Insurrection: Through the Eyes of Black America

Jan. 6, 2021, will be remembered as one of the darkest days in the history of our republic.

A nearly exclusive group of white anarchists, insurrectionists and domestic terrorists came by the hundreds to attack and overrun police, occupy the U.S. Capitol building and ransack it. It was the first time in more than 200 years our Capitol had been breached.

Five people died as a result of the violence, including a U.S. Capitol policeman who was bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher. Pipe bombs were found at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee along with a vehicle filled with guns and ammunition near the RNC.

In the weeks leading up to the insurrection, the president and federal lawmakers encouraged the would-be attackers and empathized with them. They fanned the flames of conspiracies about a stolen election that drove them to commit acts of sedition and treason in our nation’s capital.

“We love you,” the president said to the anarchists as they occupied our Capitol. “You’re very special.”

The day cut especially deep for Black Americans who watched last year as Black Lives Matter protests were called detestable and un-American; its participants called thugs as the president and members of Congress called for them to be met with violence and military force.

Here’s what it felt like to some of them.

Stephanie Keith/Reuters

I cried. A lot to be honest. It made me feel really small. I’ve had to read comments in the past condemning Black people for kneeling during the anthem, they condemned Black people for protesting in the streets, Black people were called thugs and savages and terrorists when businesses were broken into during protests. All of those people were silent today.

If those “protestors” were BLM protesters, they would’ve been met with police in full riot gear. They wouldn’t have even made it on the steps without rubber bullets, tear gas and violence. The people that broke into our Capitol felt like they owned the place and honestly, they walked right in leaving me to think that they really do. It left me feeling broken, defeated and scared. Especially seeing pictures of a noose and Confederate flags in the halls of our U.S. Capitol.

It was a message.

Bridget Hicks
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Honestly, it made me feel disgusted to be an American. We made it look easy for our foreign enemies to come on our homeland and attack if they wanted to do it.

The president’s comments were not sincere. It felt like he didn’t care about what was going on because it was about him and the people wanting him to remain president. What transpired just blew my mind, allowing protesters and rioters into the U.S. Capitol and nothing was done at all. It really looked like an inside job, how they just took over the way they did. It looked like a movie that you see where they invade the White House, but this time it was the Capitol.

If it was us, things would not be handled as peaceful as it was.

Jasmine Turner
Win McNamee/Getty

I started today feeling proud and hopeful. It was great to read about Raphael Warnock’s historic win and being reminded of the incredible work of Stacey Abrams.

I haven’t found the words to express how I initially felt but it translated to overwhelming grief. So-called patriots attacked our democracy and flagrantly disrespected our nation’s Capitol. Their actions were nothing short of treason but they live to tell about it with big, goofy smiles because they were white. The audacity is infuriating.

Meanwhile, I’m having conversations with my adult-sized, 12-year-old about how to carry himself to make people less suspicious of him.

The question has been brought up over and over again. And it repeated in my mind as well: What if they were Black? It’s rhetorical, of course, because we all know the answer. But this is arguably the most massive, clear and public demonstration of the double standard in recent history.

Racism is a cancer. And America has long ignored the symptoms and skipped its screenings. Today we learned that it’s metastasized. We can’t keep pretending that “this isn’t who we are.”

I believe we can and will be better. We start by swiftly removing this incompetent “leader” who encouraged hate, indecency, and now treason.

Katrina Dupins
Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty

Today was a wild one. It felt like a movie or something. Has the White House or U.S. Capitol been taken like that since the War of 1812?

We started the day with Trump supportive of everything going on. Then, he gave a questionable speech telling people to go home. All the while, we didn’t hear these people called any of the things the BLM protesters were being called.

Trump said these people were mad about how they had been treated for the last four years and were cheated out of an election. What about the last 400 years people were treated bad? When these people stand up like this, it’s unacceptable.

I feel 100-percent, whole heartedly, that if these people who took the Capitol were people of color, there would have been a lot of killing. They would have never let it happen like that. It’s a shame that people still don’t see the privilege of color in this country.

Where are the Kyles at protecting that federal government building?

Wayne Dickerson
Erin Schaff/The New York Times

What we saw yesterday was the culmination of fear-mongering and hate that the president has fueled. It is what scholars, military leaders, and lifetime civil servants warned was possible when we embrace so-called “alternate facts” and bald-faced lies as truth while rejecting facts and science.

This happened because too many in our nation have ignored the realities of our past and our present, and have instead clung to an illusion of our past which maintains historic inequalities. Many of my high school classmates tell me that there is no such thing as “white privilege.”

To them, I respond…

White privilege is believing that insurrection and sedition — because you don’t get what you want — is patriotism. White privilege is being able to storm your nation’s sacred halls and still be called a protester, instead of a thug or terrorist. White privilege is being involved in an insurrection against your nation during the afternoon, being walked down the Capitol steps which you stormed, not in handcuffs but walking hand-in-hand with those who swore to protect our constitution with their lives. White privilege is being thanked for that insurrection by the nation’s president. White privilege is being allowed to drive home from said insurrection in your own car, sleep in your own bed, and watch yourself on late-night news without a worry in the world. White privilege is having the police run from you during an insurrection instead of defending their posts. White privilege is having elected officials blame your seditious acts, which were all recorded on video, on Black Lives Matter the following day.

There is no doubt in my mind that had the “protesters” been Black that there would have been a massacre yesterday! 

Brian K. Mitchell, historian and author
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Black, Indigenous, and other people of color have never been able to claim that this country belongs to us. That this democracy was built for us. That we will “take our country back” or “make America great again.” Black Americans have never been able to protest as a means to take back something we believed was stolen from us. Black Americans have had to protest because we never had it in the first place.

White supremacy has led folks to believe that only white people can determine who is free. Who can own property. Who can vote. Who can go to school. Who can buy a house. Who is a patriot. Who is a Christian. Whose lives matter. Whose votes matter.

White supremacy will shift itself and convince folks that it’s not about race. Because white supremacy can’t be defeated if it isn’t named.

It’s past time to name it.

Adena White
Reuters/Ahmed Gaber

What happened in the nation’s capital was nothing short of an eye opener and living proof that we as African-Americans — other minorities — and white Americans indeed live in two different Americas. After a day like this, where our Capitol is breached by white supremacists, white rioters and white terrorist groups, there is no way that anyone can deny that there, in fact, is a such thing as white privilege.

Myself, as well as many other African-Americans, who protested for change, the BLM movement, police brutality and systemic inequality had to sit and watch as white rioters climbed walls, broke windows, threw pipe bombs and vandalized the Capitol with little to no resistance from government officials, police, secret service or the Department of Defense. The DOD put out a statement in regards to how they were not going to intervene with military troops and that U.S. Capitol police can handle the situation. The police were caught on camera taking selfies with rioters who breached the Capitol.

When I see images and statements like that after how they treated us just a few months ago, it makes me sick. We were killed, profiled, gassed, beat, called thugs, were told that we were privileged to be living in America, called ungrateful, were given every excuse as to why any Black person in history who was killed by a cop had a logical reason as to why they died, we were arrested for peaceful protests, we were attacked by white supremacists. The list goes on.

The BLM movement, the movement for social injustice and the movement to end police brutality all stood for something.

Colin Kaepernick taking a knee was considered unconstitutional, the “hands up don’t shoot” campaign was ridiculed, NBA players using their social platforms and refusing to play was met with calls to “shut up & dribble.”

The riot from Trump supporters and white supremacy groups that took place had no foundation to stand on. White America was not protesting for injustice or inequality. They were mad about what our nation has stood on for centuries: democracy. They were simply mad.

The clear difference between the two movements are the motives. One is based on change for systemic equality and the other is based on grown adults upset because a president they support is not getting a second term after losing a fair election. That’s a big difference.

Yet, the events that took place at the Capitol have been somewhat swept under the rug. The media coverage around it is mild at best, social media has dropped it for the most part, & the white Americans who do think it was a disgrace, but are also Trump supporters, are being very quiet.

So, how do I feel?

I feel let down again by a system that clearly was not built for us. I feel our country is now the laughing stock of the world. I continue to feel unsafe in white America. I laughed and made jokes on social media about the situation, but in a sense, it was to mask the pain that I felt for my people who were on the front lines protesting for our equality who lost their lives or loved ones and had to watch the red carpet be rolled out for the rioters a the Capitol.

But this is nothing new to us. This is the America we’ve been living in since our ancestors were brought over on ships. This is the America that pushed the indigenous people out and stole their land and named it the United States. This is the America that was built on the backs of my ancestors but yet we have no place in it unless we can shoot a basketball, run a football, rap, or make the latest TikTok dance for white entertainment. This is the America we’re used to. The only difference is y’all are not fighting Black America anymore. Now, y’all fighting each other!

This is America.

Mike Askew
Reuters/Ahmed Gaber

I’m really struggling to put my thoughts and feelings into words. While I’m shocked, I’m not surprised. The rhetoric of people like Donald Trump fanned the flame under what was already brewing, and he went unchecked until the ninth inning. What happened Wednesday isn’t even the worst thing we’ve been through as a nation, but it confirmed what the world already thought of us. The fact that homegrown terrorists could attack a heavily guarded building, just shows how real privilege is in this country. This wasn’t a surprise attack. Authorities had notice. Still, nothing was done. Organizations like Black Lives Matter can organize a peaceful protest and be met with military force. The goal in our country has never been equity or equality. The goal is to give a “little something” away so marginalized groups feel like they’re making progress, all the while knowing that it’ll be shut down the moment those groups push for more.

For those still confused about white privilege, here it is.

White America allowed a young Black woman to be gun downed in her home while sleeping! She still has yet to receive justice! I’m sorry, Breonna Taylor.

White America let a white man from Arkansas break into Nancy Pelosi’s office and take mail without so much as a bullet in his direction.

White America has sat back while little Black boys are murdered by police for playing with toy guns. Somehow, these trained professionals “feared for their lives.” I’m sorry, Tamir Rice.

White America didn’t think it scary when those white men and women stormed the Capitol with real guns. Nope. Instead, they took selfies with and removed barriers for those people. I haven’t read too many articles yet, but have they called them terrorists yet? That’s what they are.

White America has witnessed the events that took place Wednesday and felt shock and horror and the disrespect shown to their nation. For once, they were offended by the Confederate flag being flown. Black America has always been offended. For once, white America was appalled by the noose hanging on Capitol grounds. Black America was appalled when it was hanging from trees in small southern towns with Black bodies attached to it.

Of course, I know there are individuals on both sides that have fought for everyone to have the same rights, access and responsibilities as those in white America. I recognize and am grateful for that. This is pent-up anger directed at anyone that has yet to see and acknowledge the disparities in this country. Am I angry that anyone would attack the Capitol? Absolutely! I’m more upset knowing that the outcome would have been drastically different if they were Black or brown, instead of white. 

Brittany Simmons
Pete Marovich/The New York Times

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