Joyce Fegan: Why are we so unafraid of the white terrorist?

If we ever needed a clearer depiction of white supremacy and white privilege then Tuesday’s events in Washington painted it for us in the most emphatic way possible
Joyce Fegan: Why are we so unafraid of the white terrorist?

Supporters of President Donald Trump are confronted by US Capitol police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol building this week in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

If thousands of Black Lives Matter activists stormed the US Capitol armed with lead pipes, guns, chemical irritants and other weapons — what would the police reaction have been? And what would our reaction have been? What would we have called them?

If thousands of religious terrorists had stormed the building in the same manner what would the police reaction have been? And what would our reaction have been?

If the 470,000 people who attended the women's march on January 21, 2017, the day after Donald Trump's inauguration, had behaved like the violent mob did on Tuesday at the US Capitol, what would the police and public reaction have been?

If we ever needed a clearer depiction of white supremacy and white privilege then Tuesday's events in Washington painted it for us in the most emphatic way possible.A police officer posed for a selfie with a pro-Trump terrorist who had gained access to the inside of the building.

A man walks freely and nonchalantly down the corridors of power-wielding a confederacy flag.

Another man smokes a cigarette inside the building.

One man grins as he holds up a lectern brandishing the American crest, the way a deer hunter would lift his trophy prey.

And another man comfortably takes a seat at an office desk complete with his legs on the table.

This is privilege. This is supremacy.

Many white people hear the words white supremacy and think 'that doesn't apply to me'

Could you imagine a Black Lives Matter activist having the opportunity to sit at a Senate desk with legs on the table, smiling contentedly to themselves?

This is white privilege. And it's also white terrorism.

It's just white terrorism looks different to other forms of terrorism, because of white supremacy.

"White supremacy is a racist ideology that is based upon the belief that white people are superior in many ways to people of other races and that therefore, white people should be dominant over other races," writes Layla F Saad, in her book 'Me and White Supremacy'.

But Saad also says that "many white people hear the words white supremacy and think 'that doesn't apply to me',". She argues in fact that white supremacy is a system we are "born into".

"Whether or not you have known it, it is a system that has granted you unearned privileges, protection, and power", she writes.

The photos of police officers just staring blankly at white terrorists on Tuesday are spellbinding. Fear seemed absent. The Capitol police did not appear to register a feeling of threat.

Are white people with guns and weapons and slavery flags not scary? Are they not terrorists?

Or are we so ingrained with the idea that white equals safe?

Whereas in fact, it is white people who have murdered, enslaved, and harmed black people for centuries. How are we so unafraid of white people?

Last summer as people all across America took part in mostly peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, driven by a real and valid injustice, there was tear gas, there were mass arrests, there was brute force. There were cracked skulls.

Trump supporters outside the Capitol as Congress prepared to affirm President-elect Joe Biden's victory. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Trump supporters outside the Capitol as Congress prepared to affirm President-elect Joe Biden's victory. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

On Tuesday as grown men climbed the walls of the US capitol, armed with all sorts of weaponry, and no injustice, there were 14 the Capitol police made 14 arrests.

Martin Luther King's famous quote about the "white moderate" talks about the negative peace that the white middle-class person is happy to live with, in spite of the harm it does to others.

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is… the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action'," he wrote in 1963.

That long-cited quote just got turned on its head and inside out on Tuesday.

We saw the real violence of the "white moderate". We saw the facilitation of the "white moderate's" violence by authorities. We saw our own reaction, a lack or loss of words, to accurately describe these "white moderates".

Some called them "pro-Trump supporters". Some called them "thugs". Some called them protesters. All incorrect. These were white terrorists. Let's call the thing, the thing, as Saad says.

Racism is not just in America, it's in Ireland and everywhere else too

White privilege facilitated and enabled their violence. We cannot just remain numb and shocked, that's just more white privilege.

With any reckoning of privilege comes that awful human emotion of shame, the one we can barely name, but cuts at our core and makes us want to run from it like we are fleeing a fire.

Saad said her book, which is based on a series of questions and prompts so people can grapple with and reflect on their own internalised white supremacy, was not written to shame.

"The purpose of this work is not for you to end up living in shame. The purpose is to get you to see the truth so that you can do something about it.

"No matter how bad it feels to wake up to the pain, shame, and guilt of your racism, those feelings will never come anywhere close to the pain BIPOC (black, indigenous, and other people of colour) experience as a result of your racism," she says.

Racism is not just in America, it's in Ireland and everywhere else too. This is all of our reckonings.

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