By Samantha Kresefsky
Saturday, Jan. 18 marked the day of the annual March for Life in Washington D.C., where anti-abortion activists gathered to protest the legality and prevalence of abortion in America.
Thousands marched through America’s capital city, holding signs and chanting slogans. An additional march— the Indigenous Peoples March— occurred the same day.
The timing ensured that the two events would coincide. Participants of both marches met in the middle, mixing two causes.
Students from the all-male Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, KY attended the March for Life as a field trip. The boys’ day ended with their faces being broadcast on major news networks after a filmed exchange between the students and a Native American elder went viral.
The video, filmed by a fellow activist from Guam, depicted the elderly Native American, identified as Nathan Phillips, 64, from Michigan and a member of the Omaha tribe, beating a drum and chanting a traditional song while Nick Sandmann, a Covington Catholic student, stood and smiled. Some of the students in the video could be heard questioning what was happening.
News commentators and journalists dissected the video and offered opinions. Some felt that the teenagers were harassing the Native Americans with racist taunts, while others believed that the Native Americans similarly antagonized the students.
According to both Phillips and Sandmann, the video was born from a confrontation between the students and the Black Israelites, a group formed by the belief that its members are Black Americans descended from the ancient Israelites.
In any case, the participants and those watching the exchange offered conflicting explanations for what occurred on the March For Life of January 18.
“At no time did I hear any student chant anything other than the school spirit chants. [...] Our chants were loud because we wanted to drown out the hateful comments that were being shouted at us by the protestors,” Sandmann said, referring to both the alleged racist chants of the Covington Catholic students and the presence of the Black Israelites.
Phillips was dissatisfied with what he perceived as a perceived lack of responsibility in Sandmann’s statement.
“This is our youth. These students may be from a different culture, a different race, but I'm American, and they are American. This is our youth, American youth. Is this the future we got?" Phillips said to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Dr. Thaddeus Coreno, associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Saint Vincent College, presented a sociological perspective regarding the nature of this event and the effect of social media and viral video clips on America’s news cycle.
“I’m very concerned about trying to make sense of something that is essentially a snippet from a YouTube video. It makes [forming an opinion] very difficult; we weren’t there, but we make quick judgments about it,” Coreno said.
Coreno also stated that his concern was the context of the situation.
“[The March For Life event] was decontextualized and taken out of context for both sides. All we saw was a tiny section of it, and we made big pronouncements about the morality of it and who was right and wrong,” Coreno said.
Coreno’s main point involved the inability for society to truly understand an event once biases are assigned and emotions are attached.
“What [humans] do is rely on our preconceived notions. We are still somewhat divided in terms of racial or ethnic segregation and especially economically. This can cause an inability to relate to others who may have different values and a tendency to align with your own group.”