As rioters and white supremacists descended on Capitol Hill, I found myself pouring through the endless responses and reactions on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and elsewhere. Gasps of horror and cries for love and kindness permeated the internet. Throughout it all, one theme remained– the idea that the events of Wednesday, January 6 were an oddity, events that did not represent the “real” America: “This is shocking!”, “How un-American! The country I know and love is not like this,” and “I can’t believe this happened in the Land of the Free.” However, we have to reckon with the fact that the real America was built on white supremacy while normalizing and fostering antisemitism, right-wing extremism, and anti-Blackness.
For the past four years, Donald Trump’s rhetoric has fanned the flames of hatred in this country. From the more notorious statements, such as “there were good people on both sides,” and “all Mexicans are r*pists,” to the other phrases and dog whistles that disguise itself in everyday language, like “Make American Great Again,” the birtherism conspiracy, and “All Lives Matter,” Trump has consistently and clearly shown that he is on the side of racism and hate. The events at the Capitol can be directly traced back to Trump’s language and actions, as he instigated his supporters to challenge the results of a fair election, march to the Capitol, and to “fight like hell.” This prompted several social media companies like Twitter to ban Trump from the platform. This in turn prompted many people to ask why social media bans like the ones that occurred this week didn’t happen sooner. The reason? White Americans continue to ignore the effects of language and the blatant racism present in our society. They have become all too willing to forget and leave behind the twisted and dark history of the U.S., hateful ideas that still remain with us,
It’s important to remember that the white supremacists who support Trump didn’t appear out of nowhere: they, and their ideas, existed and thrived in this country’s institutions for centuries before. The Constitution included a clause that determined enslaved persons counted as ⅗ of a person; the first police departments were groups of white men who sought to catch formerly enslaved persons who had emancipated themselves; inequitable housing, education, and support systems existed years after the courts struck down segregation; voter suppression disproportionately affects Bipoc voters; and a study done in 2020 by Harvard shows that Black folks are 3.23 times more likely to be killed by police than white folks. White Americans have benefited greatly from these oppressive systems, and continue to reap the rewards of racism today. Some of these benefactors include Trump and other far-right Republicans who fail to denounce these systems and deny they exist. In recent years, these politicians and figures have increased the damage done to communities of color and minoritized groups through harmful legislation and rollbacks, affecting every aspect of life, from stripping Title IX protections for transgender students, to pulling funding from cities that are attempting to defund their police systems, to ending DACA, and so, so much more.
White supremacist ideologies pervade all aspects of American institutions, so why should we be surprised when white supremacists and nazis storm the Capitol in protest of a free and fair election? Why should we be surprised when they are treated with greater civility than young Black girls protesting for their lives? Why should we be surprised when the same president who refused to condemn the Proud Boys doesn’t call on the rioters to stand down? Surprise only obscures our understanding of the reality of the situation, and prevents us from realizing the actual steps we need to take to prevent further hate. Otherwise, we remain stuck in the toxic cycle of event, surprise, complacency, repeat. If we are truly to move forward from this presidency and wake up from complicity, white Americans need to stop being surprised at the fact that hate is at the very core of our democracy and foundation. This only serves to keep us ignorant as to the true history of our country, and allows us to be complacent when events such as the riots at the Capitol occur. When we focus only on shock and what we perceive to be as the “true America” is, we bury the true and ugly American history and lose sight of the actions needed to move forward towards anti-racist systems of justice that represent the ideals of our community.