There is a line at the end of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982) when Celie delivers a curse to Mister: “Until you do right by me, everything you think about (everything you touch) will crumble.” America is seen around the world now, a nation in decline, a failed dream which constantly becomes a nightmare because of its unwillingness to “do right” by the most suppressed of its population. American exceptionalism is now seen as not a positive but a negative attribute of how not to build a democratic model. For no democratic model which operates on the exclusion of several major populations at its founding and throughout its history and was built on the genocide of indigenous people and the enslavement of Africans, can be seen as a democracy worthy of emulation.
Yesterday, (January 6, 2021) the storming of the Capitol by white supremacists was one of those culminating moments in the American “exceptional” experience, seen around the world with incredulity, but emanating not from the constructed outside terrorist threat but from internal domestic terrorists, and deeply internal in that it was incited and encouraged by the US president. But Black women have been describing the violence of white supremacy for years. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper as early as 1893 had critiqued the kind of leadership which led to the current president: “I do not believe that the most ignorant and brutal man is better prepared to add value to the strength and durability of the government than the most cultured, upright, and intelligent woman… (Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, “Woman’s Political Future,” 1893). More recently, Barbara Smith, one of the writers of the Combahee River Collective Statement (1982) named in honor of Harriet Tubman’s liberation of some 700 enslaved Africans in South Carolina, also wrote the Hamer-Baker plan against white supremacy (“How to Dismantle White Supremacy” The Nation, September 21/28, 2020) named after Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker, two women who were active in combatting white supremacy and for creating progressive futures for successive generations of Black people. But see also Sheila Smith McKoy’s When Whites Riot. Writing Race and Violence in American and South African Culture (2001). So far, all have concluded that Black Lives Matter marchers at state and national level have been greeted with disproportionate violence even at the threat of a march, teargassed and abused, shot with rubber bullets and arrested by policemen from Baltimore to Ferguson and Minnesota and definitely Washington, D.C. in Lafayette Park last year. Peaceful protests in support of the police-murdered harmless Elijah McClain were met by armed police pushback in Colorado. Meanwhile yesterday, Capitol policemen come across as complicit in the casualness of the treatment of what soon became an invasion. These are people who broke cameras and other equipment of the Associated Press, and actually entered and ransacked the Capitol while many others remained on the Capitol steps and lobby for an interminable amount of time, carried live on television. Clearly the white supremacist breachers of the Capitol know that racism is America’s weak spot. Now others around the world can also confirm that this is still the reality.
The fact is that America, founded on white supremacy, continues to give a great deal of operating space to white supremacists. Or put more starkly, white supremacy is part of the DNA of the United States of America and is therefore normalized. Recent examples include a white working class man in Nashville was able to amass huge amounts of dynamite to fill an RV and then park it outside of the AT&T building on Christmas Day, 2020 setting off an amazing explosion, suicide bomber style, destroying several buildings in a downtown area. For some reason, the media called it only “intentional” and the entire episode seemed to drop off their analytic radar as the same political analysis “pundits” return to each show and circulate the same information to the public on each television channel. The white supremacist implications of this domestic terrorist action and the conjunction with sexism remain still unaccounted for, as his girlfriend had warned police about his bomb-building operation. Police visited but did not investigate beyond the cursory. In April 2020, armed white militias invaded the Michigan capitol building to interfere with voting during the height of the pandemic to protest the mandates to wear masks and the necessity of limiting public movements. On August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia, Nazis marching having organized with swastikas and other paraphernalia and shouting Nazi slogans at the start of the Trump presidency were identified by the current president as “good people.” Even the media had not called out white supremacy and domestic terrorism for what it is until President-Elect Biden did so.
So yes, the current president has Nazi/fascist sympathies, repeatedly telling terrorizing racist white supremacist people that they are heard, understood, loved and that he feels their pain. It is significant that he never condemned them even in the heat of their take over of the US capitol on 1/6/2021, a day according to Corey Booker that will also live in infamy in US history. The corporate media for its part continues to spend time, hoping for one good thing that he says even if it is framed in the midst of a series of other messages to his supporters that they should stay the course. The point is that this current US president has maintained a neo-fascist posture throughout his presidency, holding rallies in the strongholds of white supremacists, making statements that he supported them, telling militia that they should “stand by”, giving extremist groups national attention as he called their names out from the debate podium. And all of this has already been documented.
At the same time, any attempt to have a transformative United States where all are included is identified as socialism or communism and demonized. Until the United States reaches a point where its leaders can says that “socialism” is simply another economic system that some countries experiment with, even if they claim that the US model is the best, we remain locked into a system which demonizes a model which in reality simply wants an equitable sharing of resources.
The statement that “this,” meaning white supremacist terrorism, “is not America” by so many of its political leadership flies in the face of the obviousness that “This is indeed America!” where Nazis and white militia sport Trump memorabilia and flags (which is also now it seems an industry among white working class) Nazi, confederate, Viking and other insignia and invade the Capitol with threats that they will return with weapons. The national model is one that still endorses or quietly supports, white capitalist male supremacy, in media, in university institutions, in companies which can amass huge fortunes way beyond the national budget of many countries of the world. The inequality embedded in such a model is precisely what allows white supremacist capitalism and racial capitalism to remain as the defining model of the United States along with the continued demonizing of socialism.
Meanwhile indigenous people remain dispossessed and in states like New York State, visible markers of their dispossession are publicly identified, so none of this is secret. Black Panther Party members who had engaged in political activism remain incarcerated for over forty years with no seeming respite. There is a federal prison at Auburn, New York, the city where Harriet Tubman spent her last days, which was also built on indigenous land. But, Cornell University too has recently had to acknowledge that it is on the land of “the traditional homelands of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ (the Cayuga Nation).” An available university statement indicates: “The Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign Nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York State, and the United States of America. We acknowledge the painful history of Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ dispossession, and honor the ongoing connection of Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ’ people, past and present, to these lands and waters.”
But Cornell is not the only institution so located. The fact is that United States and Canadian settler colonialism, and all the state institutions they created in these lands, meant the dispossession of many indigenous peoples, still now relegated to the margins of society. We are all (even African diaspora people) located then on the basis of indigenous dispossession. Until these countries do right…
The struggle continues!
Carole Boyce Davies (Prof CBD)
Follow me on Twitter at @Ca_Rule
Gloria Richardson pushes a bayonet of a National Guardsman away during a protest in Cambridge, Md., in 1963.
Library of Congress
Wasco photograph courtesy of Shacoya Kidwel