Among those looking on during Wednesday’s violence at the Capitol building in Washington were students of color, poised at the brink of their political adulthood.
One such group at Boston Latin Academy said it was sadly in keeping with the country they’ve come to know — as well as an urgent spur to change.
BLA senior Khymani James was troubled by the event, frightened for the lawmakers and their staff — but not surprised.
“This is the system upon which America was built,” James said. “For white people — especially the white man — to be the only one to wield the power of the democratic republic. And once that is upsetted, all hell breaks loose.”
As the student member of the Boston School Committee, James has spoken out before. And since Wednesday, he’s been used social media to call for the swift removal of President Donald Trump from office for his role in inciting the violence. But he added that the accountability shouldn’t stop there.
In the history class 20 years from now, James surmised, “they will ask, ‘Who started this?’ And there will be a photo of Sen. Josh Hawley holding up his fist to protestors on the side of the Capitol.”
James was the first to alert Black classmates as the attack began Wednesday.
Ajanee Igharo, a junior, was still in math class — and said she didn’t immediately grasp the “magnitude” of what she was seeing when she tuned in after class. Instead, like many others, she was struck by how easily the angry crowd got into and through the Capitol building.
You can’t go back to the normally-scheduled programming… It’s not going to end with Trump out of office. There were problems before that, and they still need to be addressed.BLA junior Ajanee Igharo
Teachers invited students to discuss the events the following day. It was uncomfortable.
Reanna Bhagwandeen, a senior of Indian-Trinidadian descent, was upset to hear a white classmate draw a comparison Wednesday’s attack to the summer’s nationwide protests of the killing of Black Americans by police, saying “'oh, both sides had done bad things.'”
In Bhagwandeen’s view, the summer protests — like the Civil Rights Movement before them — sought to redress a long-lived American injustice. By comparison, she said “the status quo wasn’t being harmed” in the Capitol Wednesday.
After their teacher asked students to continue the discussion in remote ‘breakout rooms,’ Igharo said white students were largely silent. “I have no idea whether that’s because some of us want to give the space to [students of color], and allow us to speak on it,” Igharo said. “I just feel like it was very tense.”
The group is realistic about the divisions at work in the moment — but they’re not discouraged. All three say that, as politically engaged young people, they believe that there can be dialogue and education even at this moment of intense polarization.
But Igharo added that she believes the nation must come to embrace what are now deemed “progressive ideas” — including anti-racism, fair wages and Medicare For All — as common sense.
James said he hopes the country can “go back to common sense, go back to human decency.” But the others didn't like the sound of that phrase: “going back.”
“This is a failed state! You know, we’re breaking down from the inside, and we need to start over,” Bhagwandeen says. Igharo agreed. “You can’t go back to the normally-scheduled programming… It’s not going to end with Trump out of office. There were problems before that, and they still need to be addressed.”
This article was originally published on January 08, 2021.
This segment aired on January 8, 2021.