Contribution by: Martyn Ewoma
The storming of Capitol Hill was a continuation of White America’s violent history.
The closing weeks of 2020 were filled with unanimous disdain for the year gone by, with a slither of hope that 2021 would bring back a sense of normality to our fractured world. It should not be a surprise that this pipe dream was demolished within a week by White Americans. So often, the perpetrators of terrorism domestically and abroad, but rarely recognised as such, thousands of Trump supporters (per his instruction at a rally) stormed the Capital Building to halt the Electoral College vote count certification. In reaction to baseless claims that Trump had lost the election due to voter fraud.
The scenes were undoubtedly eye-catching, as social media flooded with images reminiscent of one of The Purge films. But when I thought about it, the scenes were only shocking based on the absurdity of the rioter’s motivation. There was no sense of “surprise” that gun-toting, Trump-supporting, White-Americans were wreaking havoc because they didn’t get their way. Who can forget the guy who took a rocket launcher to the subway last summer while protesting lockdown rules? Memories.
In his address to the nation, President-Elect Joe Biden said, “the scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are.” This statement either demonstrates an alarming level of ignorance about the history of the United States or is a deliberate attempt to appease White-liberals and Conservatives alike who wish to distance themselves from the reality of white supremacy’s stranglehold on the modern world. It actually doesn’t matter which it is; both are the approach of someone entirely ill-equipped for remedying the damage of Trump’s presidency.
The legacy of settler colonialism and slavery has shaped the United States we see today.
CNN noted January 6, 2020, as the day America realised how dangerous Trump really is. Paired with Biden’s words, it seems the line the U.S. is telling itself is that heavily armed, right-wing white people attempting to shape the future of a country through violence is a new phenomenon. This is the height of insanity. The United States, as we know it, began with the genocide of Native Americans, the surviving few of which still have their land encroached on endlessly. Since domestic settler colonialism wasn’t enough, the U.S. decided to up the ante by indulging in the transatlantic slave trade, followed by the Jim Crow South, followed by segregation. In the present day, a swarm of police officers can enter a Black woman’s home, shoot her to death in her bed, fail to call emergency services, and face no jail time. Breonna Taylor fell victim to the same evil her ancestors did in centuries gone by.
This is a crucial example of white violence being carried out in the knowledge there would be no consequences.
All of the eras touched on were defined by non-white people fighting for civil rights and in response, being systematically killed and terrorised to suppress insubordination. Whether you’re looking at the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, where Black wall street was burned down by White mobs, or the assassination of Dr. King in 1968, the precedent remains the same. In the United States, whenever White Americans do not like the country’s direction, violence is guaranteed, with little or no consequence. The storming of Capitol Hill was a continuation of this rich American tradition.
Let’s jump to the present day. Kyle Rittenhouse stands accused of shooting and killing two people and injuring a third at a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, over the summer when he was 17 years old. He has subsequently been hailed an “American patriot,” federal agents were asked to publicly support Rittenhouse, and Rittenhouse’s lawyers were able to raise $2m to post his bail by selling pro-Rittenhouse memorabilia. Social media posts show he was a staunch supporter of Blue Lives Matter, and his mother was given a standing ovation at a GOP (Republican Party) event in Wisconsin. The information surrounding his case makes it clear that huge swathes of the American public support his actions. The support he has received makes it clear his actions contributed to something bigger than himself. To even leave the scene alive after brandishing an assault rifle and shooting people, as Rittenhouse did, demonstrates the police protection afforded to white supremacists.
Because why would the police shoot one of their comrades?
The police didn’t shoot Dylan Roof after he murdered 9 Black people in a targeted racist attack, they bought him a burger. However, George Floyd and Eric Garner were publicly choked to death for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill and illegally selling cigarettes. What’s the relevance of Rittenhouse, Floyd, and Garner here? To highlight that the U.S. is experienced entirely differently based on ethnicity, at a social and institutional level. The protestors who stormed the Capitol knew that which is why they felt emboldened enough to do so. They know what the United States truly is, just as much as Black people do. The attempted coup of Capitol Hill reflects the soul of the U.S. It is essential to acknowledge this for anyone who genuinely wants to remedy that fact.
Contribution by: Martyn Ewoma
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