She slammed down her white privilege like you’d slam down an American Express black card. Which is to say, with supreme confidence.
Two months after posting video of herself in the mob of right-wing thugs who stormed the U.S. Capitol, Jenna Ryan went on Twitter to taunt her detractors. “Definitely not going to jail,” she wrote. “Sorry I have blonde hair white skin a great job a great future and I’m not going to jail. Sorry to rain on your hater parade.”
Last week, Ryan was sentenced to 60 days in prison.
That seems to have pleased a lot of folks. “How the arrogant have fallen,” said one.
You can hardly blame that person or the thousands of others who took to social media to gloat at the incarceration of this 51-year-old Texas real estate agent. There are few things more satisfying than to see some deserving individual get their comeuppance. For that moment, at least, the universe makes sense.
Even so, one has to wonder if this is really a reason to rejoice. Was Ryan proven wrong? Or did she simply put the court in a position where it had no other choice?
Consider that the sheer brazenness of the crime demanded some response. Then add in that Ryan said the quiet part out loud, the part white people so often deny, about how “blonde hair white skin” entitles you to a more lenient brand of justice.
The court had to impose some consequence, if only to defend its own credibility. Judge Christopher Cooper admitted as much in sentencing her. Noting that the case has generated lots of attention, he said, “People will be interested to know what sentence you get. That sentence will tell them something about how the courts and how our country responded. And I think that the sentence should tell them that we take it seriously.”
But the fact that Ryan will do some time hardly proves her wrong about color-coded justice.
Yes, she got 60 days for invading the U.S. Capitol. But Sean Worsley got 60 months for possession of legally prescribed medical marijuana.
Yes, she got 60 days for an act of treason. But Willie Nash got 12 years for having a cellphone in jail.
Yes, she got 60 days for attempting to overthrow the government. But Fair Wayne Bryant got life for stealing hedge clippers.
Of course, none of those African American men — not to put too fine a point on it — has “blonde hair white skin.” Nor do hundreds of thousands of other over-policed, over-arrested, over-incarcerated Black men languishing in our racially-skewed injustice system.
And that makes all the difference. Imagine if it was a mob of Black Lives Matter activists who stormed the Capitol. Can you envision a scenario in which they — the survivors, at least — got off with 60-day sentences?
No, you cannot.
Yet even though Ryan, who reports to federal prison in January, will be home before spring, she still wants you to know that she’s the victim here. “I’m just gonna make a blanket statement to all the people that are calling me and texting me,” she tweeted. “You win!!! I’m going to prison. So you don’t need to contact me anymore. Pop champagne and then rejoice. But just leave me alone.” Poor, seditionist baby.
She mused later that she might take up yoga while in prison. Maybe catch up on her reading. And who’s to say she won’t? Who’s to say federal prison won’t prove to be a comparative day spa for an insurrectionist with “blonde hair white skin?” You see, it’s not just that Ryan was confident in asserting her privilege, but that she had every reason to be.
And still does.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, FL 33172. Readers may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.