Remember the “red hat” kids?
Remember the video-recorded face-off between students from Kentucky’s all-male Covington Catholic High School, some of whom were wearing bright red “Make America Great Again” hats, and a drum-beating Native American activist at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington?
Remember how the incident, at the beginning of Martin Luther King Day weekend, provoked a national combination of outrage and confused head-scratching across the Twittersphere, including the account of @realDonaldTrump?
Well, never mind. A report released by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington near Cincinnati, which initially joined those who condemned the teens for allegedly mocking the Native Americans, confirms the more complete picture of the episode that longer video clips revealed: The apparent confrontation resulted from a big misunderstanding.
Compared to the initial reports, the Rashomon effect appears to have set in. Named after Akira Kurosawa’s classic 1950 film, “Rashomon,” in which a murder is described in four contradictory ways by four witnesses, the Rashomon effect describes an event that triggers contradictory interpretations by individuals.
This episode was inflamed by different forms of activism. The mostly white students, many of them wearing MAGA hats they bought at a souvenir stand, according to the report, were in town to attend theMarch for Life rally. The Native Americans were there for the Indigenous Peoples March.
Also mentioned was a group of five Black Hebrew Israelites, a fringe group with more than a century of history in black American communities — and listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Shouting slurs at the teens, at Native Americans and at other black people for more than an hour, the Black Hebrews are notorious race-baiters. The students mostly refused to take the bait, but the slurs heightened tensions.
When a more complete picture emerged, the diocese commissioned Greater Cincinnati Investigation Inc., an independent investigative firm, to interview the students and other witnesses and review video from social network posts and network news.
“We found no evidence,” the report concludes, that students performed a “Build the wall” chant or made “offensive or racist comments” to the drum-beating of 64-year-old Nathan Phillips. He is seen in the most widely broadcast video clip beating his drum and singing the ceremonial song in front of a smiling, MAGA hat-wearing Nick Sandmann, as he stood with the rest of his schoolmates.
The Rashomon effect in this instance may have been aggravated further by the Trump effect, judging by the wave of outrage that roared through social media.
For example, the report notes that some students performed a “tomahawk chop” gesture to the beat of Phillips’ drumming. The arm-swinging celebration gesture, popular among fans of the Atlanta Braves, the Kansas City Chiefs and some other teams, is considered by many Native Americans to be as offensive as the Washington Redskins’ name.
Some of the boys’ defenders have said the chopping gesture, timed to Phillips’ drumbeat, actually was cheering him on. Phillips felt the opposite, he later told The Washington Post. “It was getting ugly,” he said.
Trump would step in with a tweet that seemed to be trying to echo the Martin Luther King Jr., a day after his holiday. “Nick Sandmann and the students of Covington have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be,” he tweeted. “They have captivated the attention of the world, and I know they will use it for the good — maybe even to bring people together. It started off unpleasant, but can end in a dream!”
Sweet. For a change, I mostly agree with the president. But there’s “fake news,” which is deliberately made up, and simply wrong news, which results from honest mistakes that should be corrected quickly. The case of the red hat kids from Covington shows us all how the power of compelling video can lead to wrong or wildly incomplete conclusions.
In this case, the national attention put a spotlight on another Covington controversy on the web: videos (now deleted) and photos of Covington basketball cheering sections in which some white students can be seen in blackface. Asked about it by Fox News’ Steve Doocy, one student defended the practice by saying, “the kids meant nothing by it, it’s just showing school spirit.”
Sure. “Black-out days,” in which boosters are encouraged to wear all black clothing, are not uncommon in school or professional sports. The wearing of blackface, however, is not to be encouraged in this day and age. Just ask Virginia’s governor, for starters.
It may not be meant by the wearer to offend, but remember Rashomon. What you mean to say may not be what others hear _ or see.
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