The viral video of a Catholic teen and a Native American activist has been watched by millions since the incident took place two weeks ago.
By now, you’ve most likely seen it too.
Just outside the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King, Jr. declared discrimination for none and equality for all, racial tensions were especially high.
A Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, beat his drum and sang a song tracing back to the American Indian Movement in the late ‘60s, while a Catholic student, Nicholas Sandmann, blocked his way with support from his fellow classmates wearing their “Make America Great Again” gear and hats.
While Sandmann did not say anything, enough can be expressed from his smirk; a confidence that can only be exhumed and based on historical entitlement and power.
“It was just so in line with the history of colonization and appropriation,” said Nicky Belle, the director of the First Nations Education and Cultural Center at Indiana University, to The Washington Post.
To avoid this incident is to avoid the five centuries worth of tension between the Catholic community and Native Americans.
Under President Ulysses S. Grant, Native Americans were promised an era of “Peace Policy,” which he later defined as forcefully “assimilating” and becoming “civilized.”
According to The Washington Post, it was then when Grant awarded religious groups contracts to run reservation schools to help achieve these goals.
Catholic missionaries took the offer and removed “Native children from their parents and placed them in classrooms where they were taught to dress, speak and pray like white people.” The first reservation school built had the slogan “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.”
But, to some, the historical context was irrelevant to the interaction.
As more information was reported, matters became even more complicated.
We know that the Hebrew Israelites yelled racial slurs at both the students and the three Native Americans present, which could have initiated the standoff.
We learned that Phillips attempted to diffuse the tension between the Catholic high schoolers and the Hebrew Israelites. We know that Sandmann stood face to face in front of Phillips, only blocking his clear path.
Later videos released show the students war-whooping and making what seemed to be tomahawk chopping gestures, while imitating Native dance and claps.
As readers, we have to organize all these pieces of messy information and somehow construct a logical narrative to get a sense of what really happened that day.
However, at the moment, the issue appears to be more complex and tangled, the victim becomes less deserving of our compassion.
Some begin to question: If only this and if only that had happened, only then could this be considered racism.
This is true for any confrontation for minorities, whether between a Native elder and a white boy or a young black man stopped by the cops.
In the aftermath of the incident, it’s clear that the nation from both sides isn’t prepared to deal with and understand the complexity and intertwining of power, privilege and race.
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