In wake of yesterday’s events in Washington D.C., I’ve been inspired to write about why I think skin colour determined the Capital police and National Guard’s responses. Enjoy and feel free to comment.
Wednesday 6 January 2021, will go down in history for many reasons.
For some, it will be known as the day that Georgia elected two Democrat candidates to the Senate. Pastor Raphael Warnock will be the first Black senator to represent the state of Georgia, he also serves as the reverend at the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King used to preach, and Joe Ossof, a Jewish man, will be the youngest member of the Senate.
However, for me, this day will be known as the day that the world can no longer deny white privilege; a term that describes ‘people with white skin having advantages that other people do not have’.
After watching President Trump’s supporters (the majority being White) storm the Capitol building in Washington D.C., I was alarmed by how they managed to forcefully break into and besiege a government building that simultaneously hosted elected US officials that have been democratically voted into power. This is straight out of the pages of The Handmaid’s Tale; a live coup was attempting to take place.
I sat in amazement as individuals scaled the walls, stood on scaffolding, climbed monuments and high-fived each other with triumph, as the police seemed to be doing the minimum to push back. In fact, there’s footage of some police officers taking selfies with those who would ordinarily be looked upon as committing an act of treason. Yes, you read that right, police officers were taking selfies as if they were capitalising on their fifteen minutes of fame.
It is no coincidence that the day Georgia, a state historically known for suppressing Black voters chose to reject right-wing representatives on the same day that Trump supporters decided to use violence to bulldoze the paths to progress. Who can forget that after winning his election, President Barack Obama had to stand behind bullet proof glass shields to deliver his victory speech? I don’t think I’ve seen that level of protection offered to any other president.
As events rumbled on, news anchors repeatedly asked, “how did these supporters come so close to threatening the lives of members of congress?” My response, white privilege. As one reporter retold the words of a White Trump supporter who told them, “we gave you back control, you didn’t take it,” and they did so with boldness, fearless in knowing that they would not receive the same treatment if their skins were another colour.
Can you imagine the police’s response if Trump supporters were Black? Latino? Asian? Muslim? Not only would thousands have been arrested, I do not doubt that we’d be watching a blood bath. You may think that’s extreme, but let’s not forget that in June 2020, in the midst of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, mainly Black protesters were met with tear gas, pepper spray and excessive physical force (from the same police who chose to take selfies this time round), even though the BLM supporters were nowhere near physically hurting any elected officials.
This level of braggadocio was further demonstrated when Trump supporters violated the curfew that had been set by the Mayor of DC and continued to walk the streets as if they were enjoying a Coachella concert. In a world where Black people can be shot by the police for visiting a store, sleeping in their beds, playing a computer game with their family (to name just a few instances), it is understandable that White Trump supporters are confident they will not receive the same repercussions. And knowing this, and to then deny that same degree of privilege to others is the problem.
On both sides of the Atlantic, we have seen White privilege played out to the maximum. Can you imagine the UK media’s response if Diane Abbott or David Lammy or Sadiq Khan was governing the country through a pandemic and achieving the same results as the current administration? I doubt they’d still be in power. In fact, they probably wouldn’t have the chance to become Prime Minister. Have we forgotten the barrage of abuse Diane Abbott received (and continues to receive) for getting her figures wrong when detailing the Labour Party’s spending pledge to 1,000 police officers during a LBC interview in 2017? Of course individuals had every right to criticise her mishap, but the media and some members of the public treated her like an idiot. Even when it emerged that she had given seven interviews that same day and got her figures right on the same subject, plus complications from her diabetes had caused her to flounder. Yet, it did not stop people from targeting her with a level of contempt that has not been aimed at other politicians.
Compare Abbot’s performance to say, Boris Johnson who often hums, errs and bumbles his way through interviews, using his vast vocabulary to never directly answer the posed questions. This is a trick he has played throughout his political career, but unlike Aboott, Johnson has been afforded a reputation of being lovable, the joker and as one aunt recently told me “I have a soft spot for Boris,” even after his recent performance of managing coronavirus. The nation’s willingness to judge two people who performed badly in interviews is contrasting with stark outcomes. Abbot stepped back from being on Labour’s front bench while Johnson is now the UK’s prime minister.
Let me clear, to deny that actions are judged differently due to skin colour makes YOU a part of the problem.
Whether you’re storming a government building or making bad political decisions that cause ‘life or death’ implications for citizens, the depth of criticism should not be hindered by that person’s ethnicity. Regardless of who makes a bad decision, constructive criticism and condemnation needs to be based on the actions and only that. It cannot be right that you think your behaviour will be less judged because your skin tone is white.
For those who say they want social change; who believe in progressive politics and see themselves as an ally to minority communities, now is the time for you to call out white privilege. To educate family members, friends and colleagues who make excuses for the extreme behaviours of some White people, yet expect exceptional conduct from minority communities. Whether it’s Muslims not doing enough to ‘condemn the actions of Islamic extremists’ or Black people ‘not acting strongly enough’ to prevent ‘Black on Black’ crime. Now is the time for White allies to speak up. (By the way, I’ll let Akala dispel the idea that Black people are inherently more prone to violence.)
White privilege needs to be called out to help put an end to a dangerous unconscious bias that we all witnessed taken full advantage of in Washington D.C. and one that has spread its poison throughout society for too long.