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How White Tears May Save Kyle Rittenhouse

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Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity’s.

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I am tired of white tears.

I was going to try to come up with a more creative anecdote as the first line, but I can’t. I don’t need to. The tears of white people, especially those who have proven to be directly antagonistic, inflame me. Their very existence and media coverage sickens me.

Kyle Rittenhouse is currently on trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin, for killing and wounding people during a protest after the murder of Jacob Blake in August 2020. The protests, which lasted for several days, gained widespread media attention as they included violence towards property. But on August 25, a maddening transition to violence towards other people took place.

On November 10, 2020, the eighth day of the trial, Rittenhouse was cross-examined by prosecutors about his role and reason for his carrying and subsequent usage of an illegally obtained rifle. Rittenhouse has maintained his innocence in the shameful name of “self-defense,” proclaiming that “[he] would have died that night if [he] didn’t.” He doubled down on his virtue by inconsolably bursting into tears on the witness stand while recollecting the moment he shot his first victim. 

I, like the rest of the world, remember the historic numbers of people who took part in civil uprisings after the police sanctioned and carried out the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Jacob Blake during summer 2020. I remember witnessing the tear-gassing of unarmed dissenters marching through the streets. I remember becoming teary-eyed at the very sight of National Guard members being deployed to cities, including my own, to “quell” the unrest. There were a lot of things about that summer’s protests that upset me, made me sad and angry. But very little of them compare to what took place on August 25, 2020.

I will not, nor do I need to, rehash all of the details about what Rittenhouse did and how absurd it was that he made the conscious decision to cross state lines to be the “honorable” and “upstanding” boy-scout vigilante he still to this day deems himself to be. I point out two facts: he was the only person who killed anyone during the Kenosha uprisings, and his victims were either in possession of legal weapons, non-lethal artifacts (a skateboard) or absolutely nothing at all. Although his actions have resulted in a legal indictment, I am still very unsettled. I have a real fear that he will get off scathe-free just like all of the others; his white tears just might save him.

To be very clear, I am somewhat using “white tears” in a different context from its original intent. The term is used to describe what happens when white people express concern about fictional injustice, nothing more than a performative struggle to acknowledge the existence of white privilege. Well, then again, with that definition in mind, the term actually fits the bill when criticizing Rittenhouse, who is trying to spin his antics as both “self-defense” and patriotic, when in reality the only real physical threat that night was himself.

White tears are just as powerful as any other tools speaking to the seemingly inherent fragility that exists among white people, who in their eyes are victims of “reverse racism,” punished for their devotion and “patriotism.” It is this very loyalty to protecting “life and liberty” that is supposed to excuse people like Kyle Rittenhouse and see his tyrannical misdeeds to help a used car dealership from being vandalized as noble.

And why wouldn’t people, including Rittenhouse himself, linger faithful to his emboldened belief that he did the right thing when right-wing national political leaders, even the President [Trump], support him? The message is loud and clear: birds of white power flock together. As the ludicrousness list of upholding white supremacy mounts, renegade behavior remains part of the game.

But it’s not a game. Black people across this nation are dying and being slaughtered in the open streets, while white crocodile tears flow.

I am hoping for the best, in that Kyle Rittenhouse is found guilty to the fullest extent of the law. But I have no expectations nor belief in the system of “justice” that currently exists that such will happen. The world has seen too many times how white tears have exonerated and wiped the slate clean of even the most deplorable.

George Zimmerman is walking free after being acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin in 2012. I remember during his trial, one of Zimmerman’s friends cried on the witness stand after hearing the 911 tape from the incident; the screams on the tape caused public debate over who the screams belonged to — George or Trayvon. I remain staunch to this day that this old white man’s tears were enough to overlook contradicting testimonies and evidence proving that Zimmerman could not have been the one screaming for help.

White America has allowed senseless and merciless rogue “patriots” like Rittenhouse to be coddled even after the damage they unleash on those around them. How this boy, who committed his crimes at the age of 17, is even allowed to be given the benefit of doubt is another example of white privilege at work. In no world would a Black 17-year-old boy be able to cross state lines with an assault rifle that did not belong to him (he is underage, so there is no way that a gun of any kind can belong to him) and unleash shots at point-blank range. In no space on earth could a Black boy get on the witness stand and cry himself to an acquittal, nor should he be able to — nobody should.

Rittenhouse has maintained that he was not looking for trouble, but he was the only one with an AR-15. I am not buying his tears. His tears are nothing in comparison to the tears of Black mothers who have had their children stolen from them. His tears do not even begin to liken to non-violent protestors assailed with tear gas and pepper spray. He can keep every single one of his tears.

His white skin, in preemptive conjunction with his white tears, is attempting to exclude him from true atonement or having to own up to his wrongdoing. In the eyes of a white supremacist justice system aimed towards propping him up as a baby-faced, teary-eyed loyalist, he is innocent and is in great company. I, for one, am sick and tired of it. Rittenhouse’s antics on the witness stand might buy him freedom with the white justice system but certainly not with the Black public.

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