It has taken more than 400 years, but a whole bunch of Congressional legislators might finally know what it feels like to be hated in America.
There are people in this nation who have been pleading, yelling and shouting about this for centuries. They’ve tried to make it clear that living with discrimination is downright frightening. Maybe most of those lawmakers understand that now.
Can we still claim, “That’s not who we are,” after a rampaging, homicidal mob stormed the U.S. Capitol? Can we still believe that the men and women who hid under desks, in hallways, in closets and in bathrooms are thoroughly convinced we are a fair and civil democracy?
What I thought was this: How many Black men and women felt such gut-wrenching fear from the same kind of murderous mob, who threatened them and their children with burning crosses? Do those lawmakers now know what thousands of Black men felt just before they were strung up from a tree? Are they familiar with the terror that crawls inside you when American citizens are seen marching with Nazi flags?
Yes, I know we’ve been told over and over that those days are finished. That kind of horrible mob violence doesn’t occur in the United States anymore. We are supposed to be a progressive society that has left all that behind.
But that’s not what I saw on Jan. 6; that’s not what we all saw. That isn’t what the world saw, as thousands of crazed, mostly white Americans broke windows and smashed through doors to hunt down the people inside the Capitol building with murder on their minds.
Perhaps we can finally stop deluding ourselves and dispense with the fiction that we’re a fair-and-equal society, that we’ve reached that hallowed point of being “post racial,” after watching an American citizen carry a Confederate battle flag though the U.S. Capitol. Maybe we can dispense with the fiction that there is no longer vicious anti-Semitism in the United States after seeing an American citizen wearing a T-shirt that proudly boasted of “Camp Auschwitz” and that “six million wasn’t enough.”
Because if the Capitol riot proved anything at all, it is this: There is no doubt that there are people in the good, old USA who would consider committing mass murder to get what they want. And in my mind, there is certainly no doubt that these are the same people who wouldn’t have a problem terrorizing a Black family or hanging a Black man from a tree.
Or shoving a child into an oven.
I know what it feels like to be the object of such hatred. I can personally attest to it. And even more than that, I’m aware of the physical pain and psychological agony that comes from being attacked and beaten by precisely the same kind of people who stormed the Capitol.
I know what it feels like to be pummeled and kicked, to have bottles broken over your head by a hateful mob, to hear snarling racial epithets hurled at you with unmitigated loathing. I experienced that unimaginable pain and humiliation as a 22-year-old in a Southwest Side Chicago park. It took two-and-a-half weeks to heal from that beating. It has taken far longer to deal with the misery that incident left inside of me.
At least in one sense, the lawmakers inside the Capitol building were spared. They were ushered away to safety. I spent time in a hospital. And for weeks after that attack, I couldn’t sleep before the horrible images of that day came crashing back at me. Four decades later, I can still see those faces twisted with hatred and hear the awful names they flung at me.
Five weeks ago, I saw those faces again.
On Jan. 6, every legislator inside that building should have realized what it feels like to be hated. If they felt that stinging fear, then they now know how it feels to be despised just because of who you are.
They should now know how it feels to be Black and have to hide from the Ku Klux Klan just outside your door. They should know now how it feels to be Jewish while hiding from Nazi Storm Troopers. They should know now how it feels to be Muslim in the harrowing days just after 9/11. They should know now how it feels to be Asian after the president of the United States called a deadly pandemic, “The China Virus.” They should know now it how it feels to be seen and thought of as nothing but a nigger, a kike, a raghead or a gook.
It has taken me weeks to settle down, to deal with my swirling emotions and pull everything into perspective after witnessing what I saw last month. For most of the citizens of the world, the storming of the U.S. Capitol was shocking. For most of the citizens of America, it was disgusting and embarrassing.
But for me, and for every person who is familiar with the hostility that emanates from bigotry and intolerance, for those the world over who have been threatened, attacked, beaten or humiliated because of their color or religion or ethnicity, that day was personally traumatizing. That day left a wound in our hearts and a stain on our souls.
And hopefully, for most of America’s Capitol Hill legislators, it left an indelible impression on their minds.