By the time this prints, Joe Biden will be our president, and we will welcome the first Black, South-Asian, female vice president our nation has ever seen. A step forward my 6-year-old daughter holds with deep excitement and curiosity.
The day Biden's presidency was set for confirmation, I watched with my daughter as the House convened, and we anticipated a historic vote. Instead, I spent the next days, like so many parents, explaining "coup" and "insurrection" and taking an even deeper dive into explaining the depravity of white supremacy to a 6-year-old, who was innocently anticipating watching a strong woman like herself break a glass ceiling.
On Jan. 6, America witnessed an act of white violence that culminates a dangerous and destructive four years rooted in racism, oppression, and fear in a post-truth era. The insurrection was shocking to many. But this white violence is not new; it existed long before the Trump presidency. It has existed in white bodies here at home and across the world that have defended their privilege, coveted their comfort, and coddled their exceptionalism. It exists in the GOP, which has orchestrated and perpetuated intolerance to its benefit, and in elected officials up and down the ballot who have added fuel to the fire through both rhetoric and silence. White violence existed since day one in the Trump presidency, as we watched him cultivate, affirm, and normalize bigotry aiming to maintain white supremacy on every level. This is not new. It is a devastating non-surprise.
Last month I reflected on having fully seen ourselves in 2020 ("Beauty and the mess," Dec. 24). One short month later, the remarkable truth of our America has become increasingly clear.
We have seen ourselves in what insurrectionists so violently demonstrated on Jan. 6. We have seen ourselves in the way we strive to bury it, excuse it, unidentify ourselves with it. We have seen ourselves in the way white Americans have displayed shock to this violence, a mechanism to preserve their own comfort at the expense of bearing witness to the pain and harm done to people of color in America every day. "This isn't America, we are better than this." But indeed, this is us. This horrific and visceral truth, this is us. The truth of our division, our racism, our privilege, and our denial, and it must not be unseen.
Ibram X. Kendi says, "Denial is the heartbeat of America. At every point in history, Americans refused to look at themselves for who they truly were. Americans have tried to take these ugly sides of America outside of the American project and say these people, or this incident, or this type of politics is not who we are, as opposed to saying, yes, this is precisely who we partially are, but we want to be better, we want to be different. Instead, Americans have denied it outright, denied its existence, and then we wonder why the cancer continues to spread."
Here we are, enmeshed in the truth of ourselves, seeking where to go next. For many, wanting to be better. But to be better we cannot close the curtain on what we have seen in ourselves. The resignation of those who have complicitly stood in silence and in support does not relinquish them from responsibility. Though the American way is to deny any weakness, we cannot bypass the reckoning to move forward with the healing.
A call for unity amid the thrashing of white supremacy is a call to silence those in pain and protect those in comfort. Unity cannot come at the expense of discrimination and persecution of the most vulnerable. And unity cannot come with those who actively justify the oppression of another, or sit silently by in witness. Unity cannot exist until we reckon with ourselves, acknowledge the harm, lean in to the pain and discomfort, bear the accountability, and bring to the forefront an intersectional justice that reaches every corner of our communities.
When lawmakers and leaders and business owners and teachers and parents start prioritizing the ideas and policies that produce meaningful results for all people, and stop prioritizing privilege with such detailed attention, we just might unify around the change people have long called for. If we stop agonizing over white comfort and apologizing for white approval, we will be able to bring to fruition the types of practices and politics that actually move communities of color, and ultimately all of us, forward.
We are not exempt here at home, quoting MLK while condemning protests for Black lives, justifying hatred in online echo chambers, accepting indifference while wrapped in comfort, and watching leaders who continue to serve the wealthy few without doing a damn thing about it. White violence is not happening outside of us, we are a part of it.
It is easy to feel paralyzed by the enormity of the problem. But we are an active part of the solution if we rise to it. The only way to meet the immensity of this moment is to both practice, and require, a better way. The only way forward, as Representative Alexandria Ocosio-Cortez describes, is "a multi-racial democracy that fights for the economic rights of all people and the civil rights of all people." Find your place in that fight, bring your 6-year-olds, and there we will find progress. Δ
Quinn Brady is a community advocate and organizer on the Central Coast. Send a response for publication to [email protected].