Addressing Systemic White Privilege: Is the U.S. at a Crossroads?

Beginning in 2014, studies have demonstrated that public opinion increasingly recognizes that “anti-black discrimination is widespread, a serious problem, and that the United States has not made much real racial progress in the past 50 years.” Nonetheless, since 2016, the U.S. Department of State warned that white supremacist terrorism is both “on the rise and spreading.” Witnessing the Confederate flag soar across the Capitol building should have awakened the nation to a dark reality that is too-often ignored. Indeed, the United States has a history of defending white power and privilege, which was observed as groups, such as the Proud Boys, were safely escorted out of the Capitol with impunity. In light of the domestic terrorist attacks on the Capitol, commentators have been contrasting the aggressive law enforcement tactics imposed on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests throughout the summer to the tepid responses in the (mostly white) terrorist attacks. Universally, audiences have expressed surprise, shock, shame and confusion to this contrast; however, in retrospect, the unfolding of these “unprecedented” events have been anything but un-American. America’s racial history is not back – it never left.

While the majority of the United States expresses dissent against systemic discrimination, how has white privilege been simultaneously shielded? Perhaps public action has been too passive. Perhaps the United States has become desensitized to the fact that racially marginalized groups must accept lower living standards than their white counterparts; they are underpaid, overrepresented in prisons, underrepresented in universities, and blatantly targeted by law enforcement. While the literature regarding white privilege in America is well-established, daily news reports are sufficient evidence. On January 6, 2021, United States law enforcement’s apathetic reaction to the Trump-mob’s attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election in the Capitol surprised audiences. Indeed, this surprise is largely the essence of the greater issue. If audiences continue to be surprised by the products of systemic and institutionalized racism, rather than actively acknowledging its existence and fighting against its dangers, these issues will continue. For far too long, discourses have conformed to the racialized system. In fact, the domestic terrorists were initially referred to as “protestors,” which highlighted their preferential treatment and justified the nation’s tepid response. Cori Bush – newly-sworn-in House Representative of Missouri – plainly stated that “if the pro-Trump rioters had been black, they would have been shot.”[8] This dangerous reality is what the United States is dealing with, and any use of sugar-coated language forces these issues to be too often misinterpreted as un-pressing.

What Now?

The outcome of this attack has been labelled the “epitome of white privilege,” demonstrating that law enforcement is less willing to respond violently to white domestic terrorists than peaceful Black protestors. How must the United States government respond to the domestic terror attacks? How must they do so in a way that addresses the issue of white privilege? To sustainably shift the trajectory for marginalized groups, government officials must increasingly consider defunding law enforcement. Immediate action is necessary; arrests must continue and laws – such as the Breathe Act – must pass to protect people from brutal and discriminatory policing. In response to the Capitol coup, activists such as those involved with the BLM movement have laid out their demands. The impeachment of Trump remains of primary concern; among so much, his administration has witnessed the resurgence of white supremacist’s confidence in acting without impunity and Trump has supported it with complicit silence. Beginning on January 7, representatives such as Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, and Jamaal Bowman began drawing Articles for the historic second impeachment of Trump by the House – on the grounds of “incitement and insurrection.” Despite the fact that Trump will be out of office before the impeachment trial ends, it will be a symbolic victory, and will also prevent Trump from running for office in the future. Furthermore, at, anyone can co-sign representative Bush’s bill to expel the Republican members of Congress that spread Trump’s conspiracy theories and encouraged white supremacists to storm the Capitol – namely, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley. Additionally, calls have been made to launch full investigations into the acts of treason – focusing on the terrorist attack’s attempts to disrupt the political process and democracy. The next few weeks will be pivotal for the United States; decisions and efforts to address these issues will demonstrate that it is ready to commit to sustainable change, and omission will remind so many people of their institutionalized standing in America.

Featured image by Mike Theiler/REUTERS.

By Sophie Crawford

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *