Lessons From The Teen Confrontation

Jan 28, 2019 By Amudha S, Writer Intern
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At a rally in Washington D.C. on January 18, a video surfaced on social media, causing global outrage and millions of reactions.

The video might seem pretty clear: a group of teenage boys was inappropriately making fun of a Native American elder who was playing a cultural instrument. Many rushed to pity the Native American and people condemned the teenage boys for their disrespectful and rude actions.  

Don’t jump to conclusions just yet, because that is only half the story.

What Actually Happened

The boys, who were later identified as students of Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, were in D.C. for a political rally. The Native American, 64-year old Nathan Phillips, was in the same area for the Indigenous Peoples March (a march to increase awareness about injustices against Native Americans and other early settlers).

The one-minute long viral video features a Covington student named Nick Sandmann wearing a Donald Trump hat and ridiculing Phillips as he played his drums and sang a traditional song. The other Covington students surrounded Sandmann and Phillips, chanting and shouting in a circle.

However, this video was just a brief overview of what actually happened that day. More videos emerged last week, including clips of an extremist group called the Black Hebrew Israelites who made racist remarks and harshly insulted the Covington students. The Covington boys remained calm and instead performed a school cheer to usher the Israelite group away. Phillips entered the scene with his drums, as part of the Indigenous Peoples March, in order to ease the confrontation, and the boys were confused about what was going on. Due to this confusion, Sandmann confronted Phillips and tried to take a stand against the disrespectful Israelite group.  

Don’t Make Quick Assumptions

As more and more people began to understand the complete story, they apologized to the Covington students for their quick and uninformed response. Although the boys’ actions were not respectful, they cannot be fully blamed. It is important to recognize that the Black Hebrew Israelites were also responsible for the situation.

In order to be a well-informed citizen, one cannot be quick to make assumptions based on stereotypes. Stereotypes are predetermined thoughts about a specific group of people, based on the media or other people’s opinions. The negative portrayal of white Donald Trump supporters, like the Covington students, may have created a stereotype (explained here) and caused people to quickly disapprove of them. 

Viral videos on social media can sometimes show just one side of the story. We have also seen many instances of how some people exploit social media to create trouble and incite violence (as we had written here). It is our job to thoroughly research a situation before coming to a conclusion. 

What are some ways you can accurately research a news event?

Sources: New York Times, Vox, ABC, Time