Several security measures have been enforced following the pro-Trump insurrection at Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 | Photo Courtesy: Geoff Livingston via Flickr
By Asar John
After witnessing and digesting the events that took place at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, Jan. 6, many Americans are wondering, “How could this have been allowed, how could they have infiltrated the building so easily and gotten so far?” For those who understand the power of whiteness and white supremacy, the answer to those questions doesn’t require much deliberation.
Whiteness and white supremacy are ingrained in American society and were the main cause of the Capitol infiltration. As the notorious saying goes, “White supremacy is as American as apple pie.” If a country rooted in such hegemonic ideals exists, it is unfathomable that white Americans witnessing the attacks of Jan. 6 are crying in denial “this is not America.” But, this in fact IS America.
“As people were viewing it on TV, there was a sense of shock but not, ‘Oh shit someone’s gonna get killed,’ not right away,” says CUNY Graduate Center Professor Michelle Fine, whose academic background is in Critical Social/Personality Psychology. “It was as though whiteness is laminated in innocence. It’s almost like it takes longer (as I speak as a white person), particularly for white people to view other white people as dangerous.”
Fine makes the point that it was clear Trump’s militia was dangerous and meant to cause harm to people and property. However, whiteness (in its identity) does not possess harm and is the norm in society– so why be scared of it? This question is the key to understanding how the events of Jan. 6 transpired.
Whiteness is the idea that white people and their way of life are the basis of which society should operate, in comparison to other societal groups. Therefore, whiteness and white supremacy go hand in hand. One cannot exist without the other. Many people forget these notions did not begin with President Trump’s 2016 election campaign. White supremacy and whiteness itself, as I stated before, is something ingrained in our society.
“It happens with kids too–kids of color who get in trouble in school or seen as bad seeds need a suspension, and white kids who get in trouble are seen as ‘something must be going on’ or ‘must be a mental health issue’,” says Fine. “Inside white supremacy is the belief that white bodies are inherently innocent until there’s alloted evidence that they’re guilty.”
Even with all the mounting evidence that the white rioters were inherently guilty of being a threat, as they climbed the outer walls of the building, white supremacy was still allowed to go strong. Also, police were ill-prepared, most likely because the threat of an angry white mob was undermined from the earliest mentions of the insurrection. At that point, it was clear as day that these self-proclaimed “patriots” had foul intentions. Then came the videos, and in turn, discussions of Capitol police allowing rioters to freely enter the grounds and the building itself swarming social media during and in the hours after the seditious event.
It’s no secret that law enforcement plays a role in upholding white supremacy, with several modern-day examples ranging from stop-and-frisk data to police shooting deaths of particularly black men. Then, there are examples from a not-so-distant past.
The earliest forms of policing in America and particularly the policing of black bodies can be seen in slave patrols in the Southeast. In summary, slave patrols served to maintain slavery and keep order, had any slaves become deviant, escaped their duties as a slave, and also had the option of punishing them if doing so. Of course, slavery ends and Jim Crow laws become the new American style of oppression, making slave patrols not obsolete, but reborn in a new fashion as police departments, just like slavery.
Given these examples, it’s not difficult to understand why rioters were allowed to do what they did. The same police who allowed them to ransack the Capitol, are complicit in maintaining white supremacy because it’s part of police culture in American society. To make it even more obvious, several new reports are exposing law enforcement officers as part of the violent mob and claims of racism within the Capitol Police force.
“We now need to recognize that institutions that are considered neutral or designed to protect us all are deeply contaminated by commitment to white supremacy,” says Fine, noting those institutions include, but are not limited to, police, fire, military and security departments.
The racist fundamentals of this country seen in these institutions are starting to backfire on the nation itself in the 21st century, accelerated by the rise of Trumpism. York College History Professor Andrew Jackson says that although many presidents before Trump have created a racial divide in America, it’s just that Trump tends to be more outright with his racism. Jackson believes that to reverse this divide and ongoing supremacy that creates it, is through honest education of history.
“We have to start education where it begins– where humanity begins; where civilization begins,” says Jackson. “You can’t start teaching history and say it begins in Europe when history begins on the African continent. You’ve got to talk about the early African civilizations, all the history that comes out of there.”
To Jackson’s point of honest education, it’s important to understand that when we are taught history through the lens of whiteness and without being truthful and inclusive, there are consequences. When whiteness develops to become the main guideline for society, the golden standard, of course you will have people who believe they can storm a federal building in the name of patriotism and justice for democracy.
“White supremacy is a suicide mission; it’s a death cult,” says Michelle Fine. “It doesn’t grow anything, it just destroys. And eventually, it destroys itself.”
Considering our nation’s history from the time the very first slaves arrived in Jamestown, Virginia to the Capitol besiegement on January 6 of this year, we’ve seen how different facets of white supremacy and whiteness have led to this current point in time. It was white supremacy that allowed the Capitol building to come under siege, not any particular group of people. Dismantling this deeply ingrained concept of whites as superior beings in our world is crucial to recognizing how hundreds of white nationalists were allowed to breach one of the most prominent federal buildings in the country.