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One year after the January 6 Capitol attack, a campaign asks ‘What if they were Black?’

With so many questions still surrounding last year’s insurrection, Courageous Conversation Global Foundation asks an important one.

One year after the January 6 Capitol attack, a campaign asks ‘What if they were Black?’
[Source Image: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty]

Over the past six months, the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., has interviewed hundreds of witnesses, and reviewed tens of thousands of documents, and are now preparing to make their findings public.

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But as more details are revealed, and some consequences doled out, there is a simple question that remains. After the racial reckoning of 2020, particularly after the killing of George Floyd, to witness the Capitol attack was to immediately wonder, what if the attackers were Black?

Today, the Courageous Conversation Global Foundation is launching a new PSA campaign to make sure that question isn’t lost in all the other noise. Created by ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, “What If They Were Black?” uses the imagery of airbrushed memorial t-shirts to imagine the answers.

On the front of the limited collection of shirts, designed and produced in partnership with artists Timothy Bluitt Jr. and Casandra Burrell, insurrectionists like the Qanon Shaman are depicted as Black. On the back is a reminder of racial discrimination reality, with statistics that highlight bias within the justice system. Like how Black men are three times more likely to be killed by police, or how one third of unarmed people killed by police are Black, or how Black people are five times more likely to be imprisoned.

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Goodby creative director Rony Castor says that over the past year, the conversation around January 6 attack has taken soap opera-like twists and turns. “We wanted to bring it back to how Black people felt on the day, because in the end, we don’t see this as an isolated incident,” says Castor. “You saw it during the insurrection, but we also saw it in the verdict for the Kyle Rittenhouse case. Bias is systemic. As far as the shirts go, it hit the closest to home. It’s closely tied within the Black community, and the simplest way to tell the world how we feel about what might’ve happened if a group of Black people stormed the Capitol.”

The campaign also includes a TikTok series called #IfTheyWereBlackChallenge,where TikTok creators talk about what would have happened if Black people had stormed the Capitol, hijacking the popularized heaven background green-screen feature in order to continue the conversation with a younger audience. There will also be a live Twitter Spaces conversation and an Instagram AMA aimed at sparking conversation around the question “What if they were Black” and the bias that the world witnessed. Overall, the goal is to raise awareness, and encourage people to ask their local senators to pass the First Step Implementation Act to help end bias against Black Americans in the criminal justice system.

Castor and fellow Goodby creative director Anthony O’Neill were also behind Courageous Conversation’s “Not A Gun” campaign from early 2020, which illustrated how the difference between the everyday lived lives of Black and white Americans is too often manifested in innocuous objects becoming a matter of life and death, whether a cellphone (Stephon Clark), cigarettes (Eric Garner), a wallet (Amadou Diallo), Skittles (Trayvon Martin), or a $20 bill (George Floyd).

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Now, almost two years later, we still need a reminder of these differences. Remember those names, and think about January 6. “This is something we discussed a lot,” says Castor. “In the end, we all agreed that whatever would’ve happened to Black people would’ve been much more harsh than 99.99% of those that stormed the Capitol.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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