the Native American man expressed that he and his group then decided to exit the escalating situation. As the man continues to lead the group, the boys begin to step out of the way. The man also expressed in an interview that it was of high importance of him and his people to finish their song at the Lincoln Memorial.

The man then approaches the boy, and here is where the situation gets complicated. The boy is within his rights to stand still, to smile, and to obstruct the group’s route. However, in an interview, the boy expressed that he felt “threatened,” but still chose to stand there. If he was truly in danger, would he have stood there? And as I see it, although he was within his rights not to move, that does not mean that he was functioning under a good moral compass.

I would hate to live in a world where legality equated to morality. The only reason I say that this is an immoral act is that this was evidently a cultural song, but the boy decided to stand still to prove some obscure point rather than respect the group and their destination. Again, I do not believe people should simply succumb to the wishes of others, but in this scenario, the most respectful decision would have been to step away.

On the other hand, the Native American man should not have been that close to the boy. This was a clear invasion of space and I also see that as disrespectful.

This situation is a clear mark of what America has become. Neither side budges, because they each view the other as being wrong or in some way lesser. And while I do side with the Native Americans on this one, I can see that this was in fact a two-sided scenario. I think it is wrong for the teenager to be receiving death threats and harassment, but I do believe that he had every opportunity to step away. I think that the story would be very different if the boy had upheld the respect that people who wear that hat claim to have for others.


2 Responses to “Make America Gracious Again”

  1. Roshie Xing on February 6th, 2019 8:25 pm

    I understand the knee-jerk reaction of calls for civility, because we as a people instinctively want to heal and come closer together. But both of these columns themselves don’t tell the full story. The song that the Native American elder was singing was the song of the American Indian Movement, a peaceful protest to de-escalate the situation, not merely a cultural song. Let’s not even get into how thousands of young Native children were forcibly removed from their homes, stripped of their heritage, and forcibly Catholicized/Americanized by the government. The Black Israelites are a tiny sect of radicals, yes, and their harassment of the boys should be roundly condemned. But the boys–and the chaperones–also decided to confront the Black Israelites, rather than walking away or doing anything other than escalating the situation. Finally, the full video shows that the boys from Covington Catholic were making tomahawk chop signs, yelling “war cries,” and mocking Nathan Phillips (the elder), who was again trying to calm all parties involved.

    What much media coverage around the event doesn’t mention is that the school itself has a history of bigotry and homophobia, with students appearing in blackface as recently as 2014 and verbally abusing rival African American players. The boys in the video are recorded catcalling a girl earlier in the day (yelling “It’s not rape if you enjoy it”), just as the school tried to cover up news of a former basketball player charged with raping a woman. And the school sent a group of teenage boys to a misogynistic rally about restricting a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body. Nick Sandmann’s smarmy smirk struck such a chord in so many people because it represented any underrepresented minority’s greatest fears in America, that after all this time, we will still be an Other. It is the smirk of Brett Kavanaugh or Donald Trump, one of a privileged white man who can get away with anything because they will never be called to face the consequences. It is the contempt and smugness of a group secure in its power over someone that is more vulnerable than they are. Because this incident didn’t spark on conversation about America’s mistreatment of indigenous peoples or the intricacies of reproductive rights and the power dynamics of men dictating what women do with their bodies, it caused the media to bend over backwards to assuage the concerns of a core group that fears losing power and relevance.

    To close, I’m not saying to flagellate these boys and send them death threats, because that’s quite obviously morally and legally wrong. And I do comprehend the desire to not buy into a “mob mentality” and draw red lines all over the place. But don’t let yourself be deceived: at its core, the video is of a privileged person exerting their power over someone who doesn’t have his privilege. What the Black Israelites were screaming was awful, but that doesn’t excusing the teenagers’ actions. By excusing them, we are only normalizing this kind of latent racism that is still an open sore on this country’s past, present and future.

    And finally, I wonder whether this incident would have gained so much traction if the boys weren’t who they were. Try to imagine the worry and vulnerability about the lives of young people who aren’t white, male and wealthy. You can’t, because the American media and mind erase their stories. Try to have the same level concern of thousands of young African American and Hispanic American children like Tamir Rice, who are disproportionately policed and treated violently by law enforcement and the legal system. They do not have an army of PR officials (the same ones, incidentally, that Mitch McConnell uses) to clean up their image. Try to think of the thousands of children who have been separated from their families at the border, many of whom still haven’t been reunited with their parents or have simply been “lost” by the government. They won’t be able to embark on a nationwide media blitz. Try to think of women in America, whose pain is not only tangibly treated as less concerning by the American medical system, but who face maternal mortality rates at the levels of developing countries, living in a country that doesn’t prioritize the life of mothers and that actively attempts to reduce women’s healthcare options. Rather than engage in the tired cliché of both-sidesism, think about the long-term consequences of coddling boys like Nick Sandmann and falling for their glossy PR-fashioned stories, who will only grow up knowing that they need not have concerns for the lives of anyone unlike themselves.

  2. hilarleo on April 14th, 2019 7:04 pm

    ‘stand your ground’ is also an alternative and legal position . not sure what it’s
    *about* exactly, emotionally, morally . . . but it is a thing

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Make America Gracious Again