A bewildered America watched in shock and disbelief as her Capitol was stormed by a violent mob on the afternoon of January 6, 2021. The lawmakers from both Houses were engaged in the formal certification of the Electoral College votes, a key part of the nation’s presidential election process when the siege took place. Efforts to certify the election of Joe Biden as President came to a complete halt as the mob broke through police barriers, smashed windows, roamed through hallways ransacking offices at will. As the mob took over House and Senate chambers, lawmakers were sent into hiding for their protection.
As the insurrection involving a mostly white mob unfolded on national television and social media, Americans wept and wondered aloud. “How could this flagrant attack on the nation’s Capital and disregard for law and order happen in this country, a beacon for democratic principles?” The thinking was that barbarians in less civilized s***hole countries engage in this type of savage behavior -- criminal black hordes rioting, looting and destroying their own neighborhoods.
Repeatedly, people proclaimed: “Americans don’t act in this way.” “This isn’t who we are.” “America is a nation of laws, not mobs.” Despite the images of a mostly white mob, this event was seen as an anomaly, an aberration because whites could not be seen as inherently violent. Black Americans, however, disagreed with this sentiment and possible naivety. To blacks, the images of an angry white mob were eerily reminiscent of spectator lynchings of black men and the destruction of black towns. White rage and white mob violence were anything but new or unreal to blacks in America. Historical accounts provide ample evidence that the behavior of January 6, 2021, is normal behavior for angry whites and that white rage is a consistent and persistent theme in American society.
What has been the catalyst for white rage? Historically, the violence has been directed toward people of color, especially black people. White backlash and violence are engendered by the violation of the tenets of white supremacy ideology: core beliefs in the superiority of whites and inferiority of blacks; and any progress made by blacks, especially material/economic progress, refutes these core beliefs. White violence served as a warning and punishment in response to the perception that blacks had forgotten their “place” in American society.
The perception that black veterans returning from World War I would indeed believe that they were equal to whites and deserving of the same rights was the impetus for the Red Summer of 1919 when white mobs attacked blacks and black communities in more than three dozen cities in the United States. Black sharecroppers attempting to organize for economic equity provoked the Elaine, Phillips County, Arkansas massacre in 1919. Blacks attempting to vote, an assumption of equality, was the catalyst for the Ocoee, Florida massacre in 1920. Economic progress and the creation of black wealth, a refutation of the myth of black inferiority, infuriated whites and led to the destruction of the black Greenwood community of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, and the Rosewood, Florida community in 1923.
While white rage historically has been cultivated by the white power structure to redirect the anger toward their class to blacks, the white mob violence which occurred on January 6, 2021, was directed toward establishment whites, those in power rather than blacks and browns. This raises interesting questions: Was their message that as white men, they will retain power despite election results? That they will now vent their rage against the ruling class? How were issues of racism and classism intertwined in the insurrection? How much longer can racism be used to protect class interests? When will working-class and poor whites come to understand how racism is used against their interests? When will working-class and poor whites be freed from the “psychological wages” of whiteness?
By the time this essay is published, the inauguration of Joe Biden as President will have taken place. By then, America and the world will know the depths and the new focus of white rage in America.