What We Learned From Covington High School


Dayo Babatunde, Reporter

On Monday, January 21st, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a group of white teenagers from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky attended the Right to Life march in Washington, D.C. It was at this event that social iniquities were highlighted as still be a current issue in the United States society.

A month ago, I had the chance to attend a press conference for the Oregon politician Lew Frederick, a man who grew up as a neighbor to the King household. When posed with questions involving America’s dark history of racism and the effect racism has on our country today, one of Frederick’s most impactful responses was that “unfortunately racism has revealed its ugly head once again.”

The situation in Washington, D.C with the young white boy named Nick Sandmann from Covington High and a Native American Elder, Nathan Phillips of Omaha, is a prime example of racism has never left and will probably never leave our society. After a rally for the indigenous people of America finished, a Phillips and an indigenous drummer headed for the Lincoln Memorial where they unexpectedly entered a racial warzone.

As they arrived, African-American Israelites can be heard shouting demeaning and racist comments toward the growing group of Covington High students who wore “Make America Great Again” apparel. These bigotry comments were not only directed at the students but also at African-Americans and Indigenous people who attended the march. Ironically, the white students didn’t retaliate with racist comments themselves, rather they responded with school chants to drown the negativity of the African-Americans.

Some such as Prince Wion of Mount Hood College who majors in political science believe “when you wear “Make America Great Again” gear, you should prepare yourself for the consequences that are going to come with it.” The statement that originated from the current president, Donald Trump, is very ambiguous and has allowed people to formulate their own opinions of what the statement could mean. According to Wion, Trump’s broad statement “is another name for the institution of systematic racism. If you think about it a majority of American history revolves around racism and the disrespectful, unjust, discriminatory, and prejudice ideals that dehumanized a majority of the minority.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Dawn Patrick, an English teacher at Clackamas High School who taught a huge unit on Native American history and culture, “Make America Great Again” “means going back to a fictional time that never really existed. I don’t think America ever stopped being great. And in fact, I think America gets better and better…it’s a really reactionary slogan.”

Philips and the drummer entered the crowd of white students. Everything appeared to be fine as the students cleared a way for the two, but it all turned for the worse when Sandmann refused to move and stood his ground as the two approached singing hymns. The elder did not attempt to force a way through the young man; instead, he stopped waiting for Sandmann to move and create a path to the memorial. As the two stood off in the center of the crowd, the elder and the drummer continued to play their songs while the crude smirk on the Sandmann’s face continued to grow.

“Acknowledging another person’s humanity and having a little bit of forgiveness in your heart for somebody who might have a different opinion than you,’ is Ms. Patrick’s definition of respect. She feels “respect is something you need to earn.” She is in no way absolving the Covington students or Sandmann from his stare down with Philip as she goes on to state, “I have to believe because who I am and I’m people saying ridiculously optimistic. I have to believe that if the kids from Covington had had truly understood what indigenous peoples around the world have gone through and what they’ve and what we expect of them, we being the dominant culture.”

After the situation ended, Sandmann was ridiculed all over most media outlets. In an interview on the Today Show, Sandmann claims “he wasn’t being disrespectful [to Philips],” but most of the world who don’t believe in the morals and goals of president Donald Trump think Sandmann was egregiously disrespectful to Philips. Using his white superiority to impede the coming native and exerting his dominance over the elder by refusing to move when there was ample space to step back and allow the elder to continue to the memorial. Sandmann would go on to say that “he respects [Philips]. I’d like to talk to him.” We will never know what Nick Sandmann’s true intention was while engaged with Philips but based on the video evidence a majority of the world thinks Sandmann was disrespecting Native American activist Nathan Phillips. It is appalling that such acts of racism can happen on the day that the United States honors MLK, a person who put his life on the line countless times to bring this country closer to racial equity.