The D.C. Rorschach Test 

So, how'd you do in last weekend's Rorschach test?

I'm talking about the brouhaha over the interactions between some boys from Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School and a Native American Vietnam War-era veteran in Washington, D.C. It was peak social-media dystopia. And peak America, circa 2019.

The first thing to hit Facebook and Twitter was a video of Native American elder Nathan Phillips pounding a drum and chanting while surrounded by a bunch of jumping, shouting, jeering high school kids. One of the kids, later identified as Nick Sandmann, stood inches away from Phillips, smiling — or as many saw it, smirking. He was wearing a MAGA hat, as were many of his classmates.

click to enlarge toc_screen_shot_2019-01-22_at_11.45.00_am_copy-teaser.jpg

That video went viral and the initial reaction from most was disgust at the kids' behavior and what was seen, rightly, in my opinion, as their disrespect of Phillips. On Twitter and Facebook, as the video was shared, there were many calls to out Sandmann, to "dox him," to "make sure he doesn't get into college," and other dire threats to unleash the Internet on the kid. The address and phone number and website of Covington Catholic were shared and people were urged to contact school officials and express their indignation. Thousands did so.

It was the perfect outrage, one that sparked every progressive's trigger: Obnoxious Trump supporters surrounding a person of color and mocking him.

It didn't take long for the backlash to hit, as other videos emerged that put more context around the incident. Trump supporters claimed that it was Phillips who provoked the students, who were responding to "angry black protestors." There was some truth to the latter claim. A small group of "Hebrew Israelites" was also in the area, insulting most passers-by with invective of one kind or another. Among those they insulted and mocked were the Covington Catholic boys, who were in D.C. on a field trip to participate in an an anti-abortion march.

Instead of walking on and ignoring the Israelites (who are obnoxious as hell, and are commonly seen in many East Coast cities), the Covington group stayed in the area and broke into chants, escalating the situation. At this point, one has to wonder, "Who the hell was in charge of this field trip?" What kind of chaperone would let this play out as it did?

And then the scene got weirder, as Phillips and other Native Americans decided to intervene, hoping to calm the situation with a tribal song. It had the opposite effect. As they waded into the crowd, the teenagers escalated their chants and began doing tomahawk chops and laughing and mocking the song. When Phillips got to Sandmann, the stand-off began. It was the close-up video of that encounter that sparked the initial outrage.

As the incident was further scrutinized on the following day, evidence was posted that showed some Covington Catholic kids had worn blackface to basketball games. Conservative websites responded that it was a school tradition to have "blackouts" at games to show team spirit. Whatever. It was also revealed that the Diocese in question had denied a gay valedictorian the privilege of speaking at the graduation ceremony. And on it went. God bless America.

Sandmann, via his parents and a PR firm, issued a statement that he was simply trying to defuse the situation and that he was not mocking Phillips.

Look, I've raised or partially raised five teenagers, and here's the thing: They are never guilty of anything. Ever. They always have the best intentions and are pure as the driven bull-sleet. It's only their friends who are bad and who lure them into poor behavior. They are the ones who tried to do the right thing, but Dan or Chad or Kathryn led them astray.

Any parent or teacher who saw that scene in D.C. recognizes it: These kids were out of control and caught up in the excitement and stupidity of teenage group-think. And yes, many were wearing MAGA hats — whether purchased in D.C., where Trump paraphernalia is sold everywhere, or brought from home, is unknown. Does that mean they are racists? Sure, there are no doubt racist know-nothings among them. This is a nearly all-white group from a conservative area, after all. But if this bunch is like most high schools, there are boys in that group who were uncomfortable with this scene, and who went along because they were afraid to look uncool.

The fault lies with the school that allowed these kids to make a spectacle of themselves. And the fault lies with us for letting our confirmation biases take over before all the facts were in.

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.


Comments (13)

Showing 1-13 of 13

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-13 of 13

Add a comment

    • The Yahoo Posse

    • Ditto.

    • The Signup Genius

The Latest

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

The Return of the King: Eddie Murphy Rules in Coming 2 America

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Zamundan Flag Flies for Craig Brewer's Coming 2 America Premiere

News Blog

New COVID-19 Virus Cases Up by 178

Sports Feature

Memphis 901 FC Signs Goalkeeper John Berner

TV Features

The MCU Assumes its Final Form with WandaVision

Hungry Memphis

La Baguette French Bread and Pastry Shop is Sold

News Blog

New Virus Cases Rise By 129


More by Bruce VanWyngarden

Readers also liked…

© 1996-2021

Contemporary Media
65 Union, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation