This is America


NBC News

The U.S. Capitol descended into chaos on January 6th, 2021.

On January 6, 2021, the U.S. Capitol descended into chaos as hundreds of pro-Trump insurrectionsits swarmed the building. Five people, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer, died as a result of the siege. Politicians and others were forced to evacuate their respective chambers to hide from the insurrectionists trashing offices, stealing property, and clashing with law enforcement, interrupting the constitutional process of confirming Joe Biden’s election victory. 

In his response to the event, President Biden stated that the attacks “do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are.” A plethora of other political leaders, such as former presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush and French president Emmanuel Macron have given similar opinions in response to the violence.

However, many see a problem with this approach, as the events of January 6 do represent an America that we know of. We as a society watched it happen right here on U.S. soil. Simply repeating the sentiment that “this is not what America is” will not somehow make it true and is an unhelpful reaction that does not promote genuine change. It makes us pretend that history can only progress in one direction: we just have to wait for the tough times to pass, and our glorious future will be there to greet us. 

The fact of the matter is that this is America, and it always has been. Armed standoffs, electoral violence, white male entitlement, and conspiracy theories are all a part of our national DNA. If this event felt at least somewhat familiar to you, that’s probably because it is. Taking a look at U.S. history makes it clear that we live in a nation built on stolen land, racism, and violence. And for the purest expression of American culture, just look at the man responsible for inciting the violence: Donald Trump.. 

Furthermore, on the day of the insurrection, the DC Metropolitan Police Department reported that they made 52 arrests relating to the unrest. On June 1, 2020,  289 people were arrested due to the peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Lafayette Park, roughly  5.5 times higher than those at Capitol Hill. Speaking with Bloomberg CityLab, Janet Murguía, the president of the Hispanic advocacy group UnidosUS, stated that law enforcement’s response to the attacks “are a striking reminder of real double standard and institutional racism playing out not just today but over the course of our story.” 

Through the slavery, segregation, and systematic racism plaguing the nation’s history, white supremacy has become as American as apple pie. Although the nation has progressed over the centuries, our past is still part of our present, and we have a long way to go. Political analyst Carlos Bravo Regidor told the Los Angeles Times that “this is a reckoning or a coming to terms with the fact that the U.S. can no longer be seen as a beacon of hope and democracy.” Citizens of this country are waking up to the fact that the U.S. is and has always been a country of faults and political turmoil just like any other nation. 

However, there is still hope. Human nature is neither all good nor all bad, and either form of essentialism misses the point and is far too reductive. Our nation can be what we want it to be, as that very same day, Georgia elected its first black and Jewish senators. But, to get there, we need to stop denying our nation’s past and present and admit we have a problem. We cannot arrive at our ideal selves unless we face our actual selves, and white Americans must reckon with their white privilege. This is what America is now, but it is not what it has to be forever.

As National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman said in her inaugural poem, “We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace/ And the norms and notions of what just is/ Isn’t always just-ice/ And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it/ Somehow we do it/ Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed/ A nation that isn’t broken/ But simply unfinished.”