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Showdown in Washington, D.C. Between Native American Drummer And White Teen. Or is it?

Lincoln Memorial. Photo by David Bjorgen.

A video of a high school student and a drummer has gone viral since the Indigenous Peoples March at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. In the video, Omaha Tribal Elder Nathan Phillips drums and sings across from “a smiling young man in a red Make America Great Again hat” by the name of Nick Sandmann, according to CNN.

The following day, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School (CCHS), where Sandmann and the other boys present at the incident study, issued a joint apology, reports the Enquirer. “We condemn the actions of the Covington Catholic High School students towards Nathan Phillips specifically, and Native Americans in general […] We extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Phillips. This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person.”

Some believe the joint apology and snippets of the encounter between Phillips and Sandmann, however, ignore the context of how this face-off came to be. They believe a longer video sheds some light.

In the video, a group of five Black Hebrew Israelites (BHI) are seen and heard preaching to anyone walking by. The video is almost two hours long, and it is not until 1:12:17 that Phillips enters with his drum and backup drummers. Before Phillips’ entrance, the BHI’s words have attracted the attention of the CCHS students.

At 1:07:45, for example, the main BHI yells at the CCHS students, “I see you. A bunch of incest babies.” When a bystander advises this BHI individual to “just love everybody,” he replied, “How can we love somebody that hates us? We love you as much as dumb Trump loves us.”

The Village Voice’s opinion piece by Steven Thrasher lists other provoking words that BHIs may direct towards those who walk by them in the streets of New York City. According to Thrasher, BHIs’ words affect everyone around them who is not a BHI: African Americans, European Americans, Asian Americans, Middle Eastern Americans… For example, when a group of guys eating shishkebabs passed by a preaching BHI, Thrasher writes, the BHI screamed, “Just go on drinking your pork Slurpee, you Egyptian!” One kebab eater’s response was, “Uh, we’re Indian—and this is chicken.”

In Washington, D.C., during the Indigenous Peoples March, the CCHS students found their own response for the BHIs’ words: a chant as if they were at a pep rally. Sandmann, after the incident, said in a statement submitted to CNN that it was in fact their school chant: “Because we were being loudly attacked and taunted in public, a student in our group asked one of our teacher chaperones for permission to begin our school spirit chants to counter the hateful things that were being shouted at our group.”

In the before-mentioned two-hour-long video, the chant begins at 1:08:30 with a student who strips down to his athletic shorts in front of his schoolmates before leading the chant. The chant, unsurprisingly, only escalated matters and tightened the tension. However, before the tension snapped between the CCHS students and the BHIs, Phillips stepped in with his drum and drummers.

The New York Daily News reports that “[Phillips] did not see anyone else on hand to diffuse the escalating tension – no chaperones, parents or police – so he said he felt a responsibility to put himself between the white teens and the African Americans, who were vastly outnumbered.’

“They looked like a lynch mob,” Phillips told The News.

Phillips’ strategy worked in a sense that it created a distraction for both “the white teens and the [outnumbered] African Americans” from the energetic stand-off they were having moments before Phillips and his drummers intervened.

Phillips told The New York Daily News that the song he was singing was, in fact, a prayer. “Once in the middle [of the CCHS students], he couldn’t seem to get out. ‘How do I get around this?’ he thought to himself. He tried to move past the students, to get to the top of the steps and the Lincoln Memorial, where he planned to continue praying […] But Sandmann got in the way.”

Sandmann says in his before-mentioned statement, “To be honest, I was startled and confused as to why [Phillips] had approached me.” Sandmann continues, “I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation. I realized everyone had cameras and that perhaps a group of adults was trying to provoke a group of teenagers into a larger conflict. I said a silent prayer that the situation would not get out of hand.”

Phillips, however, is not buying what Sandmann is selling.

Sandmann’s “smirking smile, [Phillips] said [to The New York Daily News], told [Phillips] that little has changed in the 500 years since Europeans first came to these shores. ‘Here this young guy doesn’t even see me as a human being,’ he remembered thinking. ‘I started praying in my mind for him. All the atrocities that have happened to indigenous people. And this boy who was there, full of all this privilege. He could have just not gotten in my way.'”

In the two-hour-long video, a CCHS student would unknowingly support Phillips’ thoughts. To regather the audience after Phillips’ entrance, the BHI, pointing at the CCHS students at the outskirts of the crowd around Phillips, said “This is the future school shooters!” This comment was effective, and the BHI again had his audience. He continued with his words. “Your college degrees was paid off for the bloodshed of slavery. Your houses, your mortgages, everything your parents own was given to you by the bloodshed of our people.” A CCHS student’s response was a proud, loud, and intense “HELL YEAH!!!”

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1 COMMENT

  1. RE: Showdown in Washington, D.C. Between Native American Drummer and White Teen. Or is It?: The young man’s smile does not look like a smirk to me. He however doesn’t understand physical boundaries!

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