Last week’s assault on the Capitol was essentially a race riot, the product of white racial grievance.
“Race has been as central to Donald Trump’s presidency as it was to Woodrow Wilson’s, a century ago.”
“If it can happen in the United States, it can happen anywhere,” wrote New York Times Berlin bureau chief Katrin Bennhold, purporting to sum up world leaders’ reaction to the white nationalist assault on the U.S. Capitol. The truth is precisely the opposite: mob violence by white people aggrieved at perceived threats to their political hegemony due to the growing influence or presence of the Other — most often, Blacks — is trademark Americana, an historically repetitive phenomena that is, to varying degrees, also characteristic of other white settler states that share the U.S.’s genocidal history. It cannot “happen anywhere,” because similar conditions and histories do not exist everywhere. Bennhold’s interpretation of global sentiment is pure American exceptionalist propaganda — an erasure of U.S. history to project a false view of the present. (In fact, the only world semi-notable who mouthed words similar to Bennhold’s was former Romanian prime minister Dacian Cioloş.)
White mobs and armed groups have been inflicting violence against the non-white presence in their colonial settler state ever since their ancestors arrived on these shores. The Puritans – a colony-in-arms — had all but completed the mission of racially “purifying” New England within a century of setting foot at Plymouth Rock. Far more Native Americans were killed by massed, armed settler civilians than by uniformed armies of the British Crown or the young U.S. republic. Whites in the slave states of the U.S. South were a people perpetually in arms in “defense” against slave rebellions, with every able-bodied white man obligated to aid in suppressing real or threatened Black revolts. Hundreds of Blacks were massacred in the wake of Nat Turner’s 1831 rebellion.
“Mob violence is trademark Americana, an historically repetitive phenomena that is, to varying degrees, also characteristic of other white settler states.”
Northern white mobs also rejected the Black presence in their cities in the pre-Civil War era. Racists attempted to drive Black people out of Cincinnati, Ohio, three times: in 1829, 1836 and 1841. (In 1853 and 1855, white Cincinnati nativists also fought with German immigrants who had been influenced by revolutionary trends in Europe.)
After the Civil War, white mobs and racist armies spent 30 years subduing Black Reconstruction, from the New Orleans massacre of 1866 to the armed overthrow of the Black Republican-white Populist government in Wilmington, North Carolina’s largest city, in 1898. During this period tens of thousands were killed — far more than the four thousand-plus Black lynching victims recorded by the great journalist/organizer Ida B. Wells.
White civilians annihilated the remaining natives of California in the gold and land rushes, and terrorized and forced the mass expulsion of Chinese from the state.
For the first 160 years of the U.S. republic’s life, the term “race riot” applied almost exclusively to white mob attacks on non-whites. Every boxing victory won by Black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson set off lethal rampages by northern and southern whites in the early years of the 20th century. The “Red Summer” of 1919, dubbed such by the Black public intellectual and activist James Weldon Johnson, saw white “race riots” in dozens of cities and the massacre of hundreds of Blacks in rural areas around Elaine, Arkansas. In Washington, DC, however, Blacks fought back, killing 15 white attackers while losing 38 to the mob. Heartened by the Black resistance to armed racist assault, Black poet and activist Claude McKay wrote the poem, If We Must Die:
“… O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!”
Just as the current president is blamed for inciting the white mob in Washington, President Woodrow Wilson was viewed as a prime instigator of mass racist violence during his terms in the White House, including the East St. Louis riot that claimed the lives of hundreds of Black people in 1917. An arch- segregationist who introduced Jim Crow to the federal civil service, Wilson endorsed the Ku Klux Klan-glorifying film Birth of a Nation as “History written in lighting,” in 1915. The presidentially-endorsed movie ushered in a “gilded age for the Klan. In the summer of 1925, 30,000 hooded terrorists paraded in a show of force in Washington, DC.
“President Woodrow Wilson was viewed as a prime instigator of mass racist violence during his terms in the White House.”
The term “race riot” was synonymous with white mob attacks against people of color until 1935, when an estimated 4,000 Blacks in Harlem, New York, took to the streets against police brutality. Harlem exploded again in 1943, for the same reasons, establishing the modern pattern of police repression/Black urban resistance. (The “Zoot Suit” riot by white servicemen and cops against Latinos in 1943 Los Angeles was a mixture of both old and new patterns of white domestic aggression.)
Police repression/Black urban resistance has become such a part of the modern American experience that white mob violence is often not characterized as a “race riot” – especially if the rioters are cops.
Race has been as central to Donald Trump’s presidency as it was to Woodrow Wilson’s, a century ago. Last week’s assault on the Capitol was essentially a race riot, the product of white racial grievance. Since 1968, the Republicans have successfully sought to position themselves as the White Man’s Party. Not since 1964 has a majority of whites voted for a Democratic presidential candidate, and Donald Trump won 57 percent of white votes last November. Having feasted on Trump’s racist “red meat” rhetoric for the past five years, the most volatile elements of the white hordes mounted an assault on the “nigger lovers,” as they used to describe people perceived as allies of Blacks, on Capitol Hill.
Of course, the U.S. Capitol is no stronghold of Black Power — the Congressional Black Caucus voted overwhelmingly to make police a protected class, in 2018, and to continue the Pentagon’s militarization of local cops, in 2014. But racists are cognitively challenged; they see phenomena that doesn’t exist, and are blind to what’s right in front of their eyes. The denizens of white settler colonies, worldwide, have always perceived their states as precarious outposts of “civilization” – a worldview that justifies any and all atrocities against the natives and imported “lesser” humans, including genocide.
“Racists see phenomena that doesn’t exist, and are blind to what’s right in front of their eyes.”
Given the mass murderous record of every white settler colony on the planet – which includes all the nations of the Americas, with the possible exception of the Caribbean countries -- it was surprising to find that only one recent book on Latin American white settler states turns up in a Google search engine. Richard Gott’s Latin America as a White Settler Society, published in 2007 by the Bulletin of Latin American Research, can be read at JSTOR. Gott sees race as central to understanding the white settler mentality, even many generations after settler arrival on foreign shores.:
“A recognizable feature of all ‘settler colonial’ states is the ingrained racist fear and hatred of the white settlers, alarmed by the continuing presence of the expropriated underclass. It is built-in to the history of the European colonial states in Africa as well as that of the antipodean colonies of Australia and New Zealand. Yet the race hatred of the settlers has only had a minor part in our traditional understanding of the drama of Latin American history and contemporary society. It is often underplayed or ignored – as it is too in the USA – and even politicians and historians of the Left have preferred to discuss class rather than race.”
In the case of the United States, American exceptionalism erases actual history and denies U.S. commonality with any other nation. New York Times reporter Katrin Bennhold can get away with pretending that the United States is both unique and a bellwether for “democracy” everywhere on the planet – which is ridiculous on its face. The events at the Capitol are absolutely consistent with racist white mob behavior throughout U.S. history, and totally understandable in the white colonial settler context. Outside of that context, these events make far less sense.
The U.S. is best understood as the first of the planet’s white colonial settler states – a species of state that includes most of the rest of the western hemisphere, Australia, New Zealand, and the last of the settler breed, Israel.
In clinging to the exceptionalist fallacy that the U.S. is a model of democracy and unique in the world, rather than the end-product of colonial white settler predation, the Democrats reveal that they share much the same delusions as the flagpole-wielding Trumpsters they revile.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].
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