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Is This Who We Are?

By W. D. Ehrhart

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“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke

In the wake of the insurrectionary and seditious attempted coup d’etat on January 6th, 2021, I’ve repeatedly heard many people argue that “THIS is not who we are”:

(AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Just the other night, President-elect Joe Biden said the exact same thing: “This is not who we are.”

But even a cursory review of American history to realize that this is indeed who many of us are. Bigotry and hatred and intolerance are, I’m sorry to say, as American as apple pie. Consider, for instance, the Pequot Massacre of 1637 . . .


. . . during which a bunch of white Christians burned a Native village (the wrong tribe at that) and shot, stabbed, and bludgeoned those who tried to escape the flames.

Then there were Pennsylvania’s “Paxton Boys” of 1763 who, in two separate attacks, exterminated the last of the peaceful, unarmed, and Christianized Conestoga Indians . . .

("Ghost River," the massacre of the Conestoga, Weshoyot Alvitre)

. . . and taking their scalps for good measure.

Or we might take the time to reflect on the Cherokee Trail of Tears when thousands of Native Americans were forced to march from Georgia to Oklahoma in the dead of winter, four thousand of them dying along the way, even though the US Supreme Court had ruled that the US government had no right to force them to move . . .

(painting by Robert Lindneux; https://www.legendsofamerica.com/na-trailtears/)

. . . to which President Andrew Jackson replied, “Mr. Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.” At least 4,000 Indians died along the trail. (As we try to deny who and what we are as a people and a nation, we might do well to remember that #45 is not the first US president to give the middle finger to our Constitution.)

How about the American Civil War, in which over one-quarter of a million Americans died trying to keep enslaved almost four million of their fellow citizens, whom they did not consider even as human beings, let alone citizens:


In the wake of the Civil War, we had a hundred years of Jim Crow segregation accompanied week after week and year after year by scenes like this . . .


. . . and when the lynchers were not off lynching somebody, they would get dressed up and hold parades:


Even before World War II, some of our fellow citizens were treated to this:

(Los Angeles Examiner, 18 May 1923)

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, other Americans got this:

(Wikimedia Commons)

And in my lifetime, a lot of our fellow citizens were welcomed like this:

(AP/Bill Hudson)

So don’t try to tell me this is not who we are:

(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

For a great many of my fellow citizens, this is exactly who we are. This is not "fake news." The facts of history speak for themselves. As one of my heroes, Megan Rapinoe, recently said: “This is America.”

The only question that really matters is:
What are you and I going to do about it?

W. D. Ehrhart is a former Marine Corps sergeant and retired Master Teacher of English and History. His newest book is Thank You for Your Service: Collected Poems.

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