A Picture is worth 1,000 Words—Except when they’re the Wrong Ones.

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~

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

The question is, what are those words saying, and do they bear any resemblance to what is happening in the world?

Sometimes, those words ring empty in the face of reality.

One such picture recently circulated through the polluted airways of the media, showing a group of white high school students wearing Make America Great Again (MAGA) hats at the March For Life rally surrounding a Native American activist who was drumming in peace.

As it turns out, the picture was a dud, and the media reporting behind it was totally off base.

In the extended footage of the incident, drumming activist Nathan Phillips was shown to have approached the young boys while they were chanting their high school cheer, singling out the main boy whose face was shown in the picture without apparent provocation.

Before he approached, the boys were shown arguing with a small group of black Hebrew Israelites, who hurled out homophobic slurs at them while disparaging their “whiteness”—even going as far to single out a black boy in the group on racial grounds. As it goes, the truth is stranger than fiction, or rather, the truth is less convenient than fiction.

This is not to say the boys were innocent. I don’t care to defend them or paint a picture of their victimization, rather I’m alluding to the fact that the media misrepresented the events that occurred without even confirming the story. Clearly, the boys were being rowdy, though I wouldn’t expect much less from a group of high schools boys. Would you?

So, why did the media jump the gun?

This picture told a story about white privilege and the oppression of a marginalized group.

It represented, in caricatured precision, how the smugness of whites directly contributes to the marginalization of historically oppressed groups—embodying the narrative of identity politics to a tee.

The white kid was the hypothetical “oppressor,” and the Native American was hypothetically the “oppressed.”

It didn’t matter that the picture gave a false impression of reality. We don’t care about that. We care about confirming our already entrenched bias, and advancing the narrative that readily validates our political identity. Though, in this case, we missed the mark. Big time.

Human beings have always learned through telling stories. Our brains are designed to interpret the world through narrative, exemplified by such everyday occurrences as dreams, daydreams, religion, song, video games, and TV commercials, all of which tell a certain story.

We are all bound by narrative, but the question is, to what extent does our narrative coincide with the objective world? Oftentimes, not very much—and this is true more often than we’d like to admit.

The righteous indignation expressed in unified hatred of these kids, basically children, is indicative of the insidious devolution of political polarization in this country and elsewhere in the West—fueled by identity politics on both the left and the right.

Identity politics would have us believe that our racial, sexual, ethnic, and gender identity is the most important thing about who we are. It asserts we are a member of a group before all else, rather than an autonomous individual. In progressive identity politics in particular, each and every identity is stratified along a hierarchy of victimization and privilege—victimization being good and privilege being bad.

So, we will see a picture of a white kid seemingly grinning at a Native American, and because of this victim hierarchy, we will reflexively assign our vitriol, all of the bitterness and resentment built up inside of us from the tragedy of life, to the white person.

Of course, this reflex is not necessarily inappropriate in itself, for surely there are groups which are more marginalized than others and that trickles down to the individual. But if we refuse to question our narrative and doubt our assumptions, taking the media at face value (remember, media outlets can be profit machines just as much as Goldman Sachs or Monsanto, we become further and further removed from reality.

This comes with a fair amount of collateral damage, both personally and socially, as we become alienated both from ourselves and from our own country.

From a recently published article on the matter:

“As white and wealthy Christian young men confronted by an ageing person of color, the schoolboys were placed at an immediate disadvantage on a number of identitiarian fronts, so that it was evidently felt that their point of view could be presumptively and legitimately disregarded. So entrenched have such assumptions become in the nation’s finest progressive minds, that supposedly serious news outlets splashed headlines across their websites like ‘Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Mob Native Elder at Indigenous Peoples March,’ with scant consideration for quaint notions like fairness or accuracy. And as a result of sunk costs and the incentive to save face, the odds of retractions—even in the face of compelling evidence—are slim.”

It seems like it is more acceptable than ever to trash our political opponents these days. Perhaps some of it is warranted. But is it helpful?

According to a recent Pew poll, more and more Americans residing on both ends of the political spectrum say it is more stressful than ever to talk to people on the other side of the political aisle. A significant chunk of both liberals and conservatives say the country would be better off if a large chunk of the other political party actually just straight up died. A bigger percentage of liberals and conservatives would disapprove of their child marrying a political opponent.

Worse still, we don’t seem to understand each other very well, as Democrats and Republicans are constantly over and underestimating the policy preferences of the other, as well as the size of various groups within the other party. Republicans guessed that 31.7 percent of Democrats were members of the LGBTQ community, while the actual number is 6.3 percent. Democrats guess that 38.2 percent of Republicans make over $200,000 a year, and the actual number is 2.2 percent.

So, we hate each other, yet we don’t even understand each other.

I don’t know why this is happening, exactly. Everyone has their own pseudo-scientific theories, and likely, the truth lies somewhere in between all the opposing conjectures.

One thing is clear to me: we can’t keep doing this. The narratives are moving further away from reality, as we are moving further and further apart. We are playing too much identity politics and we need to stop doing that. Moreover, labeling policy preferences “racist” increases support for these policies among whites and chastising Trump supporters for being politically incorrect makes them more likely to support Trump. This means that our efforts are backfiring and identity politics is not working.

Talk to people who disagree with you and read articles that espouse an unfamiliar narrative. Expose yourself. And lastly, if you get that surge of dopamine from engaging in a political hatefest, check yourself before you wreck yourself. If it feels that good, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

~

author: Samuel Kronen

Image: YouTube

Image: Elephant Journal on Instagram

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Bonus:

Six points of mindful speech.

A Buddhist Communication Tip.

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Samuel Kronen

Samuel Kronen is a human being. I want to wake you up – kicking in the door to our collective consciousness. My belief is to lead by example. Connect with me through Facebook and Youtube. Thanks much ~ Samuel

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Robert Crook Jan 24, 2019 9:27pm

A smirking, smug white kid in a MAGA hat. Actually, that does tell us everything that we need to know, even if a Native American hadn’t been in the picture at all. We can be so open-minded that our brains can fall out.

Corti Cooper Jan 23, 2019 8:11pm

This young man decided to wear a MAGA hat, a symbol of racism and oppression. A symbol that women don’t deserve respect or a have a right to make decisions about their own bodies. The hat is a symbol that condones the oppression of poor people, people of color and anyone who isn’t a Christian of European dissent. All one has to do is look at the cabinet picks of the current administration to see former employers of white-supremist groups like FAIR or people that openly oppress the LGBTQ community and women (e.g. the Vice President). This picture may have not had the entire story but it is still an accurate of where we are in history – a privileged young man, with no fears for his actual safety showing his power in a world that 100% has his back (as shown all through the media, and right here in this article and comments). And every day, good people fear walking on the street, practicing their spirituality, speaking their language, driving their cars, because of a system that openly says with a smug face, “You don’t belong here.”

hollybug76 Jan 23, 2019 5:58pm

Another attempt to Whitewash and change the narrative to something the settler colonials can deal with. Really EJ, is this the B.S. you’ll allow these days. Circle The Wagons and marginalize and vilify the Native. Same story for hundreds of years now. How about you teach your kids not to be a*sholes. I expect better from EJ than this.

    Naomi Boshari Jan 24, 2019 1:52pm

    Hey Holly, please do remember that this article was written by an author–and we all have different points of view. We don’t want to belong to a community that has one thought, one voice. Share your view at elephantjournal.com/post and we’ll feature your diverse perspective. ~ Naomi, Eleditor

      Cindy Gross Jan 24, 2019 6:23pm

      This site needs to adopt a code of conduct that forbids hate speech.

        Naomi Boshari Jan 25, 2019 7:34am

        Hi Cindy–while I (an editor here at Elephant) personally disagree with a lot of the article, I don’t believe it constitutes as hate speech. And just because we disagree with something, it doesn’t mean we won’t publish it. Our goal is to offer authors a platform to share what they believe and to encourage the community of readers to learn to disagree mindfully and communicate. Have a rebuttal? We’d love to feature your perspective: elephantjournal.com/post

Brandy Moralez Jan 23, 2019 5:28am

We need an honest and accurate media more than ever right now. Thank you for your thoughtful article. While I still don’t condone all of the actions of those kids, this was grossly misrepresented by the media.

    Cindy Gross Jan 24, 2019 6:26pm

    Yes, after the PR firm got involved they twisted the narrative to favor and excuse the white kids while ignoring the white supremacy dynamics of the scenario. The later media became a “white gaze” that totally ignored the harm and toxicity created by the white kids.

Michelle Guilfoil Jan 22, 2019 10:37pm

The way the Native invaded this child’s personal space and pounded the drum inches from his face is very aggressive. I don’t understand male dynamics as to why the teen boy didn’t duck away sooner but he WAS approached. It just saddens me that so many are so quick to judge every situation. The elite are winning because we are not uniting. Surely we have more in common than that which differentiates us? And why does it have to go straight to hatred and demonizing? Couldn’t this have been a learning experience? Thank you Samuel for writing this and addressing what we are facing as a country right now- very brave of you.

Allison Banbury Jan 22, 2019 3:12pm

After seeing several FB posts about how unfairly and inaccurately this picture has been interpreted (and having denounced the boys’ behavior–not the boys themselves–on my own FB page), I went back and watched the fuller versions of the videos that had emerged. While I don’t condone the behavior of the “Black Israelites” in the lengthier video clips that have been released, the Covington boys are clearly seen/heard making tomahawk gestures with their hands, chanting, crowding, laughing, and mocking Nathan Phillips. Teenagers are still children, and children sometimes make poor choices and shouldn’t necessarily be held to the same accountability standards as adults. But to paint this moment in time as anything other than naked disrespect belies the reality of the situation and does our nation–and these young boys–no favors in terms of healing or growth.

    Samuel Kronen Jan 22, 2019 7:02pm

    But why did Phillips approach them? And why did he lie afterwards about what happened (“Build The Wall” was his self-stated incentive for reacting to them it was patently never heard on footage)? And Why did the media immediately jump on this in the way that it did? That question is what I’m addressing.

Malcolm.Elliot Jan 22, 2019 2:22pm

Samuel, thank you for your article. I agree with your greater message that we are in the midst of an intensely polarizing time politically, and that we should work to engage with people who hold differing views as ours rather than demonize them. However, this article comes of very heavily one sided when it comes to this specific issue.

For one, it fails to note that the family of Nick Sandmann, the student video taped, higherd a PR firm to help spin the story into a more favourable story for Nick. Not only does this reflect Nick Sandmann’s families privilege in being able to afford to hire a PR firm, it it speaks to the fact that we must take his side of the story with a grain of salt, given that some of it could be fabricated and carefully calculated to spin the truth. Source: https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2019/01/21/covington-catholic-runswitch-pr-helped-student-in-controversial-video/2638400002/

Another thing I find troubling about this article is that it reflects the prevailing power imbalances that are at play within the North America. Simply put, there are enough people arguing for the white upper class male. It has always been like this in our society, and together we need to work to make change and listen to the struggles on Indigenous people and work to dismantle the systemic racism that is causing the consistent oppression of Indigenous people throughout our society.

shopper1993 Jan 22, 2019 9:06am

One thing left out of this article is the outright lies that the native american told the media in an attempt to further the narrative against anyone who supports trump. That is the reason the media jumped on it. Anything to bash a trump supporter, much like the other comments on this page.

    Cindy Gross Jan 24, 2019 6:29pm

    What specific lies? I haven’t seen any. The very first reports were that he walked to his position as is his right. Plus his group had a permit for the space. If you refer to someone else’s statement that he served in Vietnam when actually he served during that era, well, that’s not his misstatement. And…. All of that totally ignores the power dymaics. Why is this all about the perspective of the white kids?

cunsworth39 Jan 22, 2019 9:01am

Thank you for this article. In no way do I see that you are defending these CHILDREN but rather telling people to gather ALL information in regards to a story before passing judgement.

Gloria Wetzel Jan 22, 2019 7:27am

Look further into the previous actions of this school. There were incidents of CC students going blackface at a bb game when they played an AA team. We who are white need to be sensitive to a false sense of superiority to anyone. We are one tribe. We need to lead by example. Sometimes that means we need to point this out to young folks.

Melinda Harrington Jan 22, 2019 4:48am

I’m not sure how to put my thoughts into words on this one. I am surprised to see such a limiting one-sided article like this one on Elephant Journal. There are plenty of footage of this day and all of it are young male toxicity on display. Why are we defending it on Elephant Journal?

    middlewood3041 Jan 22, 2019 9:48am

    Absolutely right! The display of toxic masculinity was appalling. The arrogance & mob mentality of these young boys was so clear to see. What about their racist, disgraceful use of the tomahawk symbol & chant?? There’s a HUGE difference between an innocent grin and an entitled smirk! Terribly Disappointed in this article…?

    Naomi Boshari Jan 24, 2019 1:56pm

    Hi Melinda, this article is by a reader—an author. Remember our authors all have different points of view and we encourage folks to disagree respectfully. We don’t want to belong to a community that has one thought, one voice. Share your view at elephantjournal.com/post and we’ll feature your perspective. ~ Naomi, Eleditor

Cindy Gross Jan 21, 2019 8:46pm

Completely irresponsible article. The narrative the right is pushing around this story is accepted in the mainstream because it lets us off the hook for the white supremacy that surrounds us. Those kids need to be taught the racial dynamics of how the situation affected every aspect of how it played out and how the world is talking about it. Those kids behaved very badly.

    Marilyn Regan Jan 23, 2019 1:48pm

    I watched the videos and as far as I can see, there were several parties to blame here for bad behavior. They all acted and reacted to one another with a certain level of disrespect. Mr. Phillips stood in Sandmann’s personal space. Sandmann refused to back down and smirked. He’s an adolescent and you’re never as smart again in your life as you are when you’re say 16 years old. His friends were rowdy. The black Israelites spit at the kids, and on and on. All the interactions were poor.

    The article doesn’t let anyone “off the hook”. It’s point is that you can’t make assumptions, especially from the media, on face value; you need to research the facts before coming to any conclusions and we need to take a walk on the wild side and try to understand a point-of-view we don’t necessarily agree with. In other words, we need to talk to one another. As long as someone is always wrong and someone is always right based on their ethnicity, we will remain divided.

    Jason Samatas Feb 5, 2019 7:09am

    Cindy, I’ve read all of your comments here and I’m wondering why you continue to focus solely on the actions of the white kids. Samuel’s article was simply stating that the media clearly jumped to conclusions before having all the facts, and this isn’t the first time they’ve done that. Why are we not objectively assessing the actions of the Black Isrealittes, too, and trying to learn why such hatred and inappropriate remarks are made from all the groups? I was one of the first ones to jump on the white kids when I saw the story. But as more and more information came out, it clearly seems all THREE groups involved in this incident bear some responsibility. Why can’t we dig deeper within ourselves to identify the root of the true causes of not only our own biases, but also the actions and behaviors of others? It seems all we do in today’s toxic political culture is escalate every situation further than it needs to be to prove a certain point, which only divides this great nation further.