After Kenosha, there should be no doubt that white privilege exists. If it were a piece of writing, what transpired there perhaps would be seen as two acts of the same play. It would be a blatant, heavy handed work, but the audience would be clear as to the author’s intent.
The first act was centred around Jacob Blake. He had broken up a fight between two women. He had his kids with him. He was assaulted by the police, then shot in the back seven times. He has survived, but he may never walk again. He did not harm anyone. The excuse which has been proffered is that the police feared he might be reaching for a knife.
This outrage understandably caused people to protest. Spontaneous protests can be messy and lead to ancillary effects like damage to businesses. This led to the second act: an out of state teenager named Kyle Rittenhouse decided he wanted to play the vigilante. He apparently got his mother to drive him across the border. He was armed with an AR 15 assault rifle. He then took it upon himself to attack protestors, killing two, and wounding one.
What made all the difference was the reaction of the police. Rittenhouse walked down a street, open, free, with his weapon in plain sight. There is little doubt that if the police feared Rittenhouse in the same way they feared Jacob Blake, they would have opened fire. But Rittenhouse did not invoke terror in the officers, despite the obvious threat he presented. Blake was feared because the officers imagined what threat he posed. And therein lies all the difference: it is the assumption of guilt, threat, or innocence.
Before Kenosha, those who did not want to believe in white privilege would find excuses to suggest that it didn’t exist. Alternatively, mitigating factors were found. For example, Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed George Floyd by shoving his knee onto Floyd’s neck, has recently had his defence attorney ask that all charges be dropped, because the autopsy suggested Floyd had consumed fentanyl and would have died anyway. It’s been part of a repeating pattern: an outrage occurs, the media piles in. Protests happen. Politicians promise better. Then there are breaks in resolve, ruptures widened by excuses. Then things return to the same state as before.
But perhaps Kenosha may rupture the pattern: the second act may make all the difference. Kyle Rittenhouse wandering down an open street, his large rifle slung around his neck, and yet the police doing nothing is a symbolic event too profound to be ignored.
Yes, some are trying to defend him: pictures of him removing graffiti have surfaced. Yet his classmates have also said he has a hair trigger temper and was abusive towards others. Perhaps inevitably, one of his social media profiles indicated he supports Donald Trump. Fox News may try to spin Rittenhouse into being a hero, but those who are not suffering through that channel’s programming can see clearly: white privilege exists, and it is wrong.
In order to prevent this series of events repeating, the habits of the past must be broken. There must be no diving back into excuses, no suggesting that it is at all defensible to shoot an unarmed man in the back and yet allow a fully armed teenager with hair trigger temper to go free. Down that way lies injustice, and inevitably, madness caused by that injustice.
It’s time to acknowledge white privilege exists without backsliding. It is time to call it out for what it is. If someone doubts that things need to change substantially, they should remember Kenosha. If they don’t want to remember, they should be reminded of Kenosha. Things could pivot on this moment; if they do not, it’s unlikely there will be justice, and thus any kind of real peace.