We live in a time when all the news and information we crave are instantly available at our fingertips—as a consequence, flashy headlines and clickbait titles make it all too easy to get caught up and angry about a current event in the news. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened following an event on Friday, January 18, in Washington D.C. Viral clips of Nathan Phillips, an Omaha Tribe elder and United States Veteran, chanting a prayer and banging his drum while being surrounded and seemingly mocked by Christian high school students wearing MAGA hats spread across the U.S. Naturally, this clip angered many people from both ends of the political spectrum; however, I urge everyone not to jump to conclusions over events that offend before we dig deeper into their stories.
The antagonist of the clip was Nick Sandmann, a high schooler wearing a MAGA hat with a smug smile on his face. Many perceived his facial expression to be one ridden with condescension. As this clip became viral, the high school students, specifically Sandmann, received backlash from many liberal and conservative commentators for “harassing” the Native American elder; his school even issued an apology for the actions and behaviors of the students and said that they may take “appropriate action, up to and including expulsion.” And yet, this all occurred only a day or two after the event. Sandmann was perceived to be the antagonist even before he had the time to speak for himself, all because society was too quick to jump on the viral clip and take it for the truth.
However, the truth is that the students did not engage in the racial harassment they were being accused of. I’m guessing that you have already seen this clip on social media, as many people have shared or reposted the viral clip. Nevertheless, on January 20, a 106-minute video of the entire event surfaced—and a very different interpretation was brought to light. On that Friday, a group of high school students from Covington Catholic High Junior were waiting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for their bus after going to the March for Life rally, an anti-abortion rally, just as another rally, the Indigenous People’s March, was concluding. A clamorous and provocative group of people, calling themselves the black Hebrew Israelites, were hurling slurs at both the high school students and the Native Americans. They called the high schoolers racists, bigots, white crackers, incest kids, and future school shooters. Insulted, the students started doing their own, non-racist, chants in response. But while chanting, some of the kids got rowdy. Phillips, with a small group of people following him, stepped in the middle of the students, inches in front of Sandmann’s face, and began to chant and bang his drum.
This “new” narrative is vastly different than the one many people took for the truth solely based on the initial viral clip. We have to understand that a MAGA hat does not immediately mean that the wearer is a racist or a white supremacist. I am not trying to condemn Nathan Phillips or exonerate the high schoolers, but make note that many of the provoking and racist comments came from the black Hebrew Israelites. Immediately following Friday, many falsely believed that Phillips was a Vietnam War veteran, when in fact, he was never deployed in Vietnam. We only saw one side of the story; we only heard one person’s perspective, and yet we instantly bought into it.
I think the Andover community can and should do better by refusing to feed into that cycle of irrationally reposting and sharing a viral clip of an event when we have not seen the full story yet. Otherwise, we risk turning the world into a black and white caricature by prematurely painting people good or bad.
Tyler Wei is a new Lower from New York City, N.Y. Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.