One Country, Two Realities

Ben Borrok, Senior Writer

The March for Life protest on Jan. 18 garnered attention after a video showing the interaction between white Covington Catholic School students and a Native American veteran went viral. One picture showed teen Nick Sandmann, sporting a “Make America Great Again” hat while allegedly attempting to intimidate veteran Nathan Phillips. Additional footage showed the other boys using chants and moves that made a mockery of Native American culture, as well as reinforcing their perceived superiority as white men. We have all been on the receiving side of that complacent look Sandmann was pictured giving — some of us may have even been in his shoes — but we all know that look is only ever used when it is self-serving. Sandmann knew, whether he wants to admit it or not, that he felt untouchable and somehow better than the man that stood in front of him.


However, as even more footage was released, the narrative changed. Sandmann was characterized as an innocent young kid who did not know better. With the help of a public relations team that his parents graciously paid for, the present narrative argues that a group of protesters began harassing the teens. Suddenly, many media outlets in the nation retracted their prior statements and Sandmann was mostly absolved of any wrongdoing. He began his redemption circuit on the Today Show and will most likely end this saga without repercussions. No media outlet seemed to question why the introduction of other protesters to the story meant the teens were permitted to harass Phillips, who was unrelated to the other group mentioned. Yet, every media outlet seemed to encourage the protection of the Covington teens.


I do not personally care for the explicit targeting of any single student from the school, but the students at Covington Catholic must change their dated racist attitudes. Numerous stories were shared on social media detailing the racism, sexism, and hate that seems to spew from the all-boys school. Blackface photos, harassment of gay students from nearby districts, and rape charges all point to a school that encourages, or at the very least ignores this abominable behavior. A statement released by the PR firm representing Sandmann explained that the boys decided to retaliate with cheers that were commonly used at sporting events and did not use anything explicitly hateful. Whether they were aware or not, the “tomahawk chop” and other Native American references often used at sporting events are the exact definition of hateful.


Phillips, who was in Washington D.C. to protest the treatment of Native Americans, knows how hate feels all too well. Despite his ancestral roots to this land, his people have historically been and continue to be consistently treated as second-class citizens. His heritage has been co-opted by sports teams and traditional headdresses are now used as costumes by those who attend the games. Many Native Americans live on land without access to water, hospitals, and welfare services. While the teenagers may find it amusing to mock the “tomahawk chop,” doing so is a point of extreme anger to Phillips. Instead of a redemption tour, or any real media attention for his causes, Phillips had hit pieces written about him framing him as a bad person and hateful political cartoons drawing from the worst of Native stereotypes, while Sandmann remains innocent.


Thanks to media outlets who are too timid to call out racism for fear of retribution, the entire country will soon forget about the incident while entirely missing the moral point. What could have been a platform to highlight important issues in predominantly white schools while exposing the reality of Native American living conditions, we were instead shown how white teenagers will never face real consequences.   

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