I started out my Wednesday morning listening to election results trickle in from Georgia and had hope, that flighty bird who has been so hard to spot over the past year. By the end of the day, I was sitting in silence watching a mob of white supremacists storm the Capitol building, overcome by a cocktail of rage, horror, and disbelief. I should not have been shocked by anything I saw.
Wednesday’s events in the Capitol should come as a surprise to no one. The President of the United States specifically asked his supporters to behave this way. His half-baked call for peace, in which he also told the rioters that they were special and he loved them, was far too little, far too late.
Trump is symbolic of the problems plaguing America—a figurehead of fascism. But, for the privileged, the problems themselves have been lurking just out of the spotlight throughout American history. Are we really surprised that a country founded on colonization, slavery, and genocide is still home to millions of entitled white people? Black, Indigenous, People of Color —who have warned of this from day one—aren’t. The rest of us shouldn’t be.
I have heard countless white friends bemoan the state of the nation over the past four years, appalled and surprised by the ugliness that has characterized the past half-decade. The division and hatred are nothing new, though; they are just coming out of the shadows. They have always been here, we have just gotten really good at ignoring them.
Emboldened by a leader who mocks the disabled, encourages police brutality, and brags about committing sexual assault, are we at all surprised that ableism, racism, and misogyny are thriving in America? Trump’s rhetoric has validated the worst in us and emboldened people to flaunt their most shameful prejudices like trophies. He is to blame, certainly, for his role in inciting hate and violence, but the work is far from over, even after Trump is out of office.
Trump revealed an America that already existed: one in which latent racism, covert homophobia, and hush-hush sexism are the bread and butter of society. He did not introduce these prejudices. He stoked the flames, but he did not light the fire. We have been smoldering with hate and violence since our founding. We have, as a whole, largely looked past the uglier parts of our history, choosing instead to celebrate our best moments and conveniently sweep the rest under the rug.
History, in our case, has been written by the powerful. Those who have power have wielded it to oppress and abuse, and have for centuries too long gotten away with it. The current upheaval in America that so many of us have mourned is a long overdue reckoning for our sins; this is accountability. People who have historically held positions of privilege are being challenged, and they are angry; they will not give up their unjustly held power without a fight. Even those of us who believe ourselves young enough to claim innocence for the sins of our forefathers have nonetheless benefited from the oppression on which America was founded: we live in the house that slavery built, on the stolen, blood soaked land of indigenous people. This is an uncomfortable truth, but a truth nonetheless.
Let us not soon forget the violence and vandalism that we saw in our nation’s capital yesterday.
Let us not be deceived by baseless conspiracy theories that have no root in truth or reality.
Let us acknowledge our complicity in a system that has profited off of the exploitation of the vulnerable and marginalized.
Let us tell our children the truth about what happened this week at the Capitol: white supremacists and domestic terrorists, deceived and deluded and power hungry, attempted to violently overthrow the government. They faced very little opposition.
Let us listen to the voices that we have for too long silenced.
Let us be humble enough to admit our wrongs and own up to our own involvement in oppression.
Let us not call for unity at the expense of truth and justice. That unity is a straw-man, shabby and false and worthless. Any unity worth pursuing must be based in acknowledgement of the truth, accountability for wrong, and dedication to our fellow humankind.
Let us be peacemakers, not peacekeepers.