When multi-hyphenate performer Childish Gambino released his visual for “This Is America” in 2018, it sent shockwaves through the Twitterverse and beyond. Everyone was talking about its violence, its darkness, and its irrevocable honesty. The same can be said about the testimony of the four officers at the first hearing of the Select Committee for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Officer Harry Dunn, Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, Officer Michael Fanone, and Officer Daniel Hodges all gave harrowing accounts of what transpired for them and their fellow officers on that fateful day — the day our government was almost overthrown while the Confederate flag breached the Capitol Building — a sight unfathomable during the Civil War, let alone now.
Their accounts of the violence, the taunting, and the verbal and physical abuse they experienced on Jan. 6 were like watching Childish Gambino’s video come to life right before our eyes.
“I have never been called a nigger to my face while wearing this uniform,” said Dunn, who is Black. He said it with a tone that was meshed with both grief and disbelief — the cocktail du jour experienced by most Black people in America. Dunn’s accounting of the racial epitaphs being hurled at him — beginning with a White woman’s taunts intended to rile up the mob of White men—conjured another awful memory for many. Hours after being honorably discharged from the United States Army after fighting for his country in World War II, Officer Issac Woodard suffered a brutal attack at the hands of South Carolina police as they pulled him off a bus and beat him, leaving him blind. What is clear is that the only uniform that many White Americans care about is the one that can’t be removed — our Black skin.
To continue the lie of White American exceptionalism, you must erase any evidence of their involvement with violence, torture, rape, and genocide.
Because of their race and ethnicity, both Dunn and Gonell experienced the White terrorist attack on the Capitol Building differently than their fellow officers. Hodges referred to the mob as White domestic terrorists and went on to read the U.S. Code, which defines such a horrific act as those that involve “acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of criminal laws of the United States or any State intended to intimidate or coerce the civilian population.” Hodges testified about the White mob trying to convince him to come over to their side. “Are you our brother?” they asked. He spoke boldly about the sea of White male attackers in combat gear carrying signs of White supremacy seeking to destroy everything in their path — including our democracy.
“I got called a nigger a couple dozen times today protecting this building,” Dunn stated. “Is this America? They beat police officers with Blue Lives Matter flags. They fought us, they had Confederate flags in the U.S. Capitol.” His accounts and repeated use of one of the most heinous words in the English language once again reverberating through the sacred halls of our democracy illuminate for all that indeed this has always been America.
This is precisely why Republicans have been fighting tooth and nail to destroy any evidence of that day and gaslight the country into believing this was nothing more than a group of “excitable tourists” as opposed to being a White domestic terrorist mob we saw with our own eyes. This is what the beginning of tyranny looks like. Spreading fear and lies across the nation like butter on toast. If you think that the actions on Jan. 6 aren’t connected with the attacks on critical race theory, think again. To continue the lie of White American exceptionalism, you must erase any evidence of their involvement with violence, torture, rape, and genocide. You must indeed pretend that, as Rick Santorum stated, “nothing was here before we got here.” You must refer to slavery as a “necessary evil.” You must refer to any attempts to tell the truth about this nation as lies or the liberal agenda. You must rewrite history as it’s unfolding.
If Jan. 6 showed the country anything, it is that we are at war. We are at war with an ideology that seeks to destroy everything that resembles truth and progress. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we can act. Jan. 6 was a first attempt at bringing our democracy to its knees — it will not be the last.
As James A. Baldwin once said: “Please try to remember that what they believe as well as what they do and cause you to endure does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity.”