How privilege has emerged in protesting

Kathryn LaLonde
Silver Chips Ombudsman Kathryn LaLonde

Crowds of protestors over 10,000 people strong are gathering across the globe, shouting “I can’t breathe!
I can’t breathe!” They protest police brutality against Black lives in light of the recent brutal killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police. 

A few weeks before these protestors began calling for justice, a very different group of angry Americans gathered at state capitals to protest the covid-19 lockdown. They shouted, “I want my haircut!” and held signs that read, “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery!” 

This is our country. In the words of CNN reporter Chris Cuomo, “America is a tale of two cities.” The anti-lockdown protestors call  the two month stay-at-home orders “slavery,” while Black Americans and their allies take to the streets to battle 400 years of oppression. Anti-lockdown protestors brought their assault rifles with them and screamed into police officers' faces, and yet it was those at the peaceful Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests who were brutally beaten and sprayed with tear gas.

We must face our hypocrisy. We live in a nation that shuns the Minneapolis riots by those suffering from discrimination, but tolerates the men and women who refused to follow a lockdown during a global pandemic because they wanted a haircut. A nation where some claim they can’t breathe because of their mask, and others truly can’t breathe because they are being choked by a police officer. 

Bobby Padmore
YOUTH PROTESTING Students from Richard Montgomery High School lead a protest in Rockville, MD

Ibram X. Kendi, the director of The Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, poses this question in an article he recently wrote for The Atlantic: “Why are so many unarmed black people being killed by police while armed white people are simply arrested?” 

His answer: racism. 

White Americans who still deny their privilege are ignoring what is staring them directly in the face. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that one in 1,000 Black men and boys will be killed by police over their lifespan and that Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than White men. Black Americans are also disproportionately represented in prisons, as well as on death row. According to the Sentencing Project, Black Americans are incarcerated at a rate that is 5.1 times that of whites, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People found that although Black Americans make up 13 percent of the US population, they comprise 42 percent of  those on death row. 

Statistics can often feel like just numbers, and sometimes it takes visible evidence to demonstrate the racial disparities in our country. Videos juxtaposing anti-lockdown protests and BLM protests exemplify white privilege. Imagine what would have happened if the White man who resisted arrest in Colorado with his hand on a gun had been Black.

Not only is the privilege of the mostly White anti-lockdown protestors embodied in the way that police officers have treated them, but it is seen in how those people are better equipped to weather  covid-19. 

It is much easier for White Americans to access quality healthcare than it is for people of color. According to the US Census Bureau, the uninsured rate in 2019 among Black Americans was 9.7 percent, compared to 5.4 percent for White non-Hispanic Americans. Black people are also dying from covid-19 at a rate nearly two times higher than their population share, according to The COVID Tracking Project. When faced with the threat of the virus, White Americans can afford to be less concerned. 

And indeed, it is the mostly-White protestors who mainly congregate without masks, or without any attempt at social distancing, thus contributing to the spread of the virus. Anti-lockdown protesters were ignorant about the pandemic, but they were also ignorant about their privilege. They used it to fight for the reopening of their nail salons and bars, to point assault weapons in the faces of complicit police. On the other hand, BLM protesters stepped into the streets to fight for their lives, and the police greeted them with violence. 

The ongoing global covid-19 health crisis and the increasing attention cast on police brutality have laid bare what has existed for so along. We face the reality that our country was built on systems of privilege. We face the reality that the majority is favored and protected over the minority. We face the reality that  systematic racism and oppression against Black Americans persist in the so-called “land of the free.” 

Our country has come far from slavery and the Jim Crow era, but the road ahead remains long. It is past time, though, that we progress along it. We must move forward with determination for change. We need to heal the wounds that should have been healed long ago. Healing is re-teaching our history, un-learning our biases, and pledging to stand against injustice instead of complicity standing by. We must choose healing. History has its eyes on us.

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