Who is America? To whom does it belong?



NEW ORLEANS (February 19, 2021) – A recent virtual panel on the transition from the Trump administration to that of President Joe Biden offers a telling reminder of the damage done by 45 over the past four years and the exacerbation of disparities that must be remedied.

Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, attorney Damelza Baer and WBOK radio host Oliver Thomas shared their thoughts on “Who is America? And to whom does it belong?” hosted by The Center for Racial Justice on Jan. 22.

Regrettably, the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill speaks volumes about America’s values for up to a third of its voting population. Would-be oppressors – white supremacists, neo-Nazis, fascists and uninformed followers of wild conspiracy theories – gathered after a Trump speech to foment violence instead of seeking a more perfect union. They killed and injured law enforcement personnel, threatened to harm politicians (including hanging then-Vice President Mike Pence). Then they walked away without immediate consequence.

After Toiya Smith, a senior urban studies major from Fort Worth, Texas, opened the panel with a moment of silence in remembrance of the Trump-incited insurrection on Capitol Hill, Landrieu said his first response to the storming of the Capitol, the first time in 200 years, was “profound sadness”; he said his next was fury for a number of reasons.

“I believe that every American – irrespective of race, creed or color, unless you’re bent – was just so deeply insulted and assaulted by this attack on the sanctuary of democracy,” said Landrieu.

“Whether you are rich or poor or black or white, that is the sanctuary of democracy…and to have it desecrated the way that it was…should have made every American stand up and quite frankly demand significant accountability for anybody and everybody that was responsible for that.”

Thomas said America “belongs to all of us,” but continuing disparities in the country belie that belief: the gaps in wealth, gender discrimination, slavery and its societal echoes today, and the treatment of Native Americans.

Baer said the United States has a pattern of “periods of great advancement where we see gains in civil rights and social justice, and then there’s inevitably a period of retrenchment.”

Baer said retrenchment could be seen during the Trump administration with events such as violent United the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina, and the increased incidence of hate crimes over the last four years.

“It really is a sobering time,” Baer said, when it could be time of great opportunity and great promise.”

America isn’t ours – not until we do the work to make it so. Trump may be out of office, but the same supporters and channels of oppression that push an “us vs. them” agenda and that allowed him to win are still present. In order to make effective change, we need more than voting. The current administration cannot be empowered to make the necessary improvements to our country if we don’t exercise civic engagement in all its forms.

In order for America to truly belong to all of us, we need to combat oppression and eliminate disparities in wealth, education and health. Each of us must consider what steps we can and must take.

(This editorial was written on behalf of the staff by Editor-in-Chief Taiyler Mitchell.)