As more and more information has surfaced in the Covington Catholic incident last weekend (along with many, many opinions, ranging from hot takes to considered responses), I want to update our coverage with more of my own thoughts.
First, I have taken down my original commentary on the matter. It was posted soon after the incident went viral, and was based on the shorter video, since I didn’t know there were others. If I had known, I would have wanted to see them as well for more context.
A lesson for me and for all of us: Wait on the context. The story turned out to be more complex than it first appeared (and was first reported). I wrote out of my initial, visceral response to the short video, which was too soon.
Second, some of the reactions to the students have obviously been over the top. They are, after all, teenagers, and young people do stupid things. The young man in the video (which Forward Kentucky never named, since he is under age) became the center of the story, which in my opinion took away from the larger story.
HOWEVER – an important point has been made by more than one commenter. Reverse the skin color of the participants, and make it a group of teen-age black boys surrounding a white person. Would they get the same “they’re just teenagers” treatment? I think not. Some of the excuse-making is yet another example of white privilege in our society.
And, context or not, some of the actions of the youth are not to be excused. Nathan Phillips, the Native American at the center of the incident, said he heard racial slurs aimed at him, and videos clearly show the students doing the “tomahawk chop.” Other reports have surfaced, claiming that this same group of students harassed a group of women as they walked by. And, others have shared past incidents involving CovCath students, and indicated that this is part of the CovCath culture.
Which brings me to my original thoughts about this incident:
- Where were the adults?
- How can this be used for good, for learning?
It seems obvious that the adults could have done more. They could have moved the group of students away from the group of Black Hebrew Israelites who were harassing them. They could have intervened when Phillips was surrounded by the students, and calmed the situation. And they could have explained why some of the actions of the students would be considered racist, such as the tomahawk chop.
And again, rather than trying to place blame and taking sides, the school and church leaders should figure out a way to use this incident for both self-examination and for learning. If the culture of the school needs work around racism and diversity, then do that work. If the students need to have some serious lessons on how to treat others, then get serious about putting those lessons in place.
For me, there is one other lesson to take away, one that I usually remember, but forgot in this case: count to 10.
What do I mean? In the past, I’ve delivered training on the makeup of the brain and how it affects our emotions and actions. We talk about the “lizard brain” and the “thinking brain,” and how emotions happen almost immediately, while logical thinking comes later. That’s why we used to be told to count to 10 before saying something: to let the thinking part of our brain catch up to the emotional part.
In this case, I failed to count to 10. I responded to the first video, and didn’t wait to see if there was more to the story. That was the wrong thing to do for a journalist, and the wrong thing to do for a commentator.
So, I’ve got a lesson to take away, and in my opinion, so do the students and adults from Covington Catholic. Let’s hope we all learn from this.