COVID-19, Unhinged Protests and The Glaring Optics of White Privilege!

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Witnessing the admittedly disturbing level of heightened protests that have occurred over the past few weeks has led me — and probably many other Americans — to arrive at the unsettling conclusion that free speech is a form of dissent that some people see as a constitutional right, yet it is an act of defiance that should be withheld from others. This has been indisputably evident in the undeniably hypocritical antics of the vibrantly (in a retrograde manner) vocal anti-lockdown protesters who have brazenly, aggressively, and defiantly responded to government-mandated shutdowns.

Armed to the teeth with AKA rifles, other guns, bayonets, confederate and altered Nazi flags, and other-wing paraphernalia, protesters in all regions of the nation, have taken to the streets, county courthouses, state capitals, and other public venues to, in many cases, belligerently demand a reopening of public facilities in a manner that is rude, crude, without apology, and devoid of any level of tact and decorum.

These so-called rebels have garnered the support of numerous men and women on the political and cultural right. Support is widespread among groups ranging from social media bloggers to Republican politicians to rank-and-file conservatives. Vast segments of the right-wing media have avidly lauded the increasingly abrasive activity that is occurring among the more aggressive sectors of the cultural right by using the word “boogaloo,” a prominent term among anarchists across the political spectrum, in particular the varied elements of the far right, who have been increasingly and passionately agitating for a racial civil war.

What is notable about these protesters and their allies is the fact that many of these individuals who frantically voiced and ardently posted in support of these right-wing acts of resistance harbored distinctly and, in fact, outright radically diametrically different reactions to Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players (the majority of them Black) who dared exercise their first amendment rights.

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While championing these gun-toting rebels as “warriors for free speech,” the same level of vitriol was reserved for groups such as Black Lives Matter, which decried police brutality, and environmental activists, who have issued genuinely dire warnings about climate change. The pathetic degree of hypocrisy has not been lost on many people.

Just as disturbing is the fact that many of these resisters (overwhelmingly, if not virtually all, White) appear to have no compunction in gleefully engaging in blatant acts of disrespectful and menacing behavior. Let’s be honest and keep it real. Does anyone with any degree of sanity who resides in the real world believe that a group of rabidly undisciplined Black, non-White, Hispanic, and people of color who:

  • defiantly brandished assault rifles and other weapons;
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Only those of you whose minds reside in a deep, deranged, depraved, and delusional world of denial would believe such a fallacy. Truth be told, such groups would have been denounced in acidic terms by many on the right as reverting to their supposed “animal-like” states. While likely refraining from using vile and racially coded language in their comments, many on the left would have been critical of such Darwinian antics as well. Rather, such critics would be inclined to employ more subtle and sophisticated criticism in their commentary.

In all likelihood, a group of hundreds of people of color aggressively protesting would not have gotten anywhere near a state capitol building, let alone been granted permission to go inside. Such hyper levels of disruption would have very well culminated in heavy gunfire and a blood bath of epic proportions. The aforementioned examples, situations, and realities are the epitome of White privilege.

While no reasonable person can minimize the financial impact that COVID-19 is having around the world, the fact is that with this sort of crippling and destabilizing international health crisis, (people of color are the group most adversely impacted by the pandemic )it is imperative to allow the medical and scientific community reasonable time to develop a cure. It also means that all people, as citizens of their countries, must diligently do their part in assuring that they adhere to the guidelines and advice issued by seasoned medical professionals in an effort to assure that, as time progresses, the nation and the world can revert to a pre-COVID-19 existence, or at least as close to one as possible.

This may seem like a futile desire, but hopefully right-wing purveyors who harbor dangerously skewed, irrational, and misguided viewpoints on what freedom entails will come to their senses and realize that it is not about them. On the contrary, a collective effort to work together is the only viable solution to slow and hopefully eradicate COVID-19. Period.

Historian, public speaker, and cultural critic Elwood Watson, Ph.D., is a professor at East Tennessee State University and author of the recent book, Keepin’ It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America (University of Chicago Press), which is available in paperback and Kindle via Amazon and other major book retailers.

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Historian, public speaker, social-cultural critic. Professor of African American and Gender Studies, Post-WWII U.S. History, at East Tennessee State University.

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