Before the whir of life-changing events and the unprecedented-ness that has characterized the past six months, I was bent over my notebook for Black Radical Tradition in the U.S., taught by Professor Russell Rickford, Africana and American Studies, rushing to sloppily jot down his last sentence: “Americanism is ahistorical.”
More recently, sitting on my couch instead of a desk and staring not at slides but the rolling credits for Spike Lee’s most recent war drama, Da 5 Bloods, I heard an echo of Prof. Rickford in the back of my head. And since then, I’ve been reminded of those three words so often that I now hear them in my own voice, as I read people’s denialism about the United States’ militant capacity to conquer civilians. Specifically its own citizens. Over videos of federal agents deployed on the streets of New York, Portland and Chicago, Homeland Security Investigations officers brutalizing protestors and plainclothes cops snatching people into unmarked vans, outrage and shock have been weirdly focused on where this is happening, and whose citizens it’s happening to, rather than the simple fact that it’s happening. These reactions reveal a need to create distance between America and the evidence before us, and to pretend that distance is as geographical as it is ethical: “A little graffiti and some toppled statues and we turn into freaking [Al]Fallujah.