Racism in American Culture—Why the Covington Catholic Kids Have Received the Benefit of the Doubt

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With the end of January came a viral video of Covington Catholic HS students seemingly blocking the end of an Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C. They all wore MAGA baseball caps, and most prominent among them was an 11th grader named Nicholas Sandmann. In the brief clip, Nicholas is seen staring Omaha elder and Marines veteran Nathan Phillips down, with what looks like a smirk on the younger’s face.

However, longer recordings and Nicholas’s interview on the Today show reveal that the boys (in the city attending the anti-abortion rally) were originally verbally attacked by members of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement. After being yelled at for racism and bigotry, the boys rallied, and this was when the Indigenous Peoples March approached. During his interview, Nicholas explains how he thought remaining “motionless and calm” would help “defuse [the tension in] the situation”, and rather than seeing himself as blocking Phillips’s path he thinks he was “singled out” by the older man.

Nick Sandmann (left) and Nathan Phillips (Right) (Photo via KC Noland on YouTube)

It’s a matter that can be debated, but one of the biggest takeaways is that even after the media went crazy over the video, Nicholas Sandmann, a white boy from Kentucky, still had the chance to redeem himself. The boys shouldn’t be written off as innocent (there’s footage of them chanting and doing “Tomahawk chops” around Phillips), but Nicholas still benefitted from the opportunity to explain the situation from his perspective. Additionally, despite an abundance of backlash, there were also people jumping to their defense, with arguments such as “boys will be boys.” Moreover, some media outlets wanted to wait for more information.

It’s yet another example of the racist double standard regarding post-event public redemption.

While the shootings of Mike Brown (a teenager shot by police officer Darren Wilson in 2014) and Tamir Rice (a 12-year-old playing with a nonlethal replica of an airsoft gun) brought police brutality to light, neither boy lived to tell their story, and many people in society were quick to rush to the defense of the white officers who shot the black boys. When Ethan Couch killed four people while driving under the influence, he was diagnosed with “affluenza” and sent to rehabilitation for teen substance abuse. He was sentenced to only two years in prison, despite taking the lives of four other people. Two years later in 2015, Brock Turner was convicted of three accounts of sexual assault, and some people were quick to rush to his defense, claiming it was wrong to ruin the life of a swimmer at Stanford University for what they saw as one small mistake in the grand scheme of his life.

What happened with the Covington Catholic students didn’t involve any authorities—and this is not to say they are equally as awful as murderers such as Couch or rapists like Turner. However, it simply shows how systems of power will protect white people, even at the expense of minority groups. It’s about who’s protected and who’s not, and why this societal protection is granted to some but not others.

In a perfect world, racism in America would have ceased with the end of the Civil War. Unfortunately, this is most definitely not a perfect world. As amazing as genuine equality and acceptance would be, the world is still far from achieving it. While racial inequality has always been a widespread epidemic, it established itself within America in the early 15th century, and with slavery serving as one of America’s first major labor systems, the United States is, in many ways, a nation founded on discrimination.

It is now 2019, but in many ways, racism, even unintentional, is still very much integrated into basic American culture. That needs to change.

Photo via KC Noland on YouTube

About the author

Sky Davis is a 16-year-old V former from Hopkinton, MA. Kitchens don’t tend to like her, but she’s a strong believer that food can fix almost anything, and a mutual love of pizza is a great way to start a friendship. In her free time, she can be found writing, taking photos (of anything and everything), or hanging out with her dogs (who are better than most people). Or eating pizza with friends.

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