Updated: Oct 17, 2021
The essential contribution of African Americans in the election of Joe Biden and in the election of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff (giving Democrats control of the Senate), plus Trump’s insurrection, gives us the opportunity to choose between unity and justice. This is not the first time our nation has faced such a choice. It could be the first time we choose justice.
Choosing unity rather than justice may not represent the “soul” of America, but it certainly describes our habitual behavior as a nation. We see it in the compromises of 1778, 1820, 1850, and the “white” compromise of 1868 that lasted until the 1960s. The unity was always among conflicting white groups, never between whites and people of color.
Who can be against the “healing” of our divisions? Let’s just make sure that we choose the right ones. We need to choose those divisions that prevent us from creating a sustainable future. The fact is that attempts to heal the divisions among white people will not change the climate of injustice that has shaped our choices from colonial times to today.
The current division among whites has its origin with the Southern white response to losing the Civil War. Out of their experience of being defeated by the North, they developed the ideology of the “Lost Cause,” which proclaimed that their “cause” was more just and righteous than the North’s.
This injury to their white pride, as I understand it, became a sign of their sacrifice for white supremacy. Their “noble suffering,” in other words, stiffened their self-righteousness. The “losers” believed they were superior to the “winners.” Just like today, many Republicans believe they are more righteous and even more American than the Democrats.
Attempts to unify these white differences have little chance of dealing with the issue that prevents us from moving from a climate of injustice to a climate of justice: the issue of white arrogance. Just like in past national compromises, whites will again join together in advancing American Prosperity at the expense of people and the planet.
This is a historical moment. If we see it as the election when African Americans and other people of color secured the future of our democracy then we might let them help us move toward a climate of justice. Or, If we see it as the election that revealed the deep antagonism between whites, then I suspect we will repeat a pattern that is as old as our nation.