Following the riots in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, many asked, “Why are they [Black people] destroying their own neighborhoods?” While clearly misguided and misinformed, questions like this are part of a much larger problem.

The recent riots have been used by many to corroborate their prejudice — that Black Americans are violent people. However, we know that social upheaval, sometimes violent, has played an important role in the development of American democracy (i.e., the Boston Tea Party); some has laid the groundwork for labor movements (i.e., the Haymarket riot in 1886) and LGBTQ+ rights (1969 Stonewall riot).

What is also clear is that how rioters and demonstrators are depicted in the annals of history is dependent on a number of factors, including the skin color of the participants and that of their opposition. The system will support some violent uprisers while demonizing others.

Still, the deadliest riots in America have been race riots — ironically, not those initiated by Black Americans, but those perpetrated by white citizens, killing hundreds of Black Americans and destroying their communities.

This summer, many Americans (white and Black) learned of the Tulsa massacre of 1921 for the first time. Also known as “Black Wall Street,” this thriving community with its Black-owned businesses was destroyed by a white mob and its dozens if not hundreds of residents — many of whom were millionaires — were violently killed.

This atrocity was not the only one. The Great Migration of the 20th century, coupled with the shortage of labor in Northern and Midwestern cities as many men (Black and white) enlisted in World War I, positioned many African Americans (fleeing the South’s Jim Crow laws and lack of opportunities) to fill the sudden labor shortages in factories.

However, upon the return of the servicemen, a competition for the jobs left behind began — which pitted many white and Black Americans (men and women) against one another. The anger of the white working class towards Black Americans for their plight gave rise to a series of orchestrated riots — based among other things on the stereotype of the sexually aggressive Black man in the presence of white women.

Some of these violent public disturbances included the New York City draft riots of 1863, which led to white mobs burning down the Colored Orphan Asylum, which housed 230 black children; the Atlanta race riot of 1906, which was motivated by white fear of losing political control to Black men who had the right to vote; the East St. Louis massacre in 1917 — motivated by competition for jobs and a rumor that a Black man and a white woman were socializing; the Red Summer race riots of 1919, which occurred in more than 30 cities in the United States, beginning in Charleston, S.C. and continuing for the next six months across the South — Sylvester, Georgia and Hobson City, Ala. — and the North, including Scranton, Penn.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Chicago; and Washington, D.C. Four years later in 1923, the Rosewood massacre occurred in the state of Florida.

While these historical riots and uprisings have led to the deaths of hundreds of Black bodies, the present-day uprisings have by and large involved the loss of property — as opposed to life.

America has a rich history of riots that have significantly changed laws and policies for some Americans, while other marginalized groups are massacred. This history — when explored — demonstrates that Black Americans have been living with domestic terrorism perpetrated by white Americans since the 1600s.

Christiana Best-Giacomini, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford.