All the Ways We Told You America Needed to Be Fixed
Black people have been telling America about itself for a long time. Someday it might listen.
Very little about America surprises Black people. We are only startled by things that happen, never by the potential for things to happen. When Trump supporters attacked the Capitol on January 6, Black people collectively checked our watches, muttering, “Oh, is today when that’s going down? Guess we’re not going south of Massachusetts Ave. today.” Shocked, but not surprised.
By contrast, White America’s reaction to the attack on Capitol Hill was marked with unadulterated surprise, as if it truly did not know itself, as if Sam Cooke did not mention it in the very first line of “Wonderful World” (which I know for a fact is a song White people like very much). Mainstream media seemed overcome with shock and revulsion. Politicians everywhere crossed their chests, shocked at what America had “become.” As if violent and entitled were not things America has always been.
Black people have to know America because America is an amnesiac with a gun. It does not put a premium on learning from its past. An educated public is harder to manipulate, and so history isn’t something America holds in high esteem. But Black people have a different relationship to America’s history: The further back you go, the more demonstrably perilous our condition becomes. And because Black people don’t want to go back to the days when the public execution of Black people was so common as to be mundane, we are constantly telling America about itself.
I wish I could say we offer such insight because Black people are striving for a better republic by way of our amazing adherence to the idea of citizenship. That would be a lie. We tell America about itself for the same reason we make time to know how it moves: survival.
Citizenship is a confounding concept in America, in that it has never truly taken root as a social reality. It’s always been more of a stretch goal than an across-the-board achievement. Our society simply has yet to pull it off in a way that doesn’t make our borders…