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Just six days into the new year, Americans lived through yet another historical moment. We all watched as hundreds of white nationalists stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2020. With little apparent resistance from the authorities, protestors young and old seized the Capitol’s steps and waved their pro-Trump paraphernalia. A divided America watched as the media reported on the incident. Whether you were watching CNN or Fox News, one thing was clear: the riot seemed never-ending. Largely white mobs scaled walls, shattered windows, and broke into the Senate chamber. It wasn’t until President Donald J. Trump posted a half-hearted condemnation of his supporters — telling them that it was simply “time to go home” — that the country got to breathe.
Like most of my friends, I couldn’t help but notice the blatant hypocrisy present at the Capitol. Law enforcement did not respond in the same manner as they did during peaceful Black Lives Matter protests. In June 2020, the D.C. National Guard stood on the Lincoln Memorial's steps like statues while Black Lives Matter protestors were met with brutal force and tear gas. This time, a group of mostly white Trump supporters caused the death of a U.S. Capitol police officer, Brian D. Sicknick, and the escalating violence led to the death of four others.
I could list a dozen comparisons between this rampage and last year’s Black Lives Matter protests; but it would be immoral and unnecessary. The two should not be compared, because they are not the same. Equating the motivations of Black Lives Matter protests to the recklessness behind the Capitol riots weakens our fight for equality and justice. The Black Lives Matter protests were rooted in the desire to abolish inequality, police brutality, and racist American institutionalist policies. The storming of the Capitol, however, was rooted in false claims of election fraud and was the product of a sore loser; quite frankly, they were incited by President Donald J. Trump himself.
By continuing to compare the two, we are essentially refusing to see white supremacy for what it is: a fungus that festers and infects everything around it. White supremacy will remain unchecked unless we are actively unearthing and eradicating it. Inappropriate comparisons and political finger-pointing distract from addressing systemic racism in this nation head-on. White supremacy does not exist solely in opposition to neoliberalism. It exists and has existed on its own for centuries. In America, white supremacy is an ideology that consolidates its strength through well-established institutions, including political parties, that give it power.
While our government was being attacked, Black people were once again brought into the conversation. Black people’s struggles were once again used to measure the severity of an attack unrelated to themselves. To call on an already exploited group as a way to condemn white supremacists does more harm than good; and white supremacists barely suffer. Yet, Black people do. We end up carrying the weight of our democracy — a burden no group should have to experience — as we are dragged into conflicts, obligation, and violence that is not our own. This is often done performatively and implies that others are more interested in proving that they’re woke than holding white supremacists accountable.
Instead of processing this week’s events through a performative pro-Black lens, let’s unpack the role of political institutions in perpetuating white supremacy. Why did members of the U.S. Capitol Police force take selfies with white nationalists, instead of arresting them? Why was U.S. Senator Joshua D. Hawley (R-Mo.) seen cheering for the mob that gathered outside of the Capitol? Finally, why did eight members of the Senate and 139 members of the House still object to the Electoral College count merely three hours after the violent pro-Trump mob was diffused? Because existing political and legal institutions do not hold white people in power accountable for their actions.
In fact, our own university fails to do so. Harvard University should evaluate its own affiliates, some of whom have had their fair share of white supremacist rhetoric. What took place at the Capitol was not just an insurrection, but a wake-up call. As Harvard students and affiliates, we cannot continue to let white supremacy go unchecked in our nation or at our own institution. As students attending a university that hasn’t always rejected white supremacy, we must advocate for change now. We must recognize the role we play in either perpetuating or hindering the spread of white supremacist ideology, by first preparing to see the world through a new lens.
As the ramifications of the insurrection on Capitol Hill flow into mainstream media, I have one last message: The storming of the Capitol was a display of white supremacy. Period. Leave Black people out of it.
Ebony M. Smith ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Wigglesworth Hall.
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