On the Consequence-Free Lives Of White Men

What’s the point of white skin and the power it brings if you have to turn around and answer to someone?

Questions have emerged from the attempted coup on Capitol Hill this past Wednesday. Many of them have caused so much of America to reevaluate its understanding of how the law and fairness work in this country. How are these people allowed to invade the Capitol and go free? Why are these traitors treated with more kindness than Black people have ever faced for trying to secure equal rights? Where are the arrests? How did this happen?

These are questions that, unfortunately, Black people have had the answers for since we came to this country. And the answer is quite simple: white men have been able to experience an American life unlike anyone else. They get to do the worst harm imaginable without consequence. The meager punishments white men have faced — and the reactions to those slaps on the wrist — only reinforces the fact that they get to live limitless, consequence-free lives.

The people responsible for the insurrection that resulted in five dead have little in common besides their whiteness (or loyalty to said whiteness). They were rich, poor, presidents, congressmen, CEOs, blue-collar workers, off-duty cops, and everything in between. No matter how you parse their demographics, the insurrection’s one common thread is racial identity, and part of that racial identity is an inability to grasp the concept of consequences. The laws of cause and effect don’t apply to white men, and they will eradicate the rest of us to maintain that immunity.

White people voted for a racist, white supremacist, sexual assaulting, grifter—and the consequences of said grifter’s actions in office were that the very people he targeted voted him and his party out of office. White people’s inability to accept were consequences had them manifesting a Civil War out of a pure collective temper tantrum. Yet, even during the most treasonous act we’ve ever seen in our lifetimes, much of the discourse has been about the plight of the white man who has to reckon with his actions.

For leading the coup, Donald Trump has been given a stern warning and the outside chance of impeachment sometime in the next few weeks, but the only tangible punishment has been the removal of many of his social media accounts. So for inciting a riot that killed five people and almost brought America to fascism, Donald Trump has the inconvenience of having to walk down the hall in his house to the briefing room when he wants the entire nation’s attention. Still, white people have rushed to his defense, acting like Trump has been nailed to the cross because he can’t tweet anymore.

The people using cognitive dissonance to twist themselves into rhetorical knots defending Trump’s need to use social media are citing things like the First Amendment and 1984 and phrases like “slippery slope.” But the reality is that there will always be an argument against white men facing consequences because that is the ultimate affront to their identities. The central perk of whiteness is being able to do the worst things imaginable without having to answer for those atrocities.

That’s how the George Zimmermans of the world go free, how the Derek Chauvins get slaps on the wrist, how white men cry when a white man gets fired for fondling himself during a Zoom call. The idea of a white man facing consequences feels like an affront to the very nature of being white. What’s the point of white skin and the power it brings if you have to turn around and answer to someone?

And therein lies the heart of Wednesday’s race riot. It was about white men having to answer to anyone but white men — this time, voters and rules and due process. Whenever this happens to them, violence always follows.

There’s been a lot of discussion about police resources and the inability to stop the insurrection. How can police who have been given billions of dollars in weaponry and military-style training not be able to stop what happened Wednesday? Well, all those resources given to police were never about stopping white men. American law enforcement and all the artillery that comes with it was always about anti-Black violence and helping to enforce the consequence-free reality white men enjoy.

You may point to the bevy of arrests in the wake of the insurrection as a rebuttal to everything I’m saying here. You may think white men being arrested or defunded or removed from office (if that even happens) is a refutation of everything I’ve said here. It’s not. Even the punishment these white men may face is a testament to the way society has coddled them; even being allowed to leave the Capitol alive shows a world where consequences are just executed differently based on race. And if these men do end up facing appropriate ramifications for their actions, then we can expect more backlash, more violence, and more anger from white men who refuse to live in a world that holds them accountable.

Level Sr. Writer covering Race, Culture, Politics, TV, Music. Previously: The Undefeated, The Atlantic, Washington Post. Forthcoming book: The Movement Made Us

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store