What are you going to do?

Shock, disbelief are not enough

WERE YOU SHOCKED by the events in Washington DC, when pro-Trump demonstrators, urged on by the president himself, breached the US Capital and unleashed mayhem in a final desperate attempt to overturn the November election?

Really, you were?

Did you say out loud “I can’t believe this is happening in America” as you watched CNN coverage of people scaling the walls of the Capitol building with blood in their eyes and murder on their minds? Who are these people, you asked?

It may have looked like an uprising in a dictatorship, but you know these people, or people like them. They are us, in one form or the other. They are the distant friends you haven’t really spoken to since Trump took office when you finally realized they weren’t offended by the steady vile spew of racism, sexism, ageism, and homophobic hate.

Yes, we know these people, you know these people. Maybe he’s even your crazy uncle that this pandemic (mercifully) prevented you from seeing over the holidays. But they didn’t go away.

In the pre-pandemic days, we would return from the holidays and vent about that crazy uncle and his bonkers family, about how they went on and on about Mexicans pouring over the border; about blacks not grateful for what “we” have given them; about gays who just won’t stay hidden. And then there is the whole other rant about those uppity women like Nancy Pelosi (and anyone else from California). You gritted your teeth and wondered how you got stuck in this family, with these “friends” and then you realized you were hardly alone because more than 70 million Americans voted for this! The hatred, the conspiracies, the lies, permission from the highest office in the land to demonize anyone who didn’t look like you.

The events of last week showed us that these aren’t just a few outliers peddling unproven conspiracies about stolen elections and the tragic demise of white America. Your crazy uncle and bonkers aunt and even your cousins are just the tip of the white grievance that this election was stolen “from them.” What they really mean, though, is that this country has been stolen “from them.”

 Well, now your crazy uncle has stormed the capitol with a street map literally given to them by the president himself, emboldened by their rights, their flag, and theirguns. All the while stoked that they were defending a land of liberty and the home of the brave that is white, male, and straight. How can these freedom fighters be provocateurs or “domestic terrorists” when they are defending the flag and “our way of life?”

Isabel Wilkerson’s book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, asks the question that needs to be asked out loud: “…if people were given a choice between democracy and whiteness, how many would choose whiteness?”

What we witnessed was the desperate act of a class of citizens who believe that they are the rightful owners of everything – land, jobs, the election — and that those who would dispossess them of these inalienable rights (read: blacks, indigenous, and people of color) are the real enemy. There were just thousands of them following the president’s urging to march on the Capitol, but they were marching for tens of millions of Americans cheering who think that the time has come for a revolution. A revolution!

Are you shocked by this? It wasn’t even a year ago when a white police officer killed a black man, while he was in handcuffs, by kneeling on his neck until he was dead. Throughout the summer, Make America Great Again demonstrators were hailed as freedom fighters while Black Lives Matter marchers were tear-gassed and beaten.

Yes, we the people of color are hopeful that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will lead us to a more tolerant America, but we also thought that when the first African American was elected president.

What we know is that we cannot watch this parade any longer. We cannot sit silently at our crazy uncle’s table and simmer in his vile stew. We have to decide, each one of us as individuals, that we will end this mess of colorism, racism, sexism, and gender bias.

So, when you gather for your next family meal or with friends, let your voice gently rise and remind those gathered that “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Meet the Author

Bithiah Carter

President and CEO, New England Blacks in Philanthropy
Nearly 150 years have passed since those words were written. Last week told us that those are still just words. What are you going to do about it?

Bithiah Carter is the CEO and president of Boston-based New England Blacks in Philanthropy.