Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 is a date I will never forget — and I’m sure it’s one you won’t, either.
The sun came out in Philadelphia for the first time in weeks and appeared at random moments throughout the day. But something felt unusual, even if I didn’t know why. It’s understood in journalism that no day is the same, but even this felt different.
In the first part of the day, I had an insightful Zoom session with high school students and planned to quickly finish an assignment and move on to my next story.
Then, in the afternoon, I began to tap away at my laptop. But as I periodically looked at Twitter, I realized that something bizarre was happening.
Supporters of President Donald Trump (whose travel en masse to D.C. was well documented) were on video forcing their way up the steps to the nation’s capital. The visual was audacious enough in itself, but that they weren’t facing very much resistance was maddening.
I closed the tab on my computer that had Twitter open only to reopen it minutes later. Not only were the supporters inside the building, but congresspeople went into hiding as the Trump supporters ran amok. At this point, I was in the middle of a meltdown. But I wasn’t surprised by what was happening.
As my coworkers expressed their shock and disgust via our workplace Slack channels, I was numb. Though mentally exhausted, I had to be vocal about my thoughts and feelings. I generally am upbeat and don’t share my most personal thoughts with my coworkers, who to their credit, I consider a diverse, progressive group of people.
But this was different. I was extremely frustrated, and for good reason. As a Black person, I felt like virtually every Black person I know had “followed the game plan.” We went high like former First Lady Michelle Obama said to do when our adversaries went low. We voted in record numbers months after we protested seeing our brethren killed by police. Even after we were teargassed, had police dogs and more unleashed on us, we still believed in America as a democracy that needed a manageable amount of repair.
I was wrong. Our country is severely broken.
The Black experience often consists of daily experiences in which we tell ourselves, “It’s not that bad.” But indeed, it is bad. Having to pay more for mortgages than your white counterparts. Being forced to cut your natural hair in order to participate in a team sport. Being paralyzed by a police officer who faces no charges for the act. It is all very bad.
Whether you are a Black person or ally, today was a reminder of how much white privilege could be the destruction of this country if Black voices and votes are not heard and respected. Until Black people are treated like human beings in America, divisive politicians will continue to be elected and be supported by destructive white people like the ones we saw on full view today — people who faced little consequence for their actions.
This is what thugs in America really looks like pic.twitter.com/Z0TpypnIGg
— Metro Boomin (@MetroBoomin) January 6, 2021
The buildings that were damaged can be fixed. But for 243 years, racism has managed to survive here. Today, America’s inequities that, sadly, many of us Black people know far too well were laid bare.
If you couldn’t focus on the work in front of you today, there’s nothing wrong with you. If anything, there is everything wrong with our country and our system.
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.-30-