“Stand back and stand by.” On September 29, 2020, the 45th President of the United States told his followers to fall back for now but be ready for his call to arms. As per usual, most people in the white community, whether it be in the media, in Congress or online, took note of his threat but doubted anything of concern would happen. They talked for a few days about the use of the debate stage to deliver a message so vague–yet audibly and visibly sinister–and then moved on without giving this statement the scrutiny and belief that it deserved.
If you paid attention to the rumblings of the internet, you would understand, like those in my community did, that something big was coming and we needed to be prepared. However, no one could have predicted what would occur just three months later, on January 6, 2021—the day the election results were to be certified.
I live in Fort Washington, Maryland, which is just a 15-minute drive from the D.C. border. All week on Twitter, we watched as multiple white supremacist hate groups organized and bragged about their D.C. takeover. They would prowl around at night and attack anyone who looked to be against them. They did not stop to ask who you voted for or what you believed in—rather, anyone they came across that wasn’t already on their side or cheering them on was an enemy.
As news spread that the intruders were not only circling the Capitol but looking for a way in, I turned on the news and ignored my responsibilities. Instead of prepping my daily quota of applications, I thought about what I would do if the white supremacists decided to drive down the highway and terrorize my primarily Black neighborhood. All I could do was look on in horror as people streamed into the Capitol, doors held open for them by certain police officers. If I were to even walk too close to the Capitol or White House on any other day, I would have been hurried along and told not to stand around. Yet these people were not only ushered in, but left with a few souvenirs by which to remember their destruction.
The audacity, the gall and the entitlement all jumped out that day, and all I could do was add this to the long list of atrocities white people have committed in the name of upholding whiteness as superior. But as we know, race riots aren’t anything new when it comes to whiteness being threatened. The Red Summer of 1919 was a period of time where three dozen cities and a rural town in Arkansas were overrun by white mobs who burned down Black-owned homes and businesses while also attacking and even murdering any Black person they could find. While Black people in Chicago and Washington D.C. fought back, most cities were overwhelmed by the large, blood-thirsty crowds of white people who not only aimed to steal and destroy, but also actively called for the death of the Black people inhabiting these areas.
Fast forward to 2021, and the mobs of white people who stormed the Capitol brought images of mass destruction and terror to my mind. I thought of Tulsa and the bomber planes. I thought of my hometown, 15 minutes away, a town full of Black families and homes and businesses. And I feared the worst. But I was not surprised. I will never be surprised at the atrocities that have been, and will continue to be, committed in the name of upholding whiteness as godliness and Blackness as inferior. I will never question if this is America, land which has been stolen, home to the empire.
In “The Complexity of Identity,” Beverly Tatum said the subordinates are very well informed about the dominants, and she later goes on to quote Susan Fiske: “People pay attention to those who can control their outcomes. In an effort to predict and possibly influence what is going to happen to them, people gather information about those with power.” As a person living within the heart of the U.S. empire, I have always known how to understand, move within or completely avoid white spaces in order to recognize when white violence may occur, when to pick my battles and how white people live in their lives. Not because I find it particularly interesting, but because in order to name and draw attention to the harm that is being done to me, I must learn the ways in which the violence occurs. I’ve come to terms with the fact that we may never be free in our lifetimes or our descendants’ lifetimes.
Something that took over 400 years to perfect will not be erased in one presidential term. This deference to white innocence has been so ingrained in our psyche that when Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) told us how she hid behind an opened bathroom while someone screamed to find her, or when Representative Ayanna Pressley’s (D-Mass.) panic buttons were conveniently missing on the day of the insurrection, they were told they were overreacting when the desire for their death was actually very real.
The fact remains that whenever cisgender, heterosexual white men generally, and the instiution of whiteness specifically, are “under attack”; when cultural norms that center whiteness as the default are challenged; when white supremacists decide to push back against the wave of progression: we all suffer greatly. This is not the time to stand by; those with the power, privilege and access to make changes must act quickly—because there is no time to wait. Those who are calling for the death of my people are armed and ready. What will you do to protect us when the time comes?