Scaramucci is paid to lie; Don Jr.’s “friend” might well be Trump Sr. throwing his voice again; and O’Reilly has always done a piss-poor job of pretending to be a real journalist. But beyond all that, it’s incredible to watch them pitch this saintly reimagination of Kushner and Don Jr., two full-grown men aged 36 and 39 respectively, with eight children of their own between them. Put aside for a moment the question of why, if Don Jr. and Kushner are such unprepared political rubes, they were entrusted with so much responsibility in the first place. This infantilizing strategy isn’t just a cynical ploy to try to erase questions of their guilt. It’s a case-in-point example of how innocence is assumed of whiteness, a privilege black folks are consistently denied.
In fact, that privilege has been specifically denied in the past by the very same players involved here. Trump wants us to believe his son is just a sweet kid with the best of intentions, even though Don Jr. tweeted a string of emails that definitively prove he actively tried to work with a hostile foreign power to undermine democracy. The same man now declaring his son’s innocence bought a full-page ad in 1989 calling for the summary execution of five black and brown teens who were falsely accused, without a shred of evidence, of raping a white woman. The Central Park Five were all exonerated by DNA evidence. But that hasn’t stopped Trump from going around and claiming they’re guilty, because he simply can’t imagine black and Latino children as anything but criminals.
The same is true of O’Reilly, whose air-tight defense of Kushner is based on the fact that his babyface is white. Back in 2013, O’Reilly essentially declared 17-year-old Trayvon Martin guilty of his own murder because of what he was wearing. “The reason Trayvon Martin died was because he looked a certain way, and it wasn’t based on skin color,” O’Reilly said. “If Trayvon Martin had been wearing a jacket…and a tie…I don’t think George Zimmerman would have had any problem with him. But he was wearing a hoodie and he looked a certain way. And that way is how ‘gangstas’ look. And, therefore, he got attention.”
Got it, black people? O’Reilly says respectability politics will save us. Except that he also told black Columbia University professor Marc Lamont Hill — who happened to be wearing a suit and tie at the time — that he looked like a cocaine dealer. Guess racism can’t be distracted by the right clothing after all.
This belief in whiteness as innately innocent, and blackness as inherently guilty, is interweaved with this country’s history of racist violence, from lynchings to the murder of Emmett Till to the fatal shootings of nine black churchgoers by Dylann Roof. It’s why the tragic and unjust death of Justine Damond, an unarmed white woman murdered by Minneapolis police, has triggered an outpouring of emotion in white communities unmoved by other incidents of police brutality.
“[Justine was] the most innocent victim” of a police shooting, according to Robert Bennett, the attorney hired by the Damond family. “I’m not saying Philando [Castile] wasn’t innocent, too, or that Frank Baker wasn’t innocent. But here is someone who called the police and was trying to stop someone from being hurt…and ends up being shot in her pajamas.”
Whiteness is the only possible factor Baker can be using to quantify Damond’s death as more undeserved than black victims of police violence. Otherwise, what makes Damond more innocent than Carl Williams or Bryan Heyward, who in separate incidents were both shot in their own homes by cops they’d called to help them stop burglaries? How is Damond possibly more innocent than 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was fatally shot as she slept; or 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, shot in the head by cops as he left a party in a car; or Jonathan Ferrell, a 24-year-old who approached cops thinking they’d help him with his stalled car; or Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old shot by cops as he played in a park with the same kind of toy gun that does not get white kids killed?
Damond is assumed more innocent than the teenage girl at a pool party thrown to the ground by a white cop twice her size and criticized as “no saint” by Megyn Kelly; more innocent than Mike Brown, who the New York Times called “no angel” and characterized as a “handful” as a baby because “when his parents put up a security gate, he would try to climb it.” It takes whiteness to achieve the innocence that compelled cops to at least give a dying Damond CPR, which police never bothered to perform on shooting victims Akai Gurley, Walter Scott or Eric Garner.