There’s something sublime about underdog stories. They pull at our heartstrings and can even make the most reserved of us shout for joy in celebration. Football fans across the nation witnessed nothing short of an underdog story for Super Bowl LII as the Philadelphia Eagles eked out a victory against the reigning champions, the New England Patriots. The odds were heavily stacked against the Eagles, which meant all the more of an uproarious celebration when those odds were overturned.
In the aftermath of this great sporting upset, Eagles fans took to the streets of Philadelphia in a celebration that quickly turned riotous and uncontrolled.
“Emergency responders struggled to keep up with rioters as they marched through Philadelphia streets leaving destruction in their wake. Revelers reportedly ripped down light posts, caused entire structures to collapse, and damaged vehicles and store buildings as they celebrated the Eagles’ 41-33 victory,” according to Newsweek.
— My Moms Gonna Hate This Podcast (@momsgonnahate) February 5, 2018
Photos and videos of Eagles fans turning over cars, breaking property, and causing a streak of destruction, all for the cause of celebration, flooded social media.
But, what is most noteworthy is that many of these rioters caught on camera appeared to be White. Likewise, these White rioters have not received the same harsh treatment as Blacks who have participated in public demonstrations against police brutality and racial inequality in our nation. Some articles, such as this one from The Washington Post, even offered scientific rationale behind the riotous actions of these White fans.
Black Lives Matter New York President Hawk Newsome told Newsweek that the lack of condemnation by officials for these riots demonstrates “a glaring example of white privilege” and noted a flagrant double standard in the treatment of Whites and Blacks: ‘You can riot if you’re white and your team wins, but if you’re black and being killed, you can’t speak out.’”
America has always celebrated violent White masculinity while condemning civil Black free speech.
We are seeing it now.
— Ernest Owens (@MrErnestOwens) February 5, 2018
In his article for BET, Ernest Owens notes that these riotous celebrations have been going on since the Eagles made it into the Super Bowl several weeks prior to the big game, and that “Not a single arrest was made even though there were tons of video evidence and photos. Their behavior displayed white privilege at its finest.”
Others have noted similar sentiments, identifying the overwhelmingly laissez-faire treatment of these predominantly White rioters as a telltale sign of white privilege in action. To add insult to injury, reports claim that 17 Black Lives Matter activists peacefully protesting the Super Bowl and standing in solidarity with football players who had “taken a knee” this season were arrested near downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. In stark contrast, only three White rioters had been arrested the day after the Super Bowl. Police were even filmed celebrating alongside these Eagles fans.
So, what exactly is white privilege, and how are these riots illustrations of that concept?
Peggy McIntosh’s 1998 paper on the topic is still relevant today. The anti-racism activist and scholar defines white privilege as being similar to “an invisible weightless knapsack” of special and unearned assets that allow Whites to believe their own experiences and assumptions are normal, while those of non-Whites are different at best or inherently wrong at worst. There are special privileges that give Whites the ability to do certain things without suspicion, while non-Whites would be held in high suspicion or criminalized if they performed these same actions.
In the case of these White rioters in Philadelphia, the special and unearned assets on full display are those that give Whites the privilege and ability to act without suspicion of criminality. While implicit bias tests demonstrate that Blacks and other people of color are generally assumed to be suspected of lawbreaking, White rioters destroying the streets of Philadelphia are simply portrayed as out of control fans in drunken revelry. While a Black football player “taking a knee” to silently protest police brutality is called a “son of a bitch” by the Commander-in-Chief of the United States, destructive White Eagles fans receive innocuous news headlines like, “The Wildest Videos of Eagles Fans Celebrating in Philadelphia After Super Bowl Win” and “Super Bowl LII: Philadelphia Eagles fans celebrate victory over New England Patriots by running riot.”
The events that have transpired since the Eagles victory have not only been costly and disturbing—though that is absolutely true. They have also been a clear sign that racialized double standards and white privilege are alive and well in our country. Priorities come into full light as destructive celebrations of sporting victories are given a slap on the wrist while legitimate demonstrations for the lives and well-being of Blacks and other minorities are cast as un-American with protesters even demonized.
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