By the time you read these words, the SF-born Black man who wrote them will have turned 40 years old, and the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill will be a little more than a week behind us.
As a native San Franciscan of a certain age, I’m continually fascinated by the history of the region that raised me. The Bay Area is stereotyped as the haven of hippies, hop-heads, and a helluva lotta socialists (as if that’s a bad thing). Knowing I’ve walked the same steps as Sly Stone and Isadora Duncan amazes me to no end.
One story from before my time that I’ve always loved involves Oakland’s very own Black Panther Party. It was May 2, 1967, when the Panthers marched to the State Capitol in Sacramento to protest the racist legislative policies then undermining the Black community here and throughout the country. The gathering terrified our newly elected governor, celebrity-turned-future-president Ronald Reagan. Yes, they were armed. But they remained peaceful, a fact often lost when the event is rehashed. So scary was the sight of Black men exercising their First and Second Amendment rights that it led to the death of “open-carry” in the entire state of California — the one and only time the NRA actually supported gun control.
More than 50 years later, a crowd of armed (mostly) white people took to the United States Capitol for a rally led by another celebrity-turned-president. They were protesting the results of the election he legitimately lost. Many went maskless, despite the fact that said president contracted COVID-19 just a few months prior — likely at a similar gathering at the White House. What began as delusional rage against the efficacy of the democratic process soon erupted into full-blown terrorism, with rioters taking the Capitol Building by force. They broke windows, set fires, and wound up with (as of this writing) five confirmed deaths, including cops and veterans. All because the guy they liked lost fair and square.
And yes, despite the debate it causes amongst academia, I use the word “terrorism.” When one waves the Confederate flag as they storm the US Capitol building — a building built by slaves — what else could we possibly call it? I use this term because the powers that be too often refuse to do so when white men engage in acts of politically- or racially-motivated violence. They refused to use it when Dylann Storm Roof murdered the congregants of an all-Black church in Charleston, S.C. They refused to use it when Kyle Rittenhouse murdered two unarmed protestors in Kenosha, Wisc. They refused to use it when Anthony Warner exploded his RV on the streets of Nashville. And they refuse to use it now.
Had any of these violent criminals been born with dark skin or — Heaven forbid — an Arab name, “terrorism” would have been their only identifying trait in the eyes of the public. But no. Dark skin means “inherently violent;” white means “right.”
What happened at the Capitol Building may have caught a lot of people by surprise, but I wasn’t one of them.
LONG TIME COMING
This wasn’t some random spontaneous act committed by agents of chaos or people losing control of their faculties. This is the result of a pattern that’s been blindingly obvious for years now. Economically, it’s the same pattern that has given rise to the class divide in San Francisco — wherein big tech companies are given tax breaks while the median cost of living climbs to levels beyond the reach of much of the blue collar and service industry working class.
It’s the pattern that prompts homeless mothers to occupy a house that the landlord wouldn’t even consider selling or renting to them. It’s the pattern that leads to individuals like “Barbecue Becky” calling the Oakland Police Department on Black folks minding their own business. It is the pattern that emboldens white supremacists to march in San Francisco, results in the vandalism of a century-old synagogue in Alameda, and finds KKK flyers in California suburbs.
Two new terms are beginning to define the Bay Area: “homeless” and “hatemongers.”
When George W. Bush sent the country head-first into multiple Middle East skirmishes from which we have yet to emerge, it emboldened a far-right white supremacist fringe that had been greatly diminished in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement. The New England-born and Texas-raised “Dubya” became the worldwide face of the lowbrow good ol’ boy who shot first (at brown people) without asking any questions at all. His would-be successor, former nemesis John McCain, tried pandering to that same lowbrow demographic by choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate; essentially picking “Dubya in a dress.” When candidate Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election to Barack Obama, it seemed to signal the need for change (ie. diversity) within the GOP.
That didn’t happen. In fact, the Right went so far in the opposite direction that even GOP darling Lindsey Graham issued a warning about it:
If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed…….and we will deserve it.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) May 3, 2016
Hate was cool again.
With the rise of Trump, the so-called “alt-Right” went mainstream. They now had a figurehead who would happily parrot their most absurd and destructive talking points as he refused to compromise on even the most innocuous of political issues; someone who let greedy capitalists run roughshod over the economy and the environment. Most of all, he encouraged his followers to be openly racist. From banning travel to Muslim countries to calling Latinos “bad hombres,” from referring to Africa as a collection of “shithole countries” to calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus” — Trump made bigotry something a white American could comfortably practice out in the open. That’ll teach those PC snowflakes.
Nevermind the fact that he — like Dubya — was an elitist who wouldn’t know the needs of the common folk if they were spelled out for him in colored chalk. No, much like how the inflamed racism of the serfs fuelled the Crusades, Trump has electrified the American Right in a way not seen in decades. This is how “the greatest nation on Earth” chose to follow up the tenure of its first Black president.
And whenever the oppressed pushed back against the Right’s tyranny, they were rewarded with violence. Not long ago, I talked about the hypocrisy of the backlash against the BLM protests when the “violence” everyone complained about was instigated by cops and white supremacists. Hell, the Oakland PD reacted so violently against protesters that a federal judge had to tell them to stop (something well worth remembering as Oakland politicians have begun to backtrack on their promise to defund the OPD).
The pro-BLM crowd was not, is not, and likely will never be a threat. But the unfounded assumption that they are is one steeped in white supremacy and which has been building to a fever pitch for 20 years now. Had BLM planned to march on the Capitol, anti-riot cops would have instinctually shown up days in advance to subvert the crowd. But it was a mostly-white crowd, so they all let their guard down.
In 2013, famed author Orson Scott Card wrote his infamous essay in which he fantasized that President Barack Obama, in his quest to secure free healthcare for every US citizen, would attempt to overthrow the government by militarizing every Black gang in the country. Meanwhile, Donald J. Trump encouraged armed white supremacists not to not accept the outcome of the same voting system that put him in power.
The result of this has been the most violent event in the nation’s capital in two hundred and nine years. Card and his ilk have yet to speak out against it. In fact, one of the four dead, Ashli Babbitt, was a veteran who was shot and killed by Capitol officers. Somehow I doubt the would-be insurrectionists will join the call to defund the police.
The night of the riots, there was inevitable talk of cancelling all planned sporting events. Still, the Golden State Warriors went ahead with their game against the LA Clippers. The Warriors have been openly vocal with their disdain for Trump, and this night was no different. Steph Curry donned a “Black Lives Matter” shirt as he led the team in taking a knee during the national anthem. After the game, Draymond Green refused to mince words about the restrained police presence at the riots on the same day Kenosha officials refused to charge the cop who killed Jacob Blake: “It’s just like a slap in the face, almost a ‘fuck you’ to every Black person in America who goes through these things.”
It’s said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Time and again we’ve seen the Black person’s call for justice and equality drowned out by the white supremacist “right” to bigotry.
So where do we go from here? Practically speaking, I know that we all can do better. What frustrates me is that we should have long ago. It’s the same as women warning about rape culture for centuries, and everyone suddenly acting surprised by “The Weinstein Effect”. Trumpism isn’t going away just because its namesake is getting evicted this month. Sure, the House of Representatives just impeached Trump a second time, but it’s too little too late. It means nothing that Facebook and Twitter have shut down Trump’s accounts when his online rants have been their bread and butter for the last half-decade. These things should have been done during Trump’s reign, not after. If you smell smoke and call 911, would you accept the apology of those who let your house burn because they didn’t take your call seriously?
It’s no surprise that the late Ashli Babbitt (at the riot because she was a hardcore Qanon supporter) is being lauded as a “patriot” in some circles and an “unfortunate casualty” in others. Meanwhile, essential frontline worker Breonna Taylor remains the victim of killers still free, and an Oakland statue bearing her likeness has been wantonly vandalized.
If you want to seriously move past this sort of thing happening, then white people are the ones who have to step up. Just as it is the duty of everyone identified as “male” to help dismantle the patriarchy and rape culture, so too do white people need to help bring down systemic racism. You need to stop ignoring marginalized people when we tell you social media is overrun with bigots who lazily use “free speech” as an excuse to spread hatred. You need to help us dismantle the system that continues to regard a face like mine as deadly when the unmasked supers-spreaders who stormed the Capitol Building are considered so harmless they were taking selfies with the cops. You need to stop relying only on The Squad to stand against Ted Cruz and his accomplices who refuse to accept legit election results. You need to stop whining that you “don’t want to stifle others’ freedoms” when you really mean you’re afraid to talk back against hate speech. You need to recognize the efficacy of defunding a militarized police force with itchy trigger fingers. You need to support PoC as we continue our unending quest for equality.
In short, white people: it’s your job to make racists afraid again. You’ve just seen what happens when you don’t. I’d like to get to 50 without seeing that happen again.