On Wednesday, January 6th, we all bore witness to a series of tragic events that took place at our nation’s Capitol. We saw what months of falsehoods, misinformation, and lies – all spewed by Donald Trump and his inner circle – amounted to as the U.S. Capitol was attacked and overrun by domestic terrorists in support of Trump. On a day in which the Electoral College votes were to be counted and mark the official end to a long and chaotic presidential election cycle, our nation was, instead, having to deal with these heinous acts carried out upon our nation’s Capitol. From these events, there are many topics and issues that one can pick at and further discuss, but the issue that is most prevalent and urgent for the student body at Saint Anselm College to understand is white privilege.
In short, the events that took place at the Capitol are a perfect illustration of white privilege at its finest.
First, think back to just this past summer as you witnessed millions of Americans protesting horrific acts of police brutality that had taken the lives of Black Americans such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, and countless others. Almost always at these protests, protestors were met with law enforcement officers lined in tactical gear and armed to the teeth with riot shields, batons, canisters of tear gas, and rifles filled with rubber bullets or live rounds. It appeared as if law enforcement officers were ready to battle soldiers of a foreign nation invading our borders, not fellow Americans. Videos and photos that emerged from these protests made it clear, however, that law enforcement did not hesitate to consider these protestors as the enemy and viciously attack them at any opportunity they were given.
Now, think about what we all saw take place at the U.S. Capitol this past Wednesday. We saw a group of domestic terrorists storm and raid the Capitol with little to no resistance from law enforcement. These people were able to march onto the Capitol’s steps, smash windows and force open the main doors, mozy their way through the halls of the building, invade and completely trash the offices of members of Congress, and casually pose for pictures after having overtaken the U.S. Senate chamber, all without having barely met any resistance from law enforcement. And even after having done all these atrocious acts, these same people were then able to peacefully walk out of the Capitol, steal some property as they were leaving, and then carry on with their days as if nothing had happened.
The major contrast between these two instances is that those who were protesting against police brutality this past summer largely consisted of and were led by Black Americans, while those who attacked the U.S. Capitol largely consisted of White Americans. This stark contrast in law enforcement response is indicative of what Black, Brown, and other communities of color have been saying over and over again…. we are not viewed the same, nor treated the same in this country as white people are. White people are given certain privileges and luxuries solely based on the color of their skin that are not afforded to the Black, Brown, and other communities of color.
It is now important to understand, however, what acknowledging the existence of white privilege does and does not truly entail. Acknowledging the existence of white privilege does not attempt to villainize white people and/or point to them as the root of all evil. It does not mean that white people should feel guilty or feel ashamed for who they are. It does not mean that society is attempting to dismiss all the work that has been done by white people in the present or in the past. It does not establish the notion that white people have never struggled in their lives or that, because of their privilege, they should not be proud of their accomplishments in life. Rather, the point in acknowledging the existence of white privilege is to understand that you have not had to face any difficulties in how you live your life and/or how you are viewed by society because of your skin color. Acknowledging the existence of white privilege means acknowledging the fact that communities of color are burdened with specific issues that white people have the luxury to never face and be concerned about.
It is because of white privilege that white people never have to face the hardship of being considered a danger to society until proven otherwise. It is because of white privilege that white people do not have to deal with the burden of overcoming negative stereotypes that are placed upon members of their own community. And most importantly, it is because of white privilege that white people do not have to protest and march in the streets in order to stop police from killing them and other members of their communities.
Instead, it is because of white privilege that white people are afforded the luxury of insulating themselves from the daily toll of racism. It is because of white privilege that white people have the luxury of automatically having positive relationships with the police and other law enforcement. And the events which occurred on January 6th showed us that it is because of white privilege that white people have the ability to storm and attack the U.S. Capitol without having to face the same amount of resistance and punishment that Black Americans face when protesting for their own lives.
Going forward I challenge those of the Saint Anselm College community who are unaware or not well-versed in the concept of white privilege to learn more about its inner-workings and how it shapes our society. Understand how white privilege gives certain people certain luxuries while depriving others of those same luxuries. And once having done this, understanding how to use this privilege to help those around you who are not afforded the same luxuries as you are. How to use this privilege to support non-privileged communities in their fight against injustice, remove bias that exists throughout facets of life, and make society and its many institutions work for all, not just a select few.
Now, this may be difficult for some to do. It may be a harsh reality that some do not want to face. Our future demands that we are truthful and honest about the privilege that comes with white skin, however, because if we fail to do so, then we will never be able to fully establish the fair, just, and equitable society we all strive to achieve.