This time last month, most of us were anticipating the move from 2020 to 2021. For obvious reasons (COVID-19 and its economic consequences, the expression of white supremacy, the murder of George Floyd, just to name a few) we hoped the new year would bring with it a magical restart.
It is an American tradition to reflect on the previous year, the things you are grateful for and the things that you are looking forward to accomplishing in the new year. This year kicked off with a reminder of how much work we still have to do. If anything, the three major events within the first three weeks of this month — an attempted insurrection, impeachment and inauguration — have emphasized how we need to keep moving forward with intention.
To create an America that is more just, more equitable and works for ALL Americans, we have to be honest about where we are: We are a racially diverse America, nevertheless built on white supremacy and plagued by a growing group of fascist “activists” that do not want to let go of white power.
Jan. 6 brought to center stage the racist fascism many discounted as the fringes of society: a fascism a lot of Americans knew existed, but that a lot of Americans also denied existed.
For many reasons, the inauguration of President Joe Biden was inspiring. The diversity on display stood in stark contrast to what we have seen at previous inaugurations or in presidential cabinets. But optics are not enough; it is time for us to act. The face of America has been changing, and we need to do the work to change our heart and soul. There is a division between the ideals of what America was during the Revolutionary War (and who is considered a patriot), and the shifting power structures beginning to truly reflect our country’s population. To bridge that divide, we must reckon with the truth that we need more than incremental steps over centuries toward justice.
We have built this country on narratives that, in some cases, are flat-out lies, and have refused to be inclusive of other people’s truths.
Moreover, we have always presented our democracy as the best system, but not all Americans have experienced the benefits of a true democracy.
After the attempted Jan. 6 coup, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa stated on social media, “Yesterday’s events showed that the U.S. has no moral right to punish another nation under the guise of upholding democracy.”
The racial social construct in which our country functions, that puts Blackness at the bottom of a racial hierarchy, has been taught over generations, manifesting in ways as subtle as unconscious bias in favor of white skin, complicit silence in the face of injustice or unapologetic white supremacy. However, all expressions of racism, no matter how small, are part of the same system meant to reinforce white power ideology. This is the truth we have to reckon with.
Yes, we need those in Washington, D.C., to do their work, but we also need to look at our own tasks. To quote President Joe Biden, “It’s going to take all of us” to dismantle the hate and its destruction of our country. How are we dismantling the effects of white power in our work, in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our communities?
But we can’t even start the work without accepting that we are clinging to an old power structure. Understanding this will allow true healing to begin.
Between the Jan. 6 insurrection and the inauguration of Joe Biden, we celebrated Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work in the Civil Rights Movement. It was such an appropriate reminder that the fight continues.
Although a watered-down version of his dream has been more palatable over the years because of our inability to confront truth, let’s remember what he actually said. There are “three major evils — the evil of racism, the evil of poverty, and the evil of war. … And we must face the hard fact that many Americans would like to have a nation which is a democracy for white Americans but simultaneously a dictatorship over Black Americans.”
When it comes to King’s dream, the start of 2021 shows we have a long way to go.