the day started with the reassurance of a democratic process — the respectful, close races of two senate races in georgia. they exemplified the tremendous, grassroots efforts by community organizers who knocked down obstacle after obstacle: historic voter suppression, gerrymandering, structural racism forcing individual voter and community disengagement. despite the deck being built for all cards to be stacked against them, organizers told disenfranchised voters, one by one, that their voices mattered, that they could make a difference, and they delivered. in his acceptance speech, senator-elect warnock, who is the first Black senator from a previously confederate state, recognized this duality by honoring his mother’s journey:
“The 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator. The improbable journey that led me to this place in this historic moment in America could only happen here.”
there is an incredible amount of significance in this moment. many people, particularly those who have never lived in the South, blindly shit on the region all the time; they love the stories of all the nice Northerners who provided refuge for fleeing slaves along the underground railroad, touting their heroic role in liberation, without recognizing that it was the effort of Southerners — particularly Black Southerners — who truly delivered this liberation at great personal cost. the exact same situation unfolded today: Southerners, mainly Black and other POC Southerners, organized and delivered against all odds stacked against them in the South. herein lies the duality: stories of american heroes are staged in combat against their greatest foe: also, america.
when the violence and acts of terrorism erupted in washington d.c. today, president-elect biden said that they did not represent the “true America,” that their actions have threatened democracy. but how were they not true? today, the MAGA mob teargassed the police, shattered the glass at the entrance of the u.s capitol, vandalized offices of elected officials; the police moved gently aside while saying, “we just need to let them do their thing now” and allowing a mass of armed individuals into the federal capitol even though washington d.c. is not an open-carry state; the president told this mob to go home but only after claiming the election was still stolen, that they were special, that he loved them. surely, i thought, a mob desecrating our capitol in front of police, endorsed by a legally-elected president, surely this mob was operating within the limits of a true America that allows for white rioters to behave with impunity, supported by their democracy, because why else would they be allowed to do such a thing without consequence?
despite all of this, the most striking thing was hearing callers on c-span who supported the mob say, effectively, that they weren’t going to be stepped on anymore — that this was them seizing their country and therefore their democracy back, because everything else is a lie, that the election was rigged, and because the rot runs so deep, there isn’t even a way to prove it otherwise. what an odd thing it was, to have a brief moment of resonance with these callers whose truth i knew as false, but who felt that the system was so broken and their world so unjust that they took the only route they thought they had left. i, too, have sometimes felt that the problems are wound so tightly in the infrastructure that only upheaval will relieve it. here, though, lies a critical distinction: this route was one that people of color could not take, because they have already suffered the consequences of it.
america cannot reconcile its duality because it cannot recognize its history, and in doing so, has fractured into existence multiple truths. you cannot say america is one of the richest countries in the world without recognizing that its wealth exploits its poor across race, city, states. you cannot tout martin luther king as an american hero without recognizing that the racist system he was born into and battled against was also american. you cannot say america is a harbinger for democracy without also recognizing that it has violated democratic values since its inception for people of color and continues to do so to this day — through slavery, through immigration laws, through forcible removal or internment, through redlining, through medical violence, through police brutality, through mass incarceration.
yet, we do not learn about these things, we do not teach these things, we do not acknowledge and recognize these things. instead we are left with our siloed experiences, understanding only the ways democracy has failed us personally. and while it may be true that american democracy fails us all in some way — for there are few people in america who are not oppressed by some structural factor in play — this isolation breeds skewed ideas of democracy that, when not upheld, breed the events of today.
today marks a deeply dark day in american history and for american democracy. i don’t know if enough is enough is enough. one can hope. though, if that were the case, i think we would have reached it by now.