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Rioters come in all colors and classes

Stacy Swimp | 8/8/2013, 2:57 p.m.
On July 4, a tea party activist and aspiring humorist named “Wild Bill” posted a video on YouTube entitled “White ...
Protesters confront Los Angles police officers during a demonstration in reaction to the acquittal of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman on Monday, July 15, 2013, in Los Angeles. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

On July 4, a tea party activist and aspiring humorist named “Wild Bill” posted a video on YouTube entitled “White Guy Riot.” In it, he suggests, “rumors are flying in Florida that if George Zimmerman is acquitted, Blacks will riot all across the country.”

“And it has been suggested,” Wild Bill adds, “that if George Zimmerman is convicted, that whites should riot.” He continued: “When I heard that, my first thought was that someone would have to teach us how.”

Trying to be funny, Wild Bill, who is white, goes on to suggest only a few whites would actually show up, would forget to bring a lighter to start fires and “as soon as they broke a few things, they would feel bad, go to the hardware store, buy stuff and go back and fix what they broke” before apologizing for their rioting.

Whether he meant to or not, Wild Bill’s video promotes the concept that whites don’t riot, and therefore are inherently more moral than Blacks. Such a sentiment does a disservice to the Tea Party movement he claims to represent.

In light of the fact that some Black radicals posted online comments promoting rioting and physical harm toward white Americans in the wake of a Zimmerman acquittal, should one occur, I don’t fault people for wanting to arm themselves. What I don’t agree with is Wild Bill’s false notion that “rioting is not for amateurs like [whites].” This is absurd.

While the video may be intended as satire, it is in bad taste at best and racist at worst. Perhaps Wild Bill should review the riot mentality of the Occupy Wall Street protestors, who not only were overwhelmingly white and certainly knew how to riot but also created an environment in many encampments where women were reportedly raped and property was destroyed.

There are plenty for historical examples of proving that white Americans can riot:

• White socialists helped spark the May Day Riots of 1894 in Cleveland, Ohio that advanced the cause of organized labor in America.

• Whites in the post-Civil War south formed the Ku Klux Klan during reconstruction and rioted in several southern cities, terrorizing both whites and Blacks who sought to vote and conduct lawful business.

• Whites rioted in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, burning down an affluent Black community that was called the “Black Wall Street.”

In none of these examples are there reports of rioters returning later with supplies to fix what they broke. Wild Bill’s claims that whites would feel guilty after rioting is unsupported by substantive evidence.

Wild Bill may not have meant to sound racist. He may not be aware of the hateful and divisive nature in which his message can be viewed. But there is a significant difference between good intentions and unintended consequences, and his video commentary is irresponsible, immature and reckless.

The Tea Party movement, which I support and have spoken to at rallies, already has enough trouble dealing with false and exaggerated accusations of racial insensitivity. There is no need to provide what some could claim is proof of such insensitivity.

Stacy Swimp is a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 Black leadership network.