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Race expert says 'white privilege' played a role in origins and responses to Capitol riot

Posted at 7:40 PM, Jan 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-07 19:40:53-05

(LEX 18) — NAACP of Lexington president Jim Thurman said when he watched the shocking footage of rioters storming the Capitol on Wednesday, he thought of what might have happened if the group had been a Black Lives Matter demonstration rather than a pro-Trump rally.

“Had that been a peaceful protest of Black Lives Matter, the National Guard would have already been there, state troopers would have already been there, the Capitol Police would have been armed SWAT teams would have been there. And none of that would have transpired,” Thurman said.

President-elect Joe Biden joined civil rights groups and Black Lives Matter leaders in condemning the law enforcement response to predominantly white rioters, saying it demonstrated a “failure to carry out equal justice.”

“No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn’t have been treated very, very different than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol,” Biden said.

Cheryl Matias, a University of Kentucky professor and expert on race relations and the emotionality of whiteness, told LEX 18 News the reason the Capitol rioters were met with minor resistance from law enforcement, while BLM demonstrators over the summer were often supervised by officers dressed in riot gear, can be boiled down to a few words.

"This is not my opinion. I have a Ph.D. in education. My diagnosis is this is about race. This is about white privilege,” Matias said. “We can't silence, nor should we silence the events of yesterday. I think it's important that we take an honest look about it.”

Matias defines white privilege as ‘the privileges, access and opportunities given to people who are of white skin, regardless of whether they wanted it or not’.

“And so, they're able to come into a space, even with guns, the intent to break windows, the intent to engage in violence, and yet their skin color in and of itself, is not connoted with the sense of violence that is often stereotyped onto the skin colors of black and brown people,” Matias said. “And at the same time, to move forward from here, we have to do a hard reckoning with our own past and our own ideologies.”

“I see [the riot] as a product of racism and of white privilege, generated by all of the rhetoric that has gone on for the past couple of months,” Thurman agreed. “It just surfaced and boiled over. It’s always been there, but now it’s been exposed for the world to see.”

Thurman said while some will argue the riot was about the election results, the reality is rioters were emboldened to violently siege the Capitol because of that sense of privilege.

He said Americans need to acknowledge it.

“It is what it is,” he said. “There's no way to put this genie back in the bottle. The cork has been popped, the genie has been left out of the bottle, and it's going to run rampant for a while.”

Matias agreed with Thurman, saying the United States can only begin moving forward from this dark day in history by recognizing the themes of racism that opened the doors for the violent riot to take place in Washington, D.C.

“I don't think that just choosing to look the other way or pretending some false unity is a healthy engagement, either,” she said. “When we think of forgiveness, it’s not a pardon. It’s an acknowledgment and an agreement to move forward, whether it’s together or not, but within all that forgiving must be an acknowledgment of those behaviors.”