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No to white supremacy 

After the riot at the Capi­tol, we’re affirm­ing what the BSR team stands for

5 minute read
What does the US Capitol stand for? (Photo by Andrew Van Huss, via Wikimedia Commons.)

At Broad Street Review, we’re not here to explain why the assault on Congress last week was heinous—there’s already plenty of excellent reporting about all aspects of the attempted coup. One week after the Confederate flag waved inside the US Capitol, we’re here to explain what the BSR team does and doesn’t stand for.

Most importantly, we don’t stand for any facet of white supremacy, including racism and anti-Semitism, both of which were on full display at the Capitol last week. We urge everyone who agrees to say so out loud.

No to false equivalence

We don’t stand for the falsehood that the Black Lives Matter protests and the Capitol riot are equivalent, and we don’t stand for the falsehood that property matters more than human lives.

“You keep saying ‘it’s horrible that an innocent black man was killed, but destroying property has to stop,’” The End of White Politics author Zerlina Maxwell said in June 2020. “Try saying, ‘It’s horrible that property is being destroyed, but killing innocent black men has to stop.’ You’re prioritizing the wrong part.”

Many people are not condemning last week’s Capitol riot in favor of saying, “But cities burned last summer!” and “Both sides are bad.” Some folks seem to think that cities like Philly are now an ash heap (and it’s no wonder, given some media coverage of a few protests that turned violent for complex reasons). In reality, crowds at 2020 protests against racial injustice were full of people offering snacks, water, facemasks, and hand sanitizer so no one would get Covid or even get dehydrated. Our city is still standing. But racism, including police violence, continues to claim Black lives. Property can be restored. Lives cannot.

Rioters on the Capitol steps screamed, “Hang Mike Pence!” They actually erected a noose on the mall. This is worth comparing to a 2018 Philly protest against family separations at the Mexico border, where marchers chanted, “Build a fence! Around Mike Pence!” It got the point across without posing a mortal threat to the Vice President.

No to revisionist history

Our team also doesn’t stand for the falsehood that white supremacist insurrection is new to America or unprecedented in our history. Instead of insisting that the Capitol riot is “not America,” we need to understand the reasons this is America, and decide if our future will look different. (There’s a lot of excellent writing on this, like Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power.)

Yes to truth

And of course, there are things BSR does stand for.

We stand for truth. Scientists and journalists and educators and public officials are doing the research and vetting the sources and assembling the facts, and while these people are not infallible, they are legitimate experts, and they have the public interest at heart. People who claim that bias is too rampant “on both sides” to figure out what the facts are have already fallen for authoritarianism, as On Tyranny author Timothy Snyder told Daily Show viewers in 2017.

“If we don’t have access to facts, we can’t trust each other; without trust, there’s no law; without law, there’s no democracy,” Snyder said, explaining that authoritarians’ first step is to lie all the time. Then they say it’s their opponents and the press who are lying. Finally, “everyone looks around and says, 'What is truth? There is no truth.' And then resistance is impossible and the game’s over.”

When Philly protested Vice President Pence. (Photo by Alaina Johns.)
When Philly protested Vice President Pence. (Photo by Alaina Johns.)

In the BSR community, we know that truth is not an easy, instant-gratification proposition. It’s not a viral gotcha moment, but an investment of mind, a commitment to learning, and the patience to gather context and understand what came before.

Yes to inclusion

We’ve also been saying for years that media outlets can model, encourage, and normalize the elements of a just society by paying careful attention to biases and stereotypes in language, and eliminating those harmful shortcuts in favor of nuance, accuracy, and accountability. “Media outlets play an important role in righting widespread ingrained biases that might seem innocuous, but actually exist on a spectrum that leads to overt violence,” we said in our June response to riots in Philadelphia, and we stand by that now.

Yes to the arts

We know arts and culture don’t hit the back burner in times of terroristic turmoil. They become more important. In her visibly emotional January 7 address to her 457,000 Instagram followers, political journalist Jessica Yellin mourned America’s relentless worship of self-promotion and self-aggrandizement over principled responsibility to our fellow citizens, and predicted that events like last week’s riot at the Capitol will continue to be a logical outgrowth of that worldview, unless we can “reform us.”

“How do we reorient our culture to reward integrity and principled responsibility?” she asked. “I know that so many of you in this audience are musicians and comedians and writers and designers and people who help create our culture, and maybe you have the answer. Or maybe we can come up with it together.”

Yes to doing our part

We at BSR know that just as we can do our part, so can you. As writer and anti-racism educator Rachel Cargle recently reminded her 1.8 million Instagram followers, “Remember your platform matters just as much as mine does. Everything you demand I be sharing or speaking to—YOU can share and speak on, and it will send its ripples, too.”

So don’t be afraid to use your own platform for justice, equality, and truth—you never know who’s paying attention. And we’ll continue to do the same at BSR.

Image description: A photo of the US Capitol building in front of a clear blue sky on a sunny day.

Image description: A photo of an outdoor summer protest in downtown Philadelphia. A crowd of marching people shown from behind are holding handwritten signs that read, “Separate church + state, not children from their parents,” and “Happy Pride, Pence! What are you proud of?”

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