If history repeats itself, what’s in store for us?
History has a tendency to repeat itself. And as I have delved into it, I am becoming increasingly worried . . .
Here is a bit of historical grounding:
- 1915: Birth of a Nation
- 1915–1920s: the second incarnation/wave of the KKK
- 1916: the Great Migration
- 1918: the Spanish Flu —global pandemic
- 1918–1920: economic downturn, partially induced by a global pandemic
- Summer 1919: the Red Summer
This is a bare-bones timeline. Obviously, we had the end of WWI, the beginning of prohibition, the passage of the 19th amendment. There were other events, but I want to draw attention to these specific BIG events.
In 1915, Birth of a Nation was born — a silent film still referenced today in literature, histories, and social science texts pertaining to white supremacy, because among many problematic and racist sentiments, it portrayed the KKK as a critical and necessary force. It was a seminal film for the propagation, perpetuation, and amplification of white supremacy. This film helped spur the renewal of the KKK.
The Great Migration — the movement of African-Americans north, in order to begin new lives, seize new opportunities, and to build new futures, changed community landscapes and challenged ingrained white supremacy values (ex. white people saw their workers leaving without permission; phrasing and emphasis is intentional).
The KKK was a force of control; it was also whitelash, a response to Black empowerment and advancement. At the same time, Birth of a Nation served as way to publicly condone white violence, white fears, and white supremacy — all of which were embodied in the KKK’s terrorists acts, whether it was in the south or in the north.
A Birth of a Nation is released, the Great Migration begins, the KKK is revitalized, and a global pandemic begins. As we are now more familiar than we were two years ago, the Spanish Flu occurred at this time. It was a global pandemic that overwhelmed, that disrupted, that changed the world — I don’t think I need to go into much detail over how a global pandemic causes sweeping or grand upheaval in people’s regular lives.
The Spanish Flu, we know like a freshly-made wound, negatively impacted, among other things, the economy. Before we had the roaring 20s, we went through a bit of a downturn.
All of this leads me to the Red Summer. While it is called the Red “Summer” it lasted beyond summertime. Depending on how it is counted, the Red Summer lasted from about April 1919 through November 1919 — give or take a month on either end. The Red Summer was a series of targeted, violent, deadly, repeated, white supremacist attacks — against Black people/communities — throughout the United States.
Each of these aforementioned historical events has the capacity to fill pages, pages I cannot fill at this time, and it is not my purpose here anyway. Rather, my purpose is drawing attention to the parallel, the pattern developing . . .
- 2015–2020: the rise, election, and presidency of Trump
- 2016: the birth of the Proud Boys
- 2017: the birth of QAnon
- 2020: COVID-19, global pandemic
- 2020: the role, in particular, of Native-American and Black voters in the presidential election
- 2021: the Capitol Insurrection
In our recent history we have had the dissemination, proliferation, of dangerous, and racist-laden, platforms, organizations, and ideas. We have experienced a global pandemic that has upended every facet of our lives. We have had a fierce election cycle that drew out record participation and undeniable influence from communities of color. And, we have had a violent, white supremacist, mob storm the Capitol with the intention to “take back their country”, to execute government leaders, to demand the invalidation of voters — specifically, the Native-American and, even more poignantly, Black voters (here’s to you Georgia) that determined a presidential election, and eventually Senate control.
Now, the question is: where are we headed?
The lie of a stolen election, the narratives of QAnon — this is the Birth of a Nation. The success of the right to vote and voter participation, embodied in things like mail-in ballots for all and increased voter registration, this is the Great Migration. Trump’s platform and followers, the birth of the Proud Boys, the Capitol insurrection — this is the renewal of the KKK, this is whitelash.
As I watched a mob of angry people, nearly all white, have the Capitol gates opened, the opportunity to take selfies with cops, the kindness of police walking them down the stairs after engaging in violence, the uninterrupted walk out of the Capitol building when they had trespassed, stolen, destroyed property, threatened those inside the building, and then, if all that weren’t enough, smeared feces as part of their destruction, I immediately began to wonder: what happens next? Where do we go from here?
Some of these insurrectionist have lost their jobs, but they can be hired again, elsewhere. Some have been found, arrested, and charged, but those charges and their treatment are nothing short of laughable. A BLM protester in Salt Lake City faced life for splashing red paint on a business but somehow only a litany of misdemeanor charges are being levied against those that stormed the Capitol? How do we justify that?
An organic diet in prison, the ability to go home on house arrest, the ability to keep international travel plans — in the middle of a pandemic — along with, again, minimal charges is not accountability; it’s an endorsement. And that’s what happened, what is happening: acceptance, endorsement, sympathy. Not justice. Not accountability.
No one can predict the future. There are too many variables.
It’s not possible to make one-to-one comparisons. I recognize a lot has changed in 100 years.
But as much as I know has changed, I see a lot has remained the same.
We have never confronted our distant past, and we are not confronting our recent past; and for that reason, summer 2021 looms over my head.