We need to stop saying, “This is not who we are” in response to acts of violence perpetrated by white supremacist groups.
We need to stop saying it because it simply is not true.
At the heart of America is an in-bred belief in white privilege and white supremacy. Deep within our DNA as a country is the belief that the United States is a nation of, for and by white people.
This is evidenced by our demand that people of other nationalities and ethnic groups must take on the attributes of whiteness if they are going to appropriate the full benefits of citizenship.
Andrew Wymer, in an article in volume 35, issue 3 of the journal “Liturgy” argues, “domination is at the heart of white culture.”
He states that racial minorities, in order to survive in Western culture (in other words, white culture) must choose between committing cultural suicide or homicide.
Buried deep within the structure of America is the belief that Native Americans deserved the displacement and genocide visited on them. Ingrained in the depth of our nation’s soul is the conviction that Black people are inherently inferior and must be kept in their place.
Racism and white supremacy are endemic to American identity. And so is the violence that goes with them and protects them.
From the genocide of Native Americans to the lynchings that buttressed Jim Crow to the violence against peaceful protesters this past year, white America has unleashed a continual stream of brutality to maintain its hegemony.
In response to the attack on the U.S. Capitol, commentators and politicians, including President-elect Joe Biden, have assured us that the people responsible are a fringe group who do not represent who we are.
On one level, this may be true – most white Americans are not part of a militia group. Yet, on a much broader level, it misrepresents reality. Nearly 60% of white Americans voted to re-elect Trump in November.
As white Christian Americans, we have no credible voice to cry, “This is not who we are.”
As Jemar Tisby has eloquently pointed out in The Color of Compromise, the white church in America has been complicit in creating and defending white supremacy in America.
Robert Jones, in White Too Long, presents compelling evidence that the single most salient indicator of racist attitudes is that one is a white Christian who attends church regularly.
In 2016, Donald Trump garnered the majority of white Christian votes, regardless of denominational tradition. And again in 2020, after we had the benefit of four years watching immigrant and minority rights being trampled and the welfare of poor Americans ignored, Trump still reaped the majority of white Christian votes.
We need to stop trying to convince ourselves that “this is not who we are.” It simply is not true. This is who we are.
We may not be storming the Capitol grounds, but we support laws and policies that maintain white people at the top of the social and economic ladder.
We may not be building gallows and threatening to hang our political foes, but we are too often silent in the face of a justice system that incarcerates Black Americans at a rate disproportionate to their presence in the population.
Condemning those who stormed the U.S. Capitol is easy. However, if we are honest, we must admit they are an amplified reflection of who we are.
We must be willing to look through them to the ways we all compromise and are complicit with institutions, laws and theologies that build and support white hegemony.
And the sooner we come to grips with that truth and stop trying to allay our guilt by denying that reality, the sooner we will be able to marshal the will and courage to work to change the reality of who we are as a church and as a nation.