Division and Darkness: White-Washing America’s Disease

Darkness and division are words frequently evoked by those condemning the insurrection in the United States Capitol on January 6. From statements of President-Elect Biden to the words of members of Congress who actually helped foment the invasion, these words roll easily off the tongues of American political leaders in times like these. And faith leaders follow in kind, preaching sermons about the need to “come together” and prioritize unity and civil discourse and other such values that we are supposed to all hold dear in this country.

Such rhetoric serves to do more harm than good as the United States, once again, peers over the abyss to see the edges of our democracy sloughing off into the oblivion of our worst collective coping skills. We’ve been at this razor’s edge multiple times in this country.

My ancestors had conflicts around dinner tables between those loyal to the King of England and those who fought in the Revolutionary War. My ancestors fought on both sides of the Civil War. All of them were faithful Presbyterians, Elders, Sunday school teachers, and church builders. I can imagine through the years that all those generations heard and delivered many sermons calling for unity and decrying division. I can imagine they spoke heatedly in their communities and in their homes about the dark foreboding of opposing sides coming to blows and shedding the blood of their own kin.

My ancestors wanted to think of themselves as the “good white people.”  Respectable, professional, bankers, lawyers, judges, teachers, preachers, landowners, and Christians. Among them were a state Supreme Court justice, a gubernatorial candidate, a United States Postmaster. My ancestors fit the demographic that this country was set up to serve: Christian, landowning, male, and white.

Of course, I have white women in my ancestry, too. But they knew the pathways of respectability even as they pushed boundaries. They pushed them in ways that white society approved of like going to college when that was rare for women, or like playing on a women’s basketball team when you could only dribble twice and wore ankle length dresses.

Intelligence and the moral high ground were the assets most prized by my ancestors. And they generated ample social capital through the years opting for conciliatory language and political compromise.

No doubt these compromises and conciliations were with their own white kin. These habituations of tolerance undoubtedly did not result in lasting justice for those most harmed by whiteness. These compromises were at the expense of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. My ancestors opted for a brittle peace over eradicating the demon they had decided to tolerate in the interest of feigned unity and white brotherhood.

That demon is still leading this country around by the nose, disguising itself as division so we respond with calls for unity again and again. All the while, white people let it have its way with us because doing otherwise seems too costly when you are moderately safe in your white skin.

And it’s not just Trump supporters who are captive to these demons, it’s all of us socialized in the United States. And white progressives and liberals are possessed in some of the most destructive ways. Because we’re the ones who most often love the moral high ground of calling for unity in the midst of social upheaval. We’re the ones who love to call for being a light in the darkness.

Wednesday, January 6 was a day when whiteness was in the brightest light of day, unleashed, unhinged, and unhindered. And these last four years have not been a dark time in our history, they have been a starkly white time in our history. Again and again in the bright, harsh light of day, we’ve been reminded that whiteness thinks it owns this country. And it gets away with acting like it does over and over again.

Any gains by Black, Indigenous, People of Color are met with a thunderous white-lash. That kind of white terror and white maneuvering has poisoned everything from Reconstruction to the integration of schools to the Civil Rights Movement to criminal justice reform. And that terror and those maneuvers have always been deployed by white mobs and white neighbors, white terrorists and white parents, white extremists and white moderates.

The United States of America does not need unity right now, we need justice and accountability for the harm that white supremacy culture has wrought for generations. The division that white power brokers have claimed the country was avoiding all these years by “coming together” after white violence lashes out is with us so tenaciously because we have negotiated with the terrorist that lives within our white history and within our white bodies.

The stark white day of insurrection embodies the harsh optics of how whiteness reacts when it is under siege. And as frightening as it is to press harder when the demon roars with such terrible violence, we must not let the tension pacify us in the face of what must be done. If we don’t want to be a country ruled by whiteness, then we have to keep exorcising it even though it will not go quietly.

And right now, justice and accountability look like President Trump being tried for his crimes and prevented from any privileges of the Office of the President. Those who fomented the insurrection like Madison Cawthorn (my representative) and Ted Cruz and others, should be removed from office. We have to stop normalizing the pathologies of white culture that teach white people that rules don’t apply to us and that it’s our right to conquer the world. This demonic possession is not about differences of opinion or opposing political views, it is about a culture of white dominance that has made us all sick.

It is whiteness that taught us to call bad things “dark.” It is whiteness that taught us that a false peace is preferred to a real justice. If we’re fortunate enough to have a future as a democracy in this country, our best bet is that it is darker, as in not so full of whiteness and the dishonesty that whiteness brings with it. Healing doesn’t start with unity; it starts with truth.

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