Only White Men Get to Have Bad Days — and Only Folks of Color Pay for Them

A White man’s bad day is never victimless. A White man’s bad day is terror.

Captain Jay Baker, of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, speaks at a press conference on March 17, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo: Megan Varner/Stringer/Getty Images

Last Wednesday, Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee Sheriff’s department in Cherokee County, Georgia, stood in front of reporters to explain why Robert Aaron Long had killed eight people — six of them Asian women. “He was pretty much fed up,” Baker said, “and kind of at [the] end of his rope, and yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.”

Really. Bad. Day.

Given the fact that Baker himself once released racist anti-Asian merch, his implicit sympathizing with a mass murderer wasn’t even off-brand. Still, you don’t have to be that blatant of a racist to have your first instinct be to defend Whiteness no matter how heinous one acts. Chalking Long’s actions up to a “bad day” was violence by another name — a reminder that only White men are allowed to have bad days, while the rest of us are left to survive the consequences.

Marginalized people exist in an endless time loop of bad days. White supremacy is just a series of things we have to overcome in perpetuity. And yet, living our lives in any way that reflects the days we’ve experienced puts our lives in danger.

Meanwhile, White men who shoot up schools, shoot innocent women, kneel on unarmed Black men’s necks until they stop breathing, and sack federal buildings in hopes of usurping power are given a seemingly infinite supply of bad days.

Entire criminal justice systems are built upon a belief that Black and Brown men are inherently too violent to experience bad days peacefully. Black women suffer from adultification biases and deadly stereotypes of “angry Black women” that rob them of adequate health care and fair treatment in classrooms and leads to their mistreatment from law enforcement. “Bad days” betray our stereotype-based expectations of how Asian women are supposed to act, resulting in often-violent backlash. Meanwhile, White men who shoot up schools, shoot innocent women, kneel on unarmed Black men’s necks until they stop breathing, and sack federal buildings in hopes of usurping power are given a seemingly infinite supply of bad days.

I’ve spent a lot of this week thinking about those of us who died because they had bad days. Sandra Bland had a bad day because she was pulled over by a cop. Michael Brown had a bad day because he was accosted by a cop on his way to see his grandmother. Trayvon Martin had a bad day because a man with a vendetta against Black boys followed him around one night. Breonna Taylor had a bad day because she was in an apartment targeted by police.

As if that’s not enough, our so-called bad days from our past indict us after we’re killed. The times we shoplifted or smoked weed before it was legal or did the wrong thing in school get re-excavated as justification for our murders. Remember: Mike Brown was no angel, right?

You know who also had bad days? Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan and Daoyou Feng. These are the victims of a White man’s bad day because a White man’s bad day is never victimless. A White man’s bad day is terror.

A White man’s bad day is also a myth.

Part of what drives these men to be their most destructive selves is the myth of their oppression. Whole genres of entertainment (see: Joker) and political punditry (see: “economic anxiety”) are based on the myth that White men are the victims of societal injustice, and that these imaginary slights have led them on their paths of violence. This is how we excuse racial terror. Just two months ago an entire insurrection almost toppled this country because of the urban legend that White people are somehow being slighted by a country whose rules they’ve written and whose spoils they’ve enjoyed. And yet, even as a White man is being excused for the “mistake” of mass murder, a 31-year-old White man was arrested with an arsenal of deadly weapons outside of Kamala Harris’ vice presidential home. Two bad days in a row, I guess.

We don’t get excuses. We don’t get the benefits of letting our guards down enough to show the world what it has done to us — not without our lives being at risk. Instead, we duck and guard and do as much as we can to protect ourselves. Because tomorrow is a new day. And another chance for a White man to have a bad one.

Level Sr. Writer covering Race, Culture, Politics, TV, Music. Previously: The Undefeated, The Atlantic, Washington Post. Forthcoming book: The Movement Made Us

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