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  • Writer's pictureAlex Nelson

White Supremacy: An American Love Story

America is the object of its citizen’s affection. It always has been. Before this landmass ever had a European name, the native inhabitants who lived here treated this sliver of earth with great reverence, great care, and great love. Even the resilient people who were stolen from Africa found ways to muster — despite a 400 year plight — a reverence for this place, an affection rooted in imaginings of freedom and the possibility of prosperity. And still today, people from sea to shining sea love this country with a fierceness and commitment bordering on the obsessive. Sometimes, this committed affection shows up as extra-large flags and gaudy pronouncements of patriotism. Other times, the obsession shows up as an uncritical and unhealthy allegiance to ideals that have been subtly, but surely woven into the fabric of this nation.

Yet, for all of the ways U.S. citizens love their country, America does not return affection equally or unconditionally. And this is unfortunate because, since this country was colonized, Black, brown and indigenous people have fought, bled, and died hoping that America might one day come to understand, accept, and, at the very least, work equitably with all of its citizens. We want this country to love us back, to invest in us the same hope that we have invested in it. But that love does not exist, it never has — not for us. The love we seek is unrequited.

And the truth is that America has only “loved” Black and brown people superficially.

Only in those times when we are singing or dancing or dunking or joking or scoring touchdowns or otherwise using our talents to soothe this country’s racially charged undercurrent, has America even pretended to love us. It is fake love. And it is heartbreaking.

But America does have a real love, a true love — a partner to whom she is very committed. And he loves her too, but not more than he loves himself. His name is white supremacy.

Last week, we saw their children storm the Capitol in wild, violent acts of self sabotage. We heard President Donald Trump, an embodiment of white supremacist ideology and one of its loudest cheerleaders, encourage thousands of his followers to swarm the Capitol on his behalf, defiling a federal building in the name of "making America great again."

We also saw the rotten fruit of America’s union with white supremacy in the reluctant behavior of law enforcement officials as they allowed armed, angry mobs of Trump supporters to ransack the Capitol building and Congressional offices. We watched, in real time, as officers posed for selfies with rioters, turning a blind eye as criminal trespassers ran amok in the halls of Congress. We mused aloud about how different the police response would have been had those climbing the walls and decking the halls of the Capitol been Black or brown people — while silently knowing the bloody answer.

We remember the tear gas and rubber bullets and pepper spray and zip ties and batons and military weapons that were fixtures during peaceful, unarmed protests for BLM and wonder why those instruments of the state were so obviously absent as the Capitol’s windows and doors were shattered and battered. But our wonder is a function of awe, not ignorance. We know the reasons.

We know white supremacy does not police itself. White supremacy is less concerned with justice and more concerned with its own justification. White supremacy is without conscience and without morality. White supremacy is the true law of this land.

We know that white supremacy, America’s abusive, manipulative lover, lives in this country’s heart. And we should also know that Black and brown people are America’s heartbreak.

We are America’s heartbreak in the most literal sense — for the heart of America idolizes whiteness, protects white bodies, preserves white institutions, and prioritizes ideals associated with whiteness. But we are not white. And each day, America, herself, becomes less white. She becomes less of the reflection shown to her by white supremacy and more reflective of her own soil’s hues. Her lily heart is tainted with our blood.

We are America’s heartbreak because we are her identity crisis. We represent this country’s inability to comfortably inhabit a singular ID. We are the persistent, interrupting fissure in America’s long-running, white supremacist love story. We press her to come to terms with her past, present, and future selves. We remind her that her commitment to herself must be stronger than her commitment to racist ideologies. Our country must face the truth of the ugly, unapologetic legacy of white supremacy. She must confront the myth of white superiority. She must acknowledge that the devil is not the only liar.

Black and brown people in this country must also come to terms with our own identities as Americans. We should understand that we represent a disruption, a blockage, and ultimately a challenge to our country’s racist status quo. We must also recognize that we are the architects, the builders, and the sustainers. Our very existence here, alongside our relentless fight for equity, threatens the continued love affair between Lady Liberty and her toxic beau. We stand between America's blissful ignorance of inequality, discrimination, and oppression and her acknowledgement that any relationship with white supremacy is unsustainable.

But when the heart of America finally does break and the lifeblood of white supremacy dries up, how will our country’s body go on? How will it survive? Who will pump America’s blood?

We have always known the answer because the answer has always been the same. Those super-humans who endured and continue to endure the shackles of white supremacist society will pump the blood. America’s oxygen will be supplied by the Black and brown bodies who have upheld the dreams of their forebears while dreaming their own dreams of a healthy, reciprocal American love affair. We know because we are them. We are the workers who toil for paltry wages while our tax dollars fund oppressive, discriminatory systems. We are the Capitol employees who cleaned up after the riot so that Congress could safely return to work. We are Stacey Abrams, whose dogged commitment to voter registration and civic engagement mobilized thousands of Georgia voters and ultimately, shifted the balance of power in Congress. We are the lone Black Capitol policeman, Eugene Goodman, whose unflinching loyalty to his job and country led him to face down a vicious, unhinged mob as they sought to confront members of Congress.

We have always tended to America's wounds. We have always nursed her back to health despite her toxic relationship with white supremacy. We have been there after white supremacy left her empty, bruised, and confused. And after doing all this, we are left alone, unloved by our home country despite our sacrifices on her behalf. Now, we must decide how to move forward. We must determine the costs and weigh the benefits of past approaches. We must take inventory and consider the possibility that America may never love us. We must not close our minds to the heartbreaking reality that our demands for respect, our pleas for equity, and our hope for reciprocal love from this country may never be met.

Langston Hughes, one of America’s most prolific and brilliant poets, penned the short poem “American Heartbreak” over 50 years ago. When news broke that the Capitol was under siege, I was immediately reminded of his words and touched by Hughes’ simple, potent, and enduring examination of America’s relationship with its Black and brown people.

I am the American Heartbreak

The rock on which Freedom

Stumped its toe —

The great mistake

That Jamestown made

Long ago

Undoubtedly, Langston Hughes was right: we are the American heartbreak. Now, going forward, we must decide whether that is what we shall continue to be.



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