“This is not who we are”. That statement is false. What happened this week in Washington is exactly who we are, at least when the “we” is white America. We have a long history of mob violence, white mob violence, being directed at either government or people of color. A prime example is the “Wilmington Massacre” where a white mob overthrew a democratically elected government because it wasn’t white enough, then when on to massacre Black citizens of the city. It may be the only domestic example in United States history where force and violence removed a duly and fairly elected government. The history of white violence, especially against BIPOC, is long and disgusting.
We need to consider what transpired in Washington this week and, frankly, as white Americans, own it. We have a history of creating the “other” when things like this happen, that it’s not us, that we are not like that. I wrote about it in July in my piece “A Racist Dichotomy“. Why do we need to own it? Because of what we do. There were massive racial and racist implications to what just happened. They go well beyond how Black Lives Matters protestors were treated in June and would have been had they been in Washington this week. White people, albeit Trump supporters, made clear on various websites that they planned violence in our nation’s capital. Threats were made against Mike Pence and others who were deemed to have “betrayed” Trump. And what did we see? Were there rows of National Guard troops stationed on the Capitol steps like occurred during a prior Black Lives Matter protest? Not at all. What we need to address goes well beyond that. Consider the following…
Doesn’t this picture say a lot? A man walks through the Capitol, confederate battle flag in hand, unchallenged. Ask yourself what the narrative would be now if it had been Black protestors who stormed the Capitol. It would be about race, there would be discussions saying that it is further proof that Black people are “inherently violent”. How many would have died, been injured? There would be calls for increased law and order, crackdowns to prevent this in the future, and more. An entire segment of our society would be blamed because they looked like the few who committed the violence. Yet we, white America, look like the people who did this and deny any part in it. Why don’t we hear the same calls when it’s white people who did it? Why is there not more talk of the racism that drove this act? If we, as a society, continue to hold Black people as a group responsible for the acts of the few then we need to apply that same standard to us as white people. And if you believe that white privilege didn’t come into play here, then consider this: a woman in the capital said “This is not America. They’re shooting at us. They’re supposed to shoot BLM, but they’re shooting the patriots.”
It is irrefutable that we accept violence directed at Black people and get angry when white people endure anything similar. In 1985 in Philadelphia there was a stand-off between a Black radical group called “MOVE”. The standoff ended when the Philadelphia police bombed the building where MOVE was located. Eleven people in the house were killed, including five children. 65 neighborhood homes were destroyed in the ensuing fire. And yeah, rarely white Americans are treated this way as evidenced by the Waco siege. It needs saying that Waco is what motivated Timothy McVeigh to exact vengeance with the Oklahoma City bombing, killing 168 people, many of them children.
Please consider the siege at Ruby Ridge and the Occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Malheur deserves particular note. An armed group of far-right anti-government terrorists occupied the headquarters of the wildlife refuge. They were led by Ammon Bundy, a man with a long history of right-wing extremist activity, including prior violent clashes with the United States government. The occupation lasted for six weeks. The standoff, the act of domestic terror, did not end until all of the occupiers left the site. Apparently retaking the site by force would have resulted in bad “optics” because the occupation was done by white people.
Don’t tell me what happened in Washington is “not us”. It is. We can’t change until we wake up and accept it.