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American Exceptionalism, White Supremacy and Racism: A Reflection of the Insurrection of January 6th

by Sasha Estrella-Jones
January 2022

It has been a year to date since the January 6th Capitol Riot took place. I remember being at work with my eyes glued to the television as I witnessed what I would describe as an attempted coup happening in real time. I had lots of feelings and opinions about what I was seeing. A year since the insurrection some of my thoughts have remained the same, while other perspectives I had have shifted.

As I watched Capitol Rioters storm and plunder the home of America’s legislative branch, the thought that I was fixated on was that if the majority of the rioters were black or brown, this insurrection would not be going down like this. That belief has not changed; nor will it.
In this country, white men are generally not met with the same level of lethal force from law enforcement when compared to folks of color. I also did not expect the Capitol Rioters, those who were white at least, to be given harsh or lengthy sentences.

According to the United States Sentencing Commission, when the exact same crime has been committed, Black men, on average, are sentenced to 20% more time behind bars, than white men. It is not a good feeling to watch something you know is wrong happen and also know the demographics of those who committed the crime means more than likely they won’t do much time.

Watching the Capitol Riot was a reminder that when it comes to race and our judicial system, America does not treat its citizens equally and every time I am reminded of that, it is infuriating.

That said, my thinking was narrowed by only seeing January 6th through a race based lens. As time has separated me from initial feelings of anger, I feel more empathy towards the Capitol Rioters — something I did not expect to feel. It is not because I believe their actions were justified, but rather I know what it feels like to be lied to by your country.

You see, American exceptionalism — the idea that America is this supreme land and her people greater than the rest— is a dangerous bubble, when popped. So many of the Capitol Rioters truly believed it was their patriotic duty to act the way they did, it was the American thing to do.

To be told your entire life that you are better than the rest, to be educated by a system that has purposefully told only half the story leaving out the ugly parts to spare its ego, to elect a President that for four year has preached that same lie and then to lose an election to what is perceived as the “enemy” of this American greatness — I can understand how this leaves you feeling unsure, threatened and scared.

A year to date, I think now less about the event itself, but more about the collective dangers that American Exceptionalism, White Supremacy and Racism pose — both to the oppressed and the oppressor. I do not know what is to come for this country, but I do know that the omission of facts creates a false reality that can easily come crashing down because of the inability to accept the truth.