The dangerous magical thinking of ‘this is not who we are’ We can’t fix what’s wrong with American democracy until we acknowledge the problem of white supremacy 

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Since the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, there have been statements from white people across the political spectrum, including President-elect Joe Biden, that repeat variations of the same refrain: This is not who we are.

I’ve long found these sorts of proclamations baffling, because if one is honest about the history of the United States, it prominently features white violence, terrorism, and revanchism, particularly toward Black people, Indigenous people, and women. Such attitudes have been codified within our laws and institutions, and it has taken enormous, multigenerational work to chip away at the bigotry that metastasizes within our nation. Even now, we witness the defanging of the Voting Rights Act or the Violence Against Women Act, attacks on Black churches, synagogues and mosques, and the daily deployment of police officers on calls that originate with racist grievance.

Donald Trump supporters swarm the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6.

Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In so many ways, great and small, we are not honest about who “we” are. Instead, too often, Americans traffic in mythology and denial to the point that we’re…



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