Last weekend, the Twitter-verse and mainstream media blew up with a video showing private high school students openly mocking an Omaha elder, Nathan Phillips, while he sang a song. The confrontation was indicative of colonial indifference, superiority even, towards an Indigenous American, his culture, and very space. The resulting screencap — one student smirking while his friends looked on — was seen around the world.
Watching this unfold from Germany. I felt flooded with outrage. I left America because of shit like this. I just got so tired of the race-baiting every single day of my life. Whether that was employers saying to my face they don’t hire “Indians” because I’ll just get drunk and don’t come into work (a racist assumption, but more on that later) to literally having fellow college students yell across quads for me to go back to the rez. Every day of your life in America, as an Indigenous person, is a struggle.
As I watched all of these videos, I didn’t say, “How dare they?” and start clutching my buffalo bone beads. It was a knowing, “Yup… Same ol’ America I know and love… but had to leave.”
As the videos continued to roll in, there ended up being some murkiness about what happened. But it was very clear that a group of privileged white kids from a Catholic school in Kentucky were having their fun at the expense of a Marine veteran whose culture they felt safe to openly mock. If you were surprised by this, you haven’t been paying attention to the country you live in and the man elected to its highest office.
Immediately after the incident in DC, social media went crazy. People came out in droves to (rightfully) support Phillips. The smirking kid was doxxed and revealed to be Nick Sandmann. Allegedly, his home, family, and school were all flooded with death threats. To anyone sending death threats, I say this, as a member of an aggrieved group: Fucking stop. This is a kid, first of all, and he has the potential to change and evolve. His views can shift.
Those threats also set up the perfect storm of anti-white victimization that colonists need to perpetuate their narrative. Which, of course, is what happened next. Sandmann’s family hired a PR firm. The same PR firm it turns out helps the GOP soften the media’s view of their agenda. The same firm that is run by Senator Mitch McConnell’s adviser, Scott Jennings. In short order, the firm was instrumental in sourcing and releasing more videos from the incident which shows Phillips approaching the MAGA-hat-wearing high school students (not the other way around) and this was presented as some sort of exoneration for Sandmann and his classmates’ behavior? I swear, I’m not making this up. That’s all it took. Suddenly people were coming out of nowhere with apologies and defenses of Sandmann and Covington Catholic.
Sandmann said in his letter that the Covington students chants were positive and he didn’t hear them as “hateful or racist.” Maybe he’s acting in bad faith, but what’s more likely is that he — like almost all Americans — doesn’t even realize the depth of hatred towards Indigenous Americans and how that manifests every day. Does he see the Tomahawk chop as racist? Because I do.