America’s current culture war can quickly lead to a civil war. Northern versus Southern states now Red versus Blue states, this country has been in conflict for hundreds of years. 

It’s been so long that neither side agrees on what they were initially fighting about. Whether slavery or states’ rights, things can quickly escalate if you say the wrong answer. 

Because it would be an attack on the country’s morality. It would call into question how the country sees itself and more importantly, wants to be seen in the world: “land of the free, home of the brave,” “America, the beautiful,” “We, the people.”

It would interrupt the story that America tells itself with its chest stuck out, that it tells its children and makes them pledge allegiance to. But have you heard the one about the country who enslaved African people for hundreds of years and nearly wiped out the indigenous population to cover its tracks?

America has been fighting about its identity, who it will identify with and as from its inception. Right from the beginning, there was a culture war and then an actual war: the First Indian War or for some, King Philip’s War in 1675. 

A treaty was signed but there remain at least two sides to this story. One side says the native and immigrant people came together to form this new union, while the other shares the story of destructive conflict and ongoing mistreatment. 

It’s the difference between the insurrectionists and the Capitol police. Some say the insurrectionists (not rioters or looters) were just touring the building, while others saw their presence as a threat to American democracy.

It’s like explaining away state-sanctioned violence against marginalized and minoritized communities, arguing that they simply lack discipline or need to behave as we would in that situation. But, what about Breonna Taylor, the African American medical worker, who was shot and killed during a botched raid, which was covered up? The Justice Department would go on to charge four current and former Louisville police officers with federal civil rights violations, including lying to obtain a search warrant of her apartment.

Or the 1985 MOVE Bombing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where police dropped a bomb on a house, killing 11 people, including five children? “The MOVE bombing, remembered as “May 13, 1985” in West Philadelphia, was the first time a U.S. city bombed itself,” Charles Abraham wrote in “MOVE: Philadelphia’s Forgotten Bombing.”

It was recently discovered that the city of Philadelphia as well as the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University “mishandled” the victims’ remains and that the local universities used the remains of child victims for instruction in course offerings in 2015 and 2019 without the families’ knowledge. How exactly is this community supposed to fight against this kind of unrestrained violence and posthumous barbarity?

When the disregard and brutalization of bodies racialized as black continues even after death?

Not surprisingly, the American church is in no position to help. It has an inordinate number of its own skeletons.

It, too, is being used to play both sides. It talks out of both sides of its mouth. Faithfully segregated, it justifies and explains away its political and racial divides.

American churches that claim to be diverse or multicultural but are often led by European American men are no different than a country that claims to be a “melting pot” though there’s only been one African American cook in the kitchen. Both are rooted in plantation politics, where it is preferable that a man racialized as white lead and oversee the church house or the White House lest things fall apart if left in the hands of these infantilized people.

Their salvation plans are even the same. It’s salvation from God; you just have to work for it. It’s God’s country; we just have to fight for it. 

In the case of the insurrectionists, you just have to kill a few elected leaders, just hang Mike Pence. Just look at the Overton Window, which shows that what is considered politically acceptable, like violent speech, can change in the public consciousness and move us closer to a culture war.

“People may tolerate years of poverty, unemployment, and discrimination. They may accept shoddy schools, poor hospitals, and neglected infrastructure. But there is one thing they will not tolerate: losing status in a place they believe is theirs. In the twenty-first century, the most dangerous factions are once-dominant groups facing decline,” Barbara F. Walter wrote in How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them.

Political violence can quickly become normalized when American citizens pine for authoritarian rule, oppose the rights of marginalized communities and suffer from a combination of cynicism and skepticism. Sure, it’s identity politics now, but name-calling is “semantic dehumanization.” 

Slurs target groups, which, in turn, generates contempt for them. If you can imagine a person as a thing, then it won’t be long before you are targeting them.

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