White Comfortability and Political Protest
Many people, ranging from politicians to activists, are using the quote, “A riot is the language of the unheard,” to describe the political protests that occurred in the United States in the past year. This was said by famous civil rights leader—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—in his speech titled The Other America. However, many skip his comments after this quote where he stated: “And what is it America has failed to hear? [...] it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”
To preserve the image of a “perfect America,” many like to cherry-pick phrases like the above to assure the masses that America is a perfect union. After the Civil Rights Movement, America was ushered into an era of “color-blindness.” And just like that, America was supposedly racism-free.
Many of us know that this is not true. But it is often hard to argue. The nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, even said in her hearing testimony this week that many argue that racism does not exist, until we say: “not in my backyard,” to policies that spur integration. Racism has taken a new shape—one that is hard to prove—but seemingly so explicit to those who can see it, to those who live it.
The recent insurrection that occurred on the Capitol on January 6th was not a form of political protest—it was a form of political violence. Political violence motivated by inflammatory rhetoric that successfully elicited white supremacy. This was in stark contrast to the protests that sparked because of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other victims of police brutality.
The media, particularly left-leaning media, commented on the differences in treatment of those who attempted to overthrow the Capitol and those who marched to preserve Black life. Because there is already extensive commentary on this matter, I find it particularly important to circle back to King’s latter quote and discuss the underpinnings of why this differentiation in the use of force occurred in the first place.
In American society, norms are centered around Anglo-Saxon (often Puritan-based) whiteness. Anything that deviates from this norm is subject to marginalization. This might not be the case for every group or person, rather it is simply the way our society is structured. Therefore, white comfortability becomes the focal point of our society, and ultimately our nation’s policies. This can also be extended to class, where the concept of race has successfully divided the lower classes for the benefit of the powerful. An example includes how the criminalization of Blackness gave lower-class whites the incredible power to enforce social control with little monetary return. They were still lower-class, but at least they had the power to kill Black life with impunity.
The majority-white mob that stormed the Capitol might’ve had a flurry of politicians or upper-class peoples, but the majority were regular consumers of right-wing conspiracy theories that were outraged by their conditions. Most importantly, the conditions bestowed upon them by the current pandemic (that they often deny) Although their logic for storming was swayed, it was rooted in a place of fear. Fortunately for them, their fear gets alleviated through the affirmation of politicians and they don’t get held accountable for their actions. Politicians work hard to remind Americans that “this is not who we are,” when in fact, it is. Using this language that works to forgive and forget, rather than put measures of accountability in place, only moves America towards meeting white comfortability, yet again.
The solution to this problem goes beyond forgiveness and moving on. The solution is to question and redefine the foundations of this country that is rooted in white supremacy. If we continue to allow this status quo of white forgiveness to persist, this country will never be equitable. We will continue to allow racism to mold to whatever progression we make, which ultimately hurts us all.