As shocking and as tragic as the capitol riot was, I have to admit that it wasn’t surprising. Not just because Trump’s rhetoric foreshadowed all of this, but because this sort of behavior is historically consistent with how we deal with things in America. I believe that the reason we saw what we saw in the capitol building is because Americans have only two ways of dealing with not getting our way: escape or violence.
Let’s take it back to the very beginning. The pilgrims, our American ancestors, came from England, where they didn’t like the way the Church was telling them how to worship. So they left. They didn’t try to get new laws passed or try to reform things like the Puritans did. They straight up left and went to the other side of the world. We can’t even say this is a white people thing, either. Because in Germany a century earlier, when Martin Luther didn’t like what the Catholic Church was doing, he nailed all his grievances to their door instead of running away. So if anything, this might be a white American thing. And lest we think these pilgrims were a group of pacifists who didn’t want any problems with anybody and just wanted to worship God in peace and quiet, what did they do when they found out there were already people living in this new land they found? They killed them. Escape then violence.
Then, a century later, England was still telling the colonists what to do and they didn’t like that. So what did they do? They went to war. Not because they were slaves. Not because of police brutality from British troops. Because of taxation without representation. Then another century later, half the country said, “We want slaves.” and the other half said, “You can’t have them.” And the South said, “We’re gonna secede.” Escape. And then we went to war. Violence.
Time and time again we’ve resorted to escape or violence over non-life threatening issues. So is it any surprise that we would resort to violence when our president doesn’t get what he wants?
Here’s another interesting thing. While white Americans were killing and rioting over their non-lethal problems, you know who wasn’t? Slaves. There wasn’t a mass exodus of African pilgrims sailing away to find a “New Africa”. Partially because they would’ve been killed for it. But there also weren’t any majorly successful slave revolts either. Even if we count the Nat Turners and the German Coasts, not only did those revolts not succeed, but they happened because black people were being killed–not because they weren’t getting their way. And the closest we got to escaping was the Underground Railroad and that was just going from one end to the other of the same continent. We didn’t cross the whole Atlantic even though our actual lives were in danger.
Then when slavery was abolished and yet our lives were still at risk, we still didn’t start a war or run away. We marched and did sit-ins, drank at illegal water fountains, and created our own cities where our wealth was self contained. Even if we include the Pan African movement where Marcus Garvey was encouraging black people to return to Africa, it never actually led to a successful “New Africa”. Plus, it was again in response to black people’s lives actually being in danger. This was, after all, the early 1900’s where the KKK was alive and well and the Tulsa Race Massacre killed hundreds of black people literally minding their business. The point is, even though our lives were in danger, we still didn’t resort to escape or violence. Instead, we adapted.
But somewhere between the black people of the Civil Rights Movement and the black people of today, we lost that style of rebellion and SOME of us have gone from marches and sit-ins to rioting and looting. But here’s the rub. Violence, rioting, and looting is the American way of reacting when you don’t get your way. So when people criticize SOME BLM protestors for burning property because “there are better ways of protesting”, it’s a hypocritical response. Because yes there are better ways. But historically, violence is the American way. The problem is that historically, when black people do it, it’s barbaric. But when white people do it, it’s American. And the thing is, they’re not wrong. It very much is American.
So as much as I want to be upset about the capitol riot, this is who we are–a people who throw violent tantrums when we don’t get our way. At the end of the day, this was probably the most American thing we’ve seen since The Boston “Massacre”.