How Black Americans viewed the Capitol riot and the response that followed

Following the attack on the Capitol in January, many U.S. leaders said the images and sentiments represented there were shocking and un-American. But some Black Americans view it as a reflection of the nation's troubled reality. Crooked Media political director Shaniqua McClendon joined CBSN's Tanya Rivero to discuss her perspective on the incident and why White people fail to understand how it connects to the Black experience.

Video Transcript

TANYA RIVERO: Congress is beginning to piece together the events leading up to the attack on the Capitol nearly two months ago. Earlier this week, Congress held its first major hearing on the security failures the day of the attack. Many claimed it was un-American. Some expressed shock and disbelief over the actions of protesters. But one writer argues most black Americans watching the events unfold were not surprised by the attack.

Instead, it may have underscored the Black experience. Joining me now is Shaniqua McClendon. She is the political director of Crooked Media. Shanique, welcome. It is great to have you with us.

You know, tell us first of all from your perspective, why this riot or this taking over the Capitol building was not so surprising?

SHANIQUA MCCLENDON: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I think what we saw happen on January 6, it's just an extension of unfortunately what this country was founded on, but what it continues to exist under, which is white supremacy. And for Black Americans who exist in this country, you process the events that happened in this country through the experiences you live. And if we are always kind of being the people who are feeling the biggest extent of white supremacy, you realize that this is just how whiteness works in this country.

And when a lot of Black and Brown people deliver an election for Joe Biden against a president who really stood not only-- you know, he really stood for what we know America to be. A place that is, unfortunately, racist, a place that prioritizes the interests of white people. And he proudly boasted that. And so when a lot of people of color voted to elect Joe Biden and get rid of Donald Trump, the reaction was, from these folks who stormed the Capitol, you can't take away our symbol of what this country is, of make America great again or keeping the America that they wanted.

But I think we, in our personal experiences, know that the America that really exists is one that will fight very hard to keep white supremacy alive.

TANYA RIVERO: And in the article you wrote you walled the reader through some racist experiences you, yourself, encountered at the hands of white people. How did those experiences contextualize the attack on the Capitol for you?

SHANIQUA MCCLENDON: Yeah, I think a lot of people think that what happened at the Capitol is very separate from some of the actions that they participate in or maybe their family members do. But at a very young age, I experienced someone calling me the n-word. And you don't get from that type of experience in middle school without some seed being planted that as a white person you are supposed to walk through the world at the top of the social hierarchy, if you will. And if that seed is planted early, when you grow up it makes so much sense that you might be one of the people who decides to storm the Capitol because your leader says these people in these Black and Brown communities who vote who voted against me, their votes are invalid.

And in order to hold up the social order that keeps the interests of white people on top, we have to fight really hard to protect it. But those personal experiences are just really, unfortunately, how the country treats Black people. And so I think that in sharing those, I was really hoping to display that these are the experiences I went through. Those are only two of them. A lot of my friends reached out and said, oh my goodness, I can tell you so many experiences that I've had similarly.

But by sharing those, I was hoping to draw a connection that these are not rare occurrences. This is how America works for us. And often white people are shielded from the worst parts of white supremacy. They were not on that day. And I just wanted to show them that we experience this all the time and this is pretty natural. And if you really pay attention, this is the country we actually live in.

TANYA RIVERO: Right. Like you were saying in your piece, it was almost like those children were testing the boundaries of how far they could go without repercussions. And then we saw Americans storming the Capitol, largely many of them without repercussion. So you point out that many white people understand racism is wrong or say they understand racism is wrong, but fail to sometimes see how moments like George Floyd's death for instance, connect to the Capitol attack.

So walk us through that connection in why it's critical in understanding the racist underpinnings that still exist in the US?

SHANIQUA MCCLENDON: Yeah, so generally white supremacy is a belief system. One that requires our social order to ensure that white people kind of exist among everyone else. And these beliefs drive actions. So I even think back to the college scandal that we saw a couple of years ago where parents were paying admissions, counselors, and school officials to get their kids into school. I mean, that's a behavior that feeds into the belief that white people are entitled to specific things, like access to education. But even taking a step back from that, in action sometimes can hold up white supremacy.

So you look at some of the Democrats and most Republicans who felt that no action should be taken to hold Donald Trump accountable, to hold some of the senators who incited this insurrection accountable. That is part of upholding white supremacy. Because if you just look six months prior at the protests we were seeing in response to George Floyd's death-- not just George Floyd, a lot of black Americans who had been killed by police or in racial violence-- you saw a lot of condemnation of the property damage that was happening. You know going back to that point of white people understand this is bad, they said what happened to George Floyd is bad. But don't mess up the property.

And that is not the conversation we heard after the capital. So it's all of these behaviors or lack of behavior in action that helps uphold this social order. And that is what is the through line through all of these things.

TANYA RIVERO: Shaniqua McClendon, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

SHANIQUA MCCLENDON: Yeah, thank you for having me.