On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, the world witnessed an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. It was a defining moment and one of the saddest days in modern U.S. history; it was also a direct assault on our coveted democracy.
For many of us, every day in the U.S. is filled with this same pain and sadness. As Black and Brown people, we see the horrific siege of January 6th as a confirmation of the savage and perpetual racial injustices that have plagued the U.S. for over 400 years. It was a resounding message that White Supremacy is still alive and well in America.
The reaction to the January riot served as proof to the entire world that the racial reckoning in the U.S., and in the world—spurred by the public lynching of George Floyd, the murder of Breonna Taylor, the execution of Ahmaud Arbery, and too many to name—is over. It’s time to get back to racial injustice as usual and “Make America Great Again.”
Watching the 2021 coup unfold, many shuddered at the thought of what would have happened if a group of unarmed Black and Brown people or their allies planned, advertised, or attempted to overthrow the government, hang the vice president, or hold members of Congress hostage. No need to think too long. Painfully, we remember the threat of the 45th president of the United States in May 2019 to the Black Lives Matter protesters regarding this very question. He stated, “…they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least.” It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Without provocation, the president used the military to unleash his fury on those that dared to dream about, ask for, or demand racial justice. He demonstrated to the world that Black and Brown lives do not matter. There’s such hypocrisy in the former leader of the free world—a leader tasked with protecting the “greatest democracy”—using military force against his own people so that he could clear the way and march across the street to St. John’s Church. Once there, he triumphantly held the Bible aloft (and upside down) to convey a clear and sinister message. The photo op served as a moment of truth that those who dare to have the audacity to want racial justice, and those that peacefully protest for these ideals should be treated as a threat to democracy, and most importantly, enemies of the state.
This is nothing new:
|February 1, 1965: Dr. King and many protesters were arrested for daring to march for their right to vote.||January 6: Most of the participants in the January 6, 2021, uprising walked away unscathed.|
|Bloody Sunday: On March 7, 1965, hundreds of people crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in an attempt to begin the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights. The peaceful demonstrators were attacked by the state troopers.||January 6: Videos show law enforcement posing for a selfie with rioters and removing barricades.|
|In 1968, Memphis sanitation workers wanted better working conditions and a living wage. They, too, marched peacefully and were greeted with pointed bayonets and menacing army tanks.||January 6: The rioters were not perceived as a threat, yet 5 people died, 2 officers committed suicide, and many more suffered from burns, lacerations and concussions, and were beaten or brutalized. So much for Blue Lives Matter!|
There are way too many instances of the government and police turning on its people—well, a select group of people—our people. We saw, the world saw, a group of angry, unmasked, and predominately white men storm the beacon of democracy without any sign of fear, remorse, shame, or perceived accountability. The lack of preparedness to the deadly siege compared to the hostile reaction of peaceful Black and Brown protests is a confirmation of the degradation and despair of the daily lives of Black and Brown people in the U.S. We have been grappling with this painful nightmare for years. When will it end?
How does one reconcile the disparate treatment between the anarchists of January 6, 2021, and the Black Lives Matter protesters on June 1, 2020?
|BLACK LIVES MATTER (6/1/2020)||RIOT AT THE CAPITOL (1/6/2021)|
|Crowd appearance||Racially diverse||Mostly white men|
|Number of arrests||Mass arrests; approximately 400, as reported by CNN||Minimal arrests; approximately 54, as reported by CNN on 1/7/2021|
|Fencing||Remained outside fence||Breached fence|
|Violence||Peaceful protest||Violent insurrection|
|President's message||Disgust||Praise; "I love you" and "You are very special"|
|Goal||Racial justice||Overthrow the government|
|Use of force by police||Smoke canisters, pellets, flash bangs, rubber bullets, military police, tear gas, tanks||By comparison, a more passive presence|
|Language used to describe participants||Looters; thugs||Patriots|
The insurrection taught us there there are now a host of illegal activities that can now be added to Peggy McIntosh’s Invisible Backpack:
- I can breach the security fence, scale the sleek walls or bring a ladder in order to illegally enter the U.S. Capitol with little fear of being shot.
- I can break into the offices of elected officials, steal classified documents, and other memorabilia without being arrested on the spot or my life threatened.
- I can disregard, chase, and taunt the secret service, military police, and other law enforcement at the U.S. Capitol with little fear of arrest.
- I can conspicuously attend, participate in, and lead a coup against the U.S. government and walk away unscathed.
- I can boldly subvert the U.S. government and receive praise and encouragement from the leader of the free world.
- I can break windows and terrorize the people in the U.S. Capitol and not face retribution.
- I feel justified in supporting Blue Lives Matter when Black and Brown people are murdered, but when law enforcement are murdered I feel justified in remaining silent.
What do the vast majority of the participants in the insurrection on January 6, 2021, have in common? In one way or another, at some point in their lives, they were students. Do we as educators hold some responsibility for what has happened? When, in both a historical and contemporary sense, we have and so often continue to fail in creating space and raising the voices of oppressed, marginalized, or victimized people? Our students, our children, and our future suffer at the hands of educators who refuse to provide and acknowledge the need to provide ant-racist education.
When we don’t create that space, we create injustice. We create environments in which Black and Brown students are subjected to racist educators and a system of education that dismisses their voices. We also create a working environment that excludes the very educators of color who might otherwise join the workforce and make much-needed change in our schools. The aspiring teachers and administrators of color who do want to join the workforce are less likely to be hired or promoted and sometimes are even reprimanded based on their “tone,” not being a “good fit,” or having an “intimidating presence.”
If schools are the foundation to developing global citizens, good citizens, and “patriotic” citizens (who start each day pledging allegiance to the United States of America), then we must ask ourselves: Where is the breakdown, the disconnect? It’s past time for a close look in the mirror. When will America—educators included—see the true history of this country and own its sins both past and present?
Seems a bit overwhelming, doesn’t it? Then again, just imagine how Black and Brown people feel everyday. So, below is a call to action—one that begins with you, the readers of this article. This is what you can do to make a conscious effort to make change in your life, in your classroom, in your community, and hopefully, as efforts coalesce, in our country as a whole.
- The ugly, uncomfortable history of this country and the role of white people and those who promote whiteness.
- That Indigenous people were here and this land was taken by force and genocide.
- The United State’s first laborers were enslaved Africans brought here under duress.
We must also:
- Learn about contributions beyond slavery and sacrifice of both Indigenous and Black people to this country, both historically and in present day.
- Read books about Black history written by Black authors.
- Listen to Black and Indigenous people tell their stories from their perspectives. Many only have oral histories, as many of their primary documents were destroyed.
- Challenge privilege when it is used to oppress or perpetuate bigotry, bias, and racism in your schools and communities.
Resources for Schools
The following is a list of actions, attitudes, and strategies (or indicators) that school communities might take when fighting inequity.
The purpose of the Equity Pulse Check is to engage all stakeholders, as equal partners, in conducting a critical review of their school’s performance based on a few of the Great Schools Partnership’s Indicators of Educational Equity.
From The Anti-Racist Educator: "I initially designed this test as a starting point for a guided discussion about white privilege with a senior form class, but it is a valuable tool that could be used in many contexts. Suitable for people of all racial identities, this exercise is a great tool for adults to raise their own racial consciousness (as a personal and professional development exercise)..."
An article by Ibram X. Kendi that seeks to answer the question: "When have Americans been willing to admit who we are?"