White Privilege in Protest
February 4, 2021
Regarding what happened in the US mid 2020 and early 2021, it’s important to compare the two events shown below in order to understand the gravity of the situation in the United States. The BLM movement consisted of largely peaceful protests, after a Black man was murdered in cold-blood by the police and nothing was done about it. The rioters at the Capitol decided to storm one of the most important government buildings, encouraged by their President, in the name of alleged election fraud. They held Confederate flags, long-standing symbols of slavery, racism, and injustice. They were armed and violent, beating one police officer until he died. Despite this, it was not until they entered the Capitol that appropriate law enforcement was called. Several rioters managed to make their way into the Speaker of the House’s chambers, right after taking selfies with the Capitol police.
Knowing all this, the question we must ask is: why? Why were peaceful protesters in the name of racial justice and equality gassed and shot at, while violent far-right supremacists allowed to storm into the US Capitol?
The right to protest is one of the core pillars of a successful democracy. As Thurgood Marshall, the US’s first Black justice put it, ‘[protest] is the foundation of all our American democracy’. In the United States in particular, protest has been the key to social change. If it had been Black people scaling the walls of the capital and causing immeasurable damage, they would have faced deadly pushback long before they entered the building. This is white privilege at its worst. Black people have been oppressed for centuries, and when they try to speak out against injustice, they are pushed down, time and time again. A vicious cycle is then formed. Institutional injustice is long-established in the US, and when the very people who are impacted by it try to change the status quo, they are silenced. The oppressor’s voices are magnified, and the plight of Black Americans is ignored.
It is not just police officers and racist presidents who are guilty of condoning white privilege. In today’s world, if you are white, you have privilege. If you are white, society has always been tailored for your needs. Whether it’s always seeing yourself represented in movies, TV shows, and books, knowing without a doubt that your nearest hairdresser knows how to work with your hair, or that the majority of your teachers are the same race as you, white privilege exists. While it is undoubtedly harmful in mundane situations like these, the effects of white privilege are amplified when it comes to dissent. This instance has confirmed what people of color already knew: white privilege is deadly.
January 6th, 2021: A hoard of Donald Trump supporters stage an uprising at the Capitol in Washington, DC. They overtake the debating chambers, and engage in armed clashes with police. Four people are reportedly killed. This attack is among the worst security threats in modern American history, and is directly brought about by a tweet by Trump on December 20th 2020. It read: ‘Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, it will be wild!’. The violence is in an attempt to delay the counting of electoral college votes to affirm Joe Biden’s victory. Several members of the Congress, including Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, are evacuated to secure locations while law enforcement struggle to gain control over the situation. Despite the extreme chaos, the Capitol Police don’t request help from Homeland Security till 2:30 PM, over 6 hours after the riots start. Trump initially resists calling the National Guard, causing Mike Pence to take over. Only fourteen people are arrested out of the thousands of rioters.
Black Lives Matter Protests
May 25th, 2020: A Black man is murdered outside a grocery store after police Officer Derek Chauvin kneels on his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. His death sparks thousands of nation-wide protests against police brutality, particularly against Black people. The majority of these protests are peaceful, with protesters holding up signs, giving speeches, or simply sitting on the street. And yet, 14 thousand people are arrested. The National Guard is called to nearly every large protest; rubber bullets and tear gas are unleashed without warning. President Trump calls these protestors ‘thugs’. He addresses the Black Lives Matter movement as a ‘symbol of hate’. He calls for ‘total domination’ and orders for a host of militarized federal agencies to clear the area in front of St. John’s Church for a three minute photo-op.