By Arielle King, Publisher
January 6, 2021 was a historic day to say the least. All across this nation, we witnessed organized crime targeting state capitals and anyone who got in these criminals’ way. All of the protests across the country were overshadowed by the coup de grace: the storming of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., where hundreds of people climbed over fences, pushed past police, and desecrated one of the most important buildings in this nation.
As a Black woman living 35 minutes away from the Capitol building, seeing the events of this day unfold invoked a lot of emotions, but the main ones were dismay, disappointment, defeat, and fear. People traveled from far and wide to incite terror and chaos, and to spew hate. They came on planes and trains, they charted private busses, and had t-shirts made to start causing destruction all over DC on the fifth and execute an insurrection on the sixth.
Before I travel, I always do some extra research to determine whether I’ll be safe as a woman and as a Black person. Reading blogs and asking fellow Black people who have already been to that destination how were you treated? and did you feel safe? has allowed me to safely travel domestically and abroad for most of my life. While it obviously hasn’t shielded me from all racist interactions, knowing where I can and cannot go, so as to avoid being blatantly treated like a second-class citizen in the country my family has lived for generations, has afforded me a sense of security and comfort.
Black people have always had to take extra precautions while traveling. In the early twentieth century we had an almanac of safe places for to dine, stay, and recreate across the United States called the Green Book. The book served as an attempt to avoid run-ins with racists and white supremacists who may turn Black people away or kill them for trying to enter their establishment in Jim Crow-Era America. Maps of Sundown Towns were circulated to ensure safety.
The last few months have reminded me that the thin veil of comfort, safety and security is not much more than something I’ve made up to ease my own mind—a coping mechanism for existing in this country as a Black woman, knowing that my life can be taken at any point for nothing more than being born with increased levels of melanin in my skin. Following the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and so many others this summer, we witnessed violence across this nation as Black people and supporters took to the streets and marched for Black people’s right to live. We witnessed history, as this movement spanned over months and reached across oceans; prompting necessary conversations about the racist foundations of this nation and the ways racism has been embedded into every nearly every single system and institution.
And many who benefit from the status quo have not been pleased. A 17-year-old drove 20 miles and over state lines to open fire on a group of protestors responding to yet another senseless death of an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake. He killed two protestors and injured many others. He traveled to kill people who were advocating for the preservation and respect of Black life. The attacks on January 6 were a harsh reminder that supremacists are willing to travel to cause harm. People are willing to travel to spew hate and violence. This has lifted my thin veil on of false security and safety.
January 6 was traumatic. I did not feel safe in my Black skin. I received calls and texts from friends and family checking in to ensure I was safe. Later that evening, after going to bed early from an immense migraine, I had a nightmare: white supremacists stormed into my home intending to kill me and my loved ones. That was my third nightmare with the same theme over the last four months. That fear was not diminished, and I didn’t feel any calmer or safer, after receiving an email addressed to the VLS community that assured us of the safety of our state representatives and did not acknowledge this day for what it was: an act of terror propelled by white supremacy, racism, arrogance, and hate. Receiving an email that did not acknowledge that DC was on lockdown and the streets were not safe for Black people, when countless of us students and alumni live in the district and nearby, was hurtful.
All across the nation, Black people were in danger on January 6 because people traveled to be hateful. Not acknowledging the root of this insurrection is dangerous. Merely calling it an attack on democracy is diminishing and insulting. Saying things like “this isn’t America” is simply naïve. While the events of the day were surprising, nothing about the response to the events was. Those who attacked the Capitol wanted to uphold the America that creates laws to promote division and segregation, explicitly and otherwise.
Those who attacked the Capitol wanted to do everything in their power to preserve the type of whiteness that Cheryl Harris talks about in her seminal piece Whiteness as Property: the type that wants to be protected and preserved at all costs, especially at the expense of those who don’t possess it. Yale Professor, David Blight, recently said on a podcast that the events of January 6 were “explicitly for the purpose of destroying Black politics/citizenship in the interest of white supremacy as a permanent dream.”
Revolutionary leader, professor, activist, and author, Angela Davis, once said that “radical simply means ‘grasping at the root.’” Not acknowledging the true undertones of the events of January 6 is the equivalent of cutting a weed at the surface and wondering why it keeps growing back. We must have the gall to call out white supremacy so that we can dismantle it and create an America where all people are treated with respect and not disproportionately burdened by over-policing and racist laws, policies, practices, and structures. You cannot simply say that Black lives matter and not do anything to work towards creating a country that truly believes that and treats Black people accordingly. It is not enough to simply not be racist, we must all strive for anti-racism, which is only as powerful as the history that informs it.
January 6 has to be remembered for everything that it taught us.