Bitch, Don’t Kill My Schadenfreude
In a world of unequal justice, watching post-Capitol attack arrest videos is pure joy.
scha·den·freu·de (noun): pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.
I’m a notoriously bad sleeper. Often when I wake up in the middle of the night, I do the worst thing possible. I reach for my phone and check social media. This morning around three, after twisting and turning in the bed for however long, I grabbed my phone. As I scrolled through Twitter there, it was in all its glory. In last week's attack on the Capitol building, a video of participants found out that they were on the no-fly list for acts of terrorism and, even better, being arrested for it.
I watched the videos on repeat for a couple of minutes. The warm glow of my phone bathed my face as I smiled. I tweeted a simple request. “More videos, please.”
Black folks, for the most part, believe in karma. More accurately, we root for karma. In a world where actual justice is rare and is often meted out more harshly on Black people, it’s hard not to root for the universe stepping in. It’s what made the outing and arrest of those who participated in last week's events even sweeter.
After a week of watching peak white audacity that, for the most part, was handled with the kind of kid gloves not made available to Black people, the warm fuzzies of flowing white tears is irresistible.
I mean, how is this not amazing?
Inevitably someone will try and shame people out of enjoying these wonderful schadenfreude-laden moments. These Buzz Killingtons come in several forms. Chief among them:
The Black Realist
For every moment of Black joy, there is at least one Black person who feels compelled to remind us all that what we are celebrating is just a crumb off the proverbial plate. Cop indicted for killing a Black person? “Let's see if there is a conviction.” All Black Marvel movie? “Why did it take a decade to decide to make it?” The Black realist doesn’t leave folks room to enjoy the moment—only an arduous march towards some indeterminant liberation.
The White Apologist
For the apologist, there are no bad white people, just good white people making terrible mistakes. Because of this, how white transgressions are handled becomes of paramount importance, because as one man pointed out, at some point, you’re just treating white people like Black people. Go to a protest and shoot someone? They’re just a kid who might be a hero even!
The Magnanimous One
They are well-meaning. And when their efforts are pointed in the right direction, they are downright inspiring. The problem is that their “We go high” attitude is usually pointed everywhere at all times. Stooping to the point of taking glee in the misfortune of even the most terrible people is beneath them and, in their opinion, beneath us.
To Snicker Is Human
Schadenfreude is universally human. The Japanese, French, Dutch, Danish, and Russian all have words and phrases for this concept. It’s why we find the simple act of tripping funny. It can be argued that much of the Schadenfreude we experienced is mean spirited. The misfortune of others is generally not something they deserved. But what happens when that joy is experienced by those without power while observing those who do?
To be Black in America is to find all the layers of any situation. The humor, the anger, the sadness, and the joy. We aren’t single-minded in either the practical or emotional aspects of life. We laugh at the ridiculousness of white angst because we know how much worse it would be for us. We laugh not at the fall but for their lack of expectation of falling at all. We laugh because we know they will ultimately land softer than we ever will.
George Floyd died for an allegedly fake twenty-dollar bill. Ashli Babbit died committing an act of treason. Same result for two very different transgressions.
An argument can be made that what we feel watching these arrests isn’t schadenfreude since the arrests aren’t technically misfortune. It’s the logical result of what took place last week. The comedy resides in the greatest of all lucky charms, whiteness, failing at the worst possible moment.
There are all kinds of ethical and philosophical aspects to the idea of taking pleasure in the Capitol arrests. As an academic exercise, it is fascinating. Practically speaking, however, Black folks, in particular, have more than earned this laugh.
Don’t be a dick about it.