To the Editor: It was good to read in the Jan. 14 edition of the Herald the words of local GOP elected officials, past and present, denouncing the insurrectionist violence that took place at the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6. It is heartening to know
To the Editor:
It was good to read in the Jan. 14 edition of the Herald the words of local GOP elected officials, past and present, denouncing the insurrectionist violence that took place at the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6. It is heartening to know that our citizenry is of one mind in condemning the actions of the mob. Still, I would like to push back on one point that I have heard over and over again from political and social leaders on both sides of our political spectrum.
The point that I think needs to be examined is expressed in the heartfelt words of Cranston Mayor Ken Hopkins, “this is not the America I know or we grew up in.” I don’t dispute the truth of his words. The egregious behavior of the insurrectionists is something that he honestly does not recognize from his past experience or education. Yet it is important to remember that our own individual and community experiences as White Americans cannot necessarily inform or address where we are today in this country. If we are going to be able to move forward as one democratic country, then we must look to history. We must try to understand what has brought us to this moment. Even if we don’t recognize this history in our own personal experience, we must not look away from what has come before us and what continues.
History is not just the past. It is all the elements that add up to the sum of our present. To understand and grapple with our present, we can choose to see the racist and White supremacist assumptions – fed with an ever-evolving set of lies – that accompanied the emergence of our nation from the moment Europeans set foot on this soil. We can learn about the systems which over the last four centuries have grown up around and been fed by those assumptions. We can start to question our own understanding of those systems. Here are just two examples: We know we have police, but do we know why police forces were first established in the United States? And, we know that there are concentrated populations of African-Americans in parts of America’s cities, but do we know the history of the Great Migration, redlining, panic peddling, and racial property covenants? I can honestly say I don’t know enough about these. How about you?
I’ve heard it time and again: this is not who we are. Well, in fact, it is who we are. It may not be the entirety or even most of who we are. It may not be who each of us is as an individual. And we may not recognize ourselves in the violence or extremism. Still, we cannot keep looking the other way and saying to ourselves: that’s someone else, those are fanatics, that’s the mob. We cannot keep telling ourselves that the outward signs of an egalitarian society (civil rights laws on the books and people of color elected to leadership positions, for example) – though important as steps in a kind of progress – are signs that we no longer need to reckon with our past as we move forward.
Fortunately, the mob did not prevail. In fact, it did not even much delay the process. But that outcome was never a given. Even if we don’t recognize the mob’s actions in our own lives or the lives of our neighbors, it is essential that we do recognize those actions as part of our ongoing collective history. Justice in this country is an active work in progress and we are all responsible for the outcome.