Images of “Naked Athena,” as the protester has been labeled, have gone viral, her unclothed confrontation with police earning her accolades as a brave ally of the cause. But I see something else: a beneficiary of white privilege dancing vainly on a stage that was originally created to raise up the voices of my oppressed brothers and sisters. In this, she is not alone. As the demonstrations continue every night in Portland, many people with their own agendas are co-opting, and distracting attention from, what should be our central concern: the Black Lives Matter movement.
The protests that have gone on for weeks in Portland and around the country had a very specific origin. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis prompted a nationwide reckoning with the original and savage crime of slavery our country committed against African Americans. This crime has been reverberating through every generation in this country, black and white, for 401 years. That monstrous crime has finally caught up with us as a nation. I do not believe it is a time for spectacle.
Unfortunately, “spectacle” is now the best way to describe Portland’s protests. Vandalizing government buildings and hurling projectiles at law enforcement draw attention — but how do these actions stop police from killing black people? What are antifa and other leftist agitators achieving for the cause of black equality? The “Wall of Moms,” while perhaps well-intentioned, ends up redirecting attention away from the urgent issue of murdered black bodies. This might ease the consciences of white, affluent women who have previously been silent in the face of black oppression, but it’s fair to ask: Are they really furthering the cause of justice, or is this another example of white co-optation?