In an interview with the Italian newspaper Mediaset Italia, Pope Francis revealed his surprise by the insurrection at the US Capitol: “I was astonished because they are people so disciplined in democracy,” he said. We all want the world to believe that America should not, could not, be defined by these angry insurgents. But we are.
Based on the history that has shaped this country, it’s time to shine a light on our true face. This insurrection makes clear the difference between Black Lives and White Lives in America.
America, this is who we are.
What Senator Ted Cruz called an “assault” and a “despicable act of terrorism,” for us in the Black community, was the reinforcement of several realities that we have known for centuries: that our nation is characterized by white privilege and racist violence.
Never mind, for now, all of the lies and venom waged against Black people (and, basically, any one other than able-bodied white men) over the past four years. What we Blacks saw on January 6th was a group of privileged white (mostly) men illegally storming our nation’s Capitol, disrupting a hallowed democratic process, many of them ending the day back in their comfortable homes.
And it was not shocking.
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris pointed out the irony that if the insurgents had been Black, the day would have ended quite differently. The Vice President elect put it clearly, “We have witnessed two systems of justice: One that let the extremists storm the U.S. Capitol yesterday, and another that released tear gas on peaceful protests last summer. It is simply unacceptable.”
The President-elect reinforced this in his press conference by saying, “No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stomped the Capitol. We all know that’s true, and it is unacceptable,” Biden said on Thursday.
We all recall the events of last summer when more than 10,000 people took to the streets to draw attention to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in response to the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Thousands of Americans—most of whom were Black — suffered from police pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas and other brutality. They were captured during primarily peaceful protests partly due to the color of their skin. Jail cells were packed with peaceful protests after hours and during demonstrations. Today, just a handful of White terrorists who stormed the Capitol last week are in jail. We cannot accept this hypocrisy.
We remember the long reign of the Ku Klux Klan that terrorized our families for more than a century. Again, the events of Jan. 6 triggered many Black Americans who have suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress due to white theorists who came with Confederate flags, crosses, ropes, and venom and stormed the Capitol. Just to help us remember who we are. We Black people cannot forget.
Black people remember the 1898 Wilmington massacre in North Carolina, a successful coup d’etat led by Whites that took countless Black lives and gave rise to White mobs. The 1921 Tulsa Massacre trained our unconscious to America’s pro-White system. We will not pretend to forget the murders of several Civil Rights leaders in the 1960s, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
America, we are invited to give up this self protective instinct of perpetual denial and the lies that distance us from our true history and identity which is deeply colored by racist violence.
As Catholic Christians, we can no longer stand by and witness these atrocities. We can no longer live our lives in denial, claiming these events were an anomaly and do not represent who we are. We can no longer remain silent, as many Catholic clerical leaders do, in the face of these realities. We can no longer passively allow our nation to claim this identity. We must accept the reality that what we saw last week is a true reflection of our identity, and that America is in need of repair.
As Christians, we can channel our emotions towards positive change. What we saw unfold in the Capitol was rage, but the emotion that can move us towards healing in reconciliation is anger. Just as St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Anger is the passion that moves the will to justice.” The more we repress our anger by negating the reality, the more we implicitly participate in the oppressive system that maintains those behaviors in our fragile democracy.
As Fr. Bryan Massingale has explained, truth remains fundamental for justice. Until we acknowledge it, we will be unable to move to the next step for reconciliation and healing. Reconciliation and healing are sine qua non elements for justice. It is difficult to reach those elements without the recognition of our reality. Quoting St. John Paul II, Massingale reminds us, “Truth is the mother, basis, and foundation of justice.”
Perhaps, the truth is that the violent insurrection we witnessed on January 6th is actually the basis of our American identity. Perhaps white terror is America’s DNA, and denial is her identity. Without facing this, we can never change.
Inspired by Childish Gambino I conclude:
‘This is America,’
Stop your denial’ now
White mobs are moving now
The Capitol has been taken now
Look at white people dancing now
Black police are running now
White police are posing with terrorists now
‘This is America’