Editor’s Note: Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has been a producer, reporter and editor at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jones is co-author of “Say it Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete.” She talks politics, sports and culture weekly on Philadelphia’s 900AM WURD. The views expressed here are solely hers. Read more opinion on CNN.
Collective trauma catches you off guard.
Witnessing thousands of overwhelmingly White domestic terrorists who supported President Donald Trump storm the US Capitol on Wednesday, it felt like I was reliving America’s most painful past – moments I’ve experienced and echoes of those of my ancestors.
For many Black Americans, myself included, it evoked a recurring nightmare. So many of us have felt that this nation has been teetering on the brink of chaos for a long time.
We knew there would be a reckoning.
As I watched the siege of the Capitol building, I recalled the George Floyd protests in Lafayette Park near the White House in June, where heavily armed law enforcement set off explosives and fired gas on peacefully gathered citizens of all races – some of them even on their knees with their hands up or lying flat on the ground. Photo after photo of that day, shows protesters being beaten, arrested and dispersed by police.
Those people did not storm the Capitol or crash through police barriers. The crowd in the park that day – a few hundred people – did not try to shut down the government in the way that the mob did on Wednesday. All they wanted was equal justice and an end to the police killings of unarmed Black Americans.
On Wednesday, I was haunted by images I’ve seen of police attack dogs ripping open Black skin during the peaceful protests of the civil rights movement. I remembered the military vehicles confronting mostly Black crowds during the Black Lives Matter protests over the past several years.
To be Black in America is to live with constant trauma.
For Trump and many in the Republican party who seem more interested in taking America to the brink of a civil war for personal political gain rather than holding our nation together, the Lafayette Park protesters were criminals of the worst kind.
“What happened last night was a total disgrace,” the President said at the time. He called the protests in the aftermath of Floyd’s killing “mob violence” by the radical left and urged states to call in the military to shut down the protests.
Trump stayed true to form on Wednesday. In the middle of the violence, he had only kind words for those storming the Capitol. Speaking to the nation, he clung to his delusions, reinforcing his dog-whistle rhetoric and baseless conspiracy theories about the election being stolen from him. “We love you. You’re very special people … and I know how you feel,” Trump said as he asked the rioters to go home.
The violent assault at the Capitol left four dead and multiple injuries among police and rioters. The DC police chief said 52 people were arrested Wednesday, but it remains to be seen how many others will be held accountable for breaking the law.
This is what it looks like when toxic White privilege is left unchecked and consistently encouraged by our nation’s leaders and others in power.
And we only have ourselves to blame.
In America, structural racism has been allowed to fester. In every corner of our society, we’ve legitimized and defended a culture where White bodies are valued over Black bodies.
Too many of us have settled for baby steps toward full equality and justice. And now that we finally have been pushed to the brink, we are pushing back. That is why we shout Black Lives Matter. And now, more recently, Black Votes Matter.
There is no doubt the Trump era has awakened hate and fear in many Americans, but it has also inspired Black Americans to discover a new patriotic pride, a steadfast determination and belief in the power of our collective voices.
Look no further than the record Black voter turnout for the presidential election that put President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in office, and the Georgia Senate races that saw Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff elected.
That’s the power of the Black vote.
Black folk across the nation watched that siege and we knew in our souls that had those rioters been Black they would have faced deadly force long before they got inside the White House. So we fight smarter, by forcing this democracy to work for us.
Still, I like many others, remain encouraged. The recent elections prove that a majority of Americans want change. They believe we can be a better nation.
Wednesday was an ugly day in American history. But it would be a mistake to allow it to define us. Instead, let us learn that the politics of divide-and-conquer will destroy our nation.
Biden said it best when he spoke to America during the insurrection: “Democracy is fragile.”
Let’s take better care of it.