So this weekend social media blew up with a video of what seems to be a jeering crowd of obnoxious white teenagers mocking a Native American man as he chanted. While the immediate interaction between these teenage boys and Elder Nathan Phillips does boil down to that, the entire scenario is much more nuanced than that. This becomes evident in an over hour-long video,taken by a group of Black Hebrew Israelites who were there demonstrating that day. I watched a signifiant portion of the video, not the whole thing, but enough cuts throughout the run to get a better context of what happened than the one video making its rounds around social media. I’ve posted it below, warning, this is NSFW.
In the video The Black Hebrew Israelites tactic seems to be to shout at those who are participating in a nearby Native American March. Their message is vile, and is equally hateful against any group that is not them. The first part of consists of them blaming Native Americans for their loss of land because they are idolaters. And over the course of the video they are shown getting into a shouting match with some of the marchers who were a bit peeved by the words of these men.
While this was going on the catholic kids who appear in the viral video show up, a good portion of which are wearing MAGA hats. As they show up, the Black Hebrew Israelites change targets and start railing at them – calling them “crackers,” and “incest babies,” among other things. It was at this point the Catholic kids – who are both typical teen-age stupid and privileged as all get out – decide to get into a bit of a mock-off with the Black Hebrew Israelites. The Catholic school group is rather large, and the privileged kids gather to see the curiosity of these men who are shouting at them, at one point they even surround the Black Hebrew Israelites. Those boys in the group who engage the men are dismissive and condescending. The rest of the group just smirks in the background.
This is the point were the situation deteriorates. The school group’s chaperones, who are see in frame during the long video, fail to defuse the situation. Instead of moving their group out of shouting range, or prevent their charges from surrounding another group, they do nothing. But that’s not actually true. A Washington Post article, which quotes the smirking boy from the viral video, says the chaperones actually give permission to their group to perform school chants close by the Black Hebrew Israelites. This further infuriates the smaller group, and escalates the group-think mentality of the school group 1. Chaperones should see a potentially volatile situation and move their group away from it. Not only did these chaperones not do that, they decide to let their charges fight fire with fire. It’s an utter failure of adult supervision.
About 1 hour 11 seconds into the video Elder Philips enters the scene with his group. He is singing his chant in an apparent attempt to diffuse the situation. Not privy to the entirety of scene, and because of his own hard-earned implicit biases, Elder Phillips makes a judgement call about which side were the aggressors. The Catholic boys are by far the larger of the two groups, and they are apparently unrestrained by what a reasonable person would expect a chaperone of minors would prevent. So as he comes between the two groups, trying to draw attention to himself as he marches up the steps, he chooses to face the school group. He was incorrect at that point as to who is more prone to fury, but I can’t fault him for making that assessment because it’s precisely the same one I’d make in his shoes 2. As diffusing attempts go it wasn’t the best option, partly because he opted to march through the group, rather than around it, based on his own cultural history 3. But it wasn’t a provocation, it was a distraction.
The Catholic boys – who are still teen-aged stupid, privileged, and now unfettered by adult supervision – see something new they don’t understand. They hear something that sounds odd to them, in their minds out of the blue, and decide en masse because of a mob mentality to mock this new oddity. Because they’re ignorant of what the chanting means they don’t get that they are interrupting something that is both considered sacred and expressed as a desire for peace. I’m not sure it would have mattered, as insecurity is not a good trigger for self-reflection, but the ignorance of the group is clear in any of the videos. They just don’t get it, and don’t display any inclination about getting it. The chaperones were nowhere to be found during this second exchange.
So after watching the video, and reading the Washington Post article, I’ve got some conclusions.
- The actual adult in the entire event is Elder Phillips. He stepped in-between two groups which were showing clear disrespect for one another. His choice of diffusing tactics wasn’t the best option, but unlike other chronological adults in the area he genuinely tried. It wasn’t what I would have done, but the thing is… I wasn’t there.
- The Black Hebrew Israelites were jackasses, and set the entire stage with their endless ranting at any group which wasn’t them. They were far from innocent bystanders.
- The boys from the school show a profound lack of empathy for people who don’t look or sound like them, and like most insecure people opt to belittle what is beyond their understanding. These kids are idiots 4. They were provoked and riled up by a group of people who were saying some pretty vile things to them, but they way they responded to provocation was about as ethically and morally deficient as I’ve ever witnessed. And they also need to own up that their wide-swath of MAGA attire, which is seen as an insult by many people of color, can also be seen as a provocation 5.
- The chaperones for that trip utterly failed in their responsibility, and I can’t help but wonder if their racial bias contributed to their lack of action. The adults should have moved their group to a different location once they saw their charges confronting the Black Hebrew Israelite protestors.
- Every ideological claim about what happened, from left and right, seems to be more about condemning “them” than about processing the full context of what happened. Each defines the grounds by which people must interpret what happened, and condemns anyone who asks an inconvenient question. Folks don’t seem to want either truth or justice, they’d rather grab ammunition.
- This happens in just about any teenage group. But this instance is intensified because of the racial overtones which are fore in the mind of one group, and which are not even considered in the because of the privilege they enjoy. ↩
- Right-leaning bloggers are saying Elder Phillips deliberately “got in the teens’ faces” which is absurd. ↩
- Again, read the Washington Post article. ↩
- Which most teens are, but in this moment they over-achieved. And, yes, there’s a crap-ton of unconscious and conscious racial bias at work in the group. ↩
- By way of example if you go out of your way to proclaim, “I’m a deplorable!” you aren’t “just saying what I believe in.” You’re daring people to challenge you and hoping they will do so you can feel superior by calling them stupid. MAGA is like that. It is the Black Hebrew Israelites of US Politics. ↩