As the protests against racism and white supremacy have swept across the country, I have seen many people (mostly White) focusing on one thing: how awful it is that people are looting and rioting. Considering the fact that protests are ongoing in all fifty states, and many of them go day and night, the average amount of people engaging in violence or looting is less than 1%. Yes, truly. At any given time, tens of thousands of people are actively protesting peacefully in each major city (see example videos below). If you would like to see this live you can find ongoing coverage on Twitter.
So if 99% of protests are peaceful, why does so much of the national conversation keep going back to the looting? Why does the news focus on it? It may seem like the natural order of things that people want to talk about the rioting, even if it's a small percent, but it actually gets into much deeper issues that are at the heart of all of this - implicit bias, guilt, and a resistance to talk about our country's history.
Before we get into our conversation about this, I need to make something clear: I am not condoning the rioting or looting. I am writing this to break down why it's the only thing some people want to see. And if you're not one of the people obsessively talking about it, I encourage you to keep reading anyway. It will help you to understand those that are and how deeply ingrained our social conditioning is.
I've broken the discussion up into six parts. Let's dive in.
Throughout American history, Black men, women, and children have been falsely stereotyped as being excessively violent. We, as White people (and some Non-Black People of Color), have painted a narrative of Black Americans as born criminals who must actively resist their violent nature in order to exist in society.
By focusing on the rioting and looting, we are reinforcing this painful, wrong, and intentionally hurtful false stereotype. It also reinforces our own implicit biases without putting any responsibility on ourselves to question why we're so obsessed with the minority of people who are being violent.
At this time, it is more important than ever that we emphasize the humanity of Black Americans. Black Americans are asking us to realize we have stripped them of the right to feel human and we need to do better NOW. To do better, we must stop sharing stories that reinforce stereotypes and our own bias.
Bottom line: Focusing on the rioting reinforces our implicit biases and keeps certain White people (and some Non-Black People of Color), in their comfortable and familiar narrative.
By focusing on the looting, we absolve ourselves from having to ask the deeper questions. Why are Black Americans in so much pain and so angry they want to burn this country down? What are we, as White People (and some Non-Black People of Color), doing to cause that anger? In what ways have each one of us contributed to the pain in the hearts of Black Americans?
Basically, to talk about the looting gives us a way out of acknowledging that we feel guilty. Rather than admitting we're uncomfortable talking about the pain and anger we've caused, we find something else to point at. We see a Black Woman pouring her heart out in a video, asking us how it's possible we didn't see the oppression. We see a Black Man talking about the fear he feels every time he leaves his house. This is hard to hear, because we have all ignored these truths our whole lives, and rather than admit we're complicit, we say "Look at the fire! Look at the broken windows! Look there! Look there!"
Bottom line: Many White people (and some Non-Black People of Color) are looking for ways to justify not doing the anti-racist work.
If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression." - Jesse Williams
If we're constantly sharing photos of broken windows and burned cars, we don't have to look at our own race and hold White people accountable. Once again, we let ourselves off the hook while pointing our finger elsewhere. There is a growing body of evidence that many riots were started by White people. Because this is so prevalent, Black protestors have begun filming them doing it in order to show who's really starting this (see below).
To get even deeper into this, read into the mysterious pile of bricks that show up at protest locations. They are being put there by extremist White groups to intentionally cause mayhem.
Many people will take this point and say, maybe some Whites did start it, but I saw Black people doing it! This has been addressed in points one and two. Basically, a need to confirm our own bias and an inability to ask deeper questions is why so many White people (and some Non-Black People of Color) would rather talk about the riots than the messed up system we live in.
Bottom line: Most of us are so uncomfortable holding White people accountable we'll talk about anything EXCEPT our own people.
Here are some examples of White people intentionally hijacking the protests for their own disturbing agendas:
The majority of protestors are overwhelmingly peaceful. In order to understand why people want to focus on the violence rather than the peaceful protests, we must revisit points 1, 2 and 3.
Bottom line: We have a choice what stories we amplify. Which ones we share and talk about speaks volumes about who we really are.
Talking about the looting is a way of making it about us. It's a way to make White people the victims. It's a way to center ourselves in the conversation. This is known as "White Centering" and is a well researched and documented social phenomenon. Essentially, we White people are so used to seeing ourselves at the center of every issue, we subconsciously find ways to put ourselves there even when it's not about us.
In order to understand this more fully, I suggest any books that dive into race and identity. Some good ones are Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria and Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence.
This point also ties into point two - which is that we don't want to acknowledge the pain in the Black community. Rather than talk about the hundreds of years of oppression and injustice we have caused, we find it easier to somehow make ourselves the victims in all of this.
Bottom line: White identity is socially constructed to see itself at the center of all issues. If we're not in the center, we'll find a way to get there.
African people were kidnapped from their homes, enslaved, and worked to death in order to build this country. Our societies are built upon their bodies. And if we're really going to get real, we need to address that their bodies were laid on top of the Indigenous communities we decimated to clear the way.
The discomfort of looking at how this country was founded is so overwhelming, we as White people will do anything to shift the narrative onto something else. This ties into all of the points above. So long as we can use distractions to avoid this conversation, we can absolve ourselves, paint everyone else out to be violent, disregard any deep inner reflection, keep the status quo, and feel like we're still the heroes at the center of it all.
Bottom line: We have yet to acknowledge or own up to our own history of violence. White people have done and continue to do unforgivable things. Talking about anything else is a means of intentional deflection.