Black people protest for their right to life, while white people riot for their right to be bigots (Picture: ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)
When I first saw those scruffy outlaws scaling the Capitol building after pouring out of Trump’s ‘Save America’ rally, drunk on conspiracy theories, I felt nothing.
After last year, there is not much that white people can do to either shock or move me. However, seeing this framed as some sort of dignified coup, protest, or even revolution is deeply concerning.
Black people protest for their right to life, while white people riot for their right to be bigots. Even worse is the quickness to dismiss this circus of conspiracy theorists as a fringe ‘angry mob’ when they signify something American as apple pie: white power.
When Black Lives Matter protesters assembled in Portland, they were met by Federal Armed Forces. Protestors demanding an end to police brutality across the States were met with rubber bullets, tear gas and the full weight of state-sanctioned violence.
Yesterday’s actions were not merely an example of ‘white privilege’; it was white supremacy at work, white power exercised – put more simply, whiteness.
Privilege implies helplessness, something that lessens when you have acknowledged and identified it. These terrorists were aware of the protection that being white and defending whiteness gives them, and they used it.
Racists were welcomed into the Capitol to destroy, pillage and steal without consequence. According to the New York Times, when officers were asked by reporters why they weren’t removing rioters, one responded: ‘We’ve just got to let them do their thing now’.
Black Lives Matter protesters went to extreme lengths to conceal their identities – and even digital footprints – out of fear of prosecution and police harassment.
However, white supremacist insurrectionists at the US Capitol, took clear as day pictures with the things they stole and the destruction they caused.
These terrorists were aware of the protection that being white and defending whiteness gives them, and they used it (Picture: JIM LO SCALZO/EPA)
The aimless siege was less about results and more about reminding Black and Brown people of the liberties that whiteness will never afford them.
I would even go as far as to say that the lack of push back from authority was more than the rioters being white; it was what they were seeking to defend: whiteness.
President Elect Joe Biden is not racist and outlandish as Trump is, although he is by no means going to undo the years of oppression towards Black and Brown people.
To the rioters, taking away the face of racism and imperialism is threatening; it signifies a lack of power that they seek so desperately to cling on to.
Itâs a dark day in America when a UNITED STATES Capitol police officer decides to take a selfie with a TERRORIST! And they wonder why WE donât feel safe! pic.twitter.com/UZsLnS2s68
— NAACP (@NAACP) January 6, 2021
It was insulting to see Capitol officers taking selfies with the rioters. Still, if we learned anything from this year and from the history of policing in America, we know that white supremacists and police officers often overlap. One of the four who died at the Capitol was Ashli Babbit, a 14-year veteran of the US Air Force.
In these incidents, there is an immediate need for white people to distance themselves from those protesting.
Last year’s protests sparked the phrase ‘It’s not white against Black, it’s everyone against racists’ which became the title of writer and campaigner Patrick Hutchinson’s new book.
To me, this statement is categorically untrue and does more to further entrench racism: it others it instead of tackling it head-on. How can you acknowledge the pervasive and violent nature of whiteness and actively choose to pretend it has nothing to do with you?
Yesterday was not a random occurrence of a few disgruntled white people. It is what happens when toxic attitudes and ideas are allowed to go unchecked, misinformation gets out of hand, and people are encouraged by an authority to be lawless without consequence.
Yesterday was not a random occurrence of a few disgruntled white people (Picture: Jose Luis Magana/AP)
Across the pond, commentators and pundits ogle at the states lamenting that this could ‘never happen here’ despite the rise in racism and dangerous sentiments across media platforms. The tragic killing of MP Jo Cox – committed by a far-right extremist – seems to have vanished from people’s memory in this country.
We have let figures like Trump be emboldened and consistently given air time to this harmful rhetoric in the name of ‘free speech’ and ‘balance’. When Naga Munchetty dared to call out Trump’s racism last July, she was scolded by viewers and the BBC for her breach in impartiality, but it is deadly.
‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts’ Trump tweeted in response to the clash between police and protestors after the killing of George Floyd.
That eerie statement comes from Walter Headley, the Miami Chief of police in 1967 who sought to end civil rights protests with violence.
Trump’s message to white supremacists storming The Capitol The ones looting everything from podiums to mail (a federal crime)? ‘We love you. You’re all very special’.
To be impartial on harmful and dangerous rhetoric is to be complicit in radicalisation and misinformation. Our fear of calling out what is wrong is far more detrimental to society than an alleged erosion of ‘free speech.’
Yesterday was a timely reminder of how much the world is changing, though many celebrated Trump leaving office, we will feel the legacy of his presidency for many years to come.
He and his followers – both loud and silent – will continue to make the lives of marginalised people feel the battle is far from over.
Share your views in the comments below.