Among the critical responses to white supremacists’ attack on Congress on 6 January 2021 was the cry of “white privilege”. Storming the United States Capitol is not a “privilege”. It is an example of presumed licence afforded a violent white insurrectionist mob under the shield of racism.
One properly has the privilege of doing what is right, often from what is earned; a licence protects one from accountability for wrongful actions, whether earned or not. White supremacy is a white licence.
It’s obvious that the instigators of the attack on the US Capitol Building, from President Donald Trump to his enablers Vice-President Michael Pence, Senators Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, House of Representatives minority leader Kevin McCarthy and the long list of Republican Party members of Congress in cahoots with them should be removed from office. We know what would unfold if Black Congresswomen and men had instigated such actions. White licence and supremacy afford a lack of accountability for these white elected officials.
Think about this: they planted pipe bombs, attacked the police (killing one despite one of their rallying cries of “blue lives matter”), openly declared planning to murder Congresspeople, vandalised the Capitol Building and more, and most of them were able to leave under the protection of the law enforcement officers they were attacking.
#BlackLivesMatter advocates were and continue to be brutalised for speech, assembly, peaceful protest – all supposedly protected rights under the US Constitution. Beyond political action, Black people are often brutalised by the police and many in white so-called civil society simply for appearing in public.
None of the white people who attacked the Capitol were disenfranchised; they were fighting for the continued disenfranchisement of Black people. They ransacked the Capitol, assaulted officials and others resulting in homicides, with the Confederate flag – a symbol of white supremacy in all its incarnations since 1861 – held high.
We live with the continued charade, not only in the US but in many countries in which right-wing populism sets root, of a “both sides” discourse when all the evidence of an asymmetrical assault on democracy, Black and indigenous peoples, refugees, immigrants and the poor is clear: taking advantage of liberal fetishising of tolerance, right-wing forces across class lines regard all those who are not them as targets for elimination.
White supremacy affords the expectation and grace for critics to make every effort to see the humanity of treasonous whites, however violent their history. The truth of the matter is that the angry whites who have become the base of the Grand Old Party (GOP, the traditional name for the Republican Party) want the old and unfortunate game of false democracy in which their votes are expected to count more than everyone else’s – and where, even when fewer in numbers, they are to count more than the rest of us.
Everyone who votes in US elections knows that each voter is afforded a single ballot on which each candidate is listed. It’s thus logically not possible for other Republican candidates to have won on a ballot that didn’t include Trump’s name. In short, Trump lost because the ballots were counted. He received little more than 74 million votes, while his opponent, president-elect Joe Biden, received 81 million. There were 159 million votes cast. The takeaway? Presuming possibly all, if not most, of those who attacked the Capitol had voted Republican – if all or most of them had voted at all – then they were well aware their votes were counted, but they didn’t like the outcome.
Bad faith – the ability to lie to oneself – is, however, capacious. This includes suspending the force of evidence. In bad faith, one could make oneself believe what one wishes to believe. Add a full assault on evidence from Trump and his enablers, along with their portraits of themselves and their supporters as victims of a vast conspiracy, and the conclusion is an incendiary situation.
Culmination of hate and rage
In truth, January 2021 marks the culmination of an already volatile situation of hate in a country that has tried to erase the historic achievements of former president Barack Obama, its first African-American president on whom so many double standards were imposed that his accomplishments were daily revelations of a long history of white mediocrity. The response of narcissistic rage, of which Trump was the chief spokesperson, took the form of an effort to do to the civil rights movement what was done to Reconstruction by the end of the 19th century: erase it by means of propaganda and violence.
An event such as the attack on the Capitol rarely ever has a single cause. Already brewing was what was at stake in the Senate from the runoff elections in Georgia. To add insult to white supremacist aspirations, the two Democratic candidates were declared winners on the day of the attack. The first declared winner was Reverend Raphael Warnock, who is African American. Then came the news of Jon Ossoff, who, though considered white, isn’t white enough for most white supremacists because he is Jewish. The symbolism of a Southern state electing to the Senate – a branch of government designed, along with the electoral college, to protect states historically committed to slavery and racism – embodiments of a Black and Jewish convergence is no doubt a blow struck against white supremacy. Add to this the importance of the enfranchisement activist Stacey Abrams and her organisation Fair Fight, and white supremacists are reeling with rage from a triple threat to the remaining vestiges of white Christian colonialism.
Want a democratic republic in the US (and similar countries)? Do what WEB du Bois argued should have been done since 1865: take up the actual task of building democracy and not blocking the material and social conditions needed for the flourishing of dignity and freedom.