Power Without Pretending, Part 2: Attenuated Citizenship

Earlier this year, I wrote a plain and simple post about the plain and simple, authoritative nature of current GOP leadership desires. I was flagged by Medium and contacted via email. Being from Mississippi, I was immediately suspicious. After all, Mississippians aren’t supposed to have access to technology, according to popular culture, let alone know how to use it to critique our government and culture. However, I say this sadly, January 6, 2021 “proved” that everything I typed in that blog post was true.

Earlier this year, I posted about how Mississippians of color actually view the GOP. While it is never a good idea to question anybody’s internal motivations, I feel that I can speak on the intentions of most GOP members, because I live with the results of their actions — not their words. For that post, Medium flagged me and contacted me via email. It seems that the editors here were either afraid of the images that I’d chosen, or they were afraid of offending the current President. Either way, every single word that I put forth in that blog proved to be true, and that sad part is, I am just depressed and distraught about it. Five people are dead and many others are injured. And I know if those rioters had been black, the numbers would have been astronomical. I am ultimately sad for the way America looks to the rest of the world. We are a joke, and many of our lawmakers, blinded by their vested interest in the maintenance of white supremacy, do not seem to understand that the rest of the world is laughing at them — not with them.

For this post, I am not going to talk about the police disparities that the whole world saw on display January 6. There is no question that had those protestors been Black, they would have been pepper-sprayed, shot with rubber bullets, arrested, and handcuffed long before they reached the steps of the capitol building. There is no question that some of those protesters would have been dead had they have been white people marching alongside Black Lives Matter activists. I know that we have not forgotten the image of the policeman who pushed down an elderly white man, burst his head on the concrete, and stepped over this human being in need of medical care as if he were a piece of garbage.

I am going to resist the urge to type my outrage and go to the larger picture here.

Everything that we saw January 6, and for the past six years has been supported by a dark and lingering attitude of white male supremacy that undergirds much of American life and its racial disparities. The capitol police and many lawmakers were in support of this insurrection because they share the same attitude as the individual actors. Here it is: white men own this country, white men run this country, white men built this country, and everybody else should be happy that they are allowed to be here. To protest, in any way, shows a rebellious, ungrateful nature to the white men who so graciously allow us to bask in their material wealth and cultural superiority. Everybody else, who is not a white man, is on an attenuated citizenship plan in America.

Ultimately, the Civil Rights Movement was and is (for it is ongoing) about who gets to participate in democracy in America. Ever since Phillis Wheatley put pen to paper, she wrote with astute political knowledge of events on both sides of the Atlantic and the rhetoric of Revolutionary-era freedom informing many of her poems.

The hypocrisy of American colonists was not lost on her. She understood that while they detested and decried the illogical reign of the mad King George III over them as colonists, that these same men held African slaves with the intent to hold them for life. While George Washington crossed the Potomac in the name of American freedom, he was a slave owner and had been a slaveowner since he was an adolescent when he was bequeathed slaves as part of the property when his father died. Washington’s intergenerational wealth depended upon chattel slavery. His version of freedom did not include the men and women of Africa who had helped enrich he and his family.

When we look throughout American history, it is quite common to see lawmakers such as George Washington whose legislative attitudes and maneuvers support well-funded, extralegal enforcers of the status quo. The Ku Klux Klan was heavily supported by several American presidents as they were allowed to virtually massacre African American men and women with impunity for more than five decades after the Civil War. When Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the journalist and writer went on a lecture tour in England to spread knowledge of American-style justice, American newspapers and lawmakers expressed outrage that she should air its dirty laundry — not at the deed itself. Ida B. Wells-Barnett, ever sharp of tongue and unafraid to speak truth to power, wrote back to American newspapers that her stories came from white newspapers and not Black ones, and if Americans were ashamed of what she was telling the British, perhaps the government should intervene and stop the lynching rather than cast aspersion on her character. One newspaper, The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tennessee, went so far as to pay a Black man to go on a British lecture tour and call Wells-Barnett a liar.

Wells answered The Commercial Appeal. I would like for her own words to shine through here, so allow me the liberty of a rather long quote that Wells sent to another newspaper, the Inter Ocean:

“I see the Memphis Daily Commercial pays me the compliment of calling me a ‘Negro adventuress.’ If I am become an adventuress for simply stating facts, by what name must be characterized those who furnish these facts? However revolting these lynchings, I did not commit a single one of them, nor could the wildest efforts of my imagination manufacture one to equal the reality. If the same zeal to excuse and conceal the facts were exercised to put a stop to these lynchings, there would be no need for me to relate, nor for the English people to give ear to these tales of barbarity.” This quote was from the collection: The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader.

At the time of her lecture, Governer William Northern of Georgia also wrote an open letter to one of the newspapers of London in order to discredit Wells. Again, Wells simply used the events from white newspapers and convicted the governor of hypocrisy.

“The ink was hardly dry on Gov. Northern’s letter in the Daily Chronicle before the cable brought news of the tarring and feathering of an Englishman in Virginia by a mob, and the hanging and flaying alive of a Negro in Gov. Northern’s own state of Georgia. But there has been no report that Gov. Northern has taken steps to punish the perpetrators of that terrible deed.” From The Light of Truth.

It has been almost 120 years since Ida Bell Wells went to England to raise awareness about American lynching. In those 120 years, the United States Congress has not managed to pass anti-lynching legislation and have the President sign a bill. We talk about police reform? Why not honor Ida Bell Wells-Barnett for her one-woman crusade at last and pass a damn bill which makes it illegal to arrest, try, convict, and execute Black men in the street without due process of the law?

Time and time again, the upholders of white supremacy do not attack the dastardly deeds, they attack those who would protest the violation of their humanity by white supremacists. Instead of attacking gross negligence, systemic racism, and actual police brutality, those who support white supremacy attacked Kaepernick. They used the issue of the flag to attack a Black man in order to help them violate and desecrate everything that the flag stands for. January 6th was not a shock, but an inevitable escalation to the type of violent, extralegal behavior that white supremacy in legislative halls supports. Those same people who cheered when President Trump called Kaepernick a “son-of-a-bitch” for disrespecting the flag had no problem breaking into the capitol building, going into the offices of a democracy that they claimed to love so much, and even urinating in the halls of government.

And this is what attenuated citizenship is all about. The very word, “attenuated” means “reduced in force, effect, or value.” To be an attenuated citizen is to be someone who is not allowed to participate in the full value of our democracy. It means that someone else controls what rights we have and what privileges they can take away from us. Someone else, outside of ourselves and our communities can decide what our happiness is and when we can be in pursuit of it. And if we don’t like it, we can just “shut up and dribble.”

Ultimately, this idea of attenuated citizenship, hasn’t it been the driver behind the Civil Rights Movement since the time of Phillis Wheatley? Ultimately, this argument about who and who does not have a right to participate in democracy, isn’t that the crying shame that keeps rearing its ugly, white supremacist head in American politics, culture, school system, churches, and economic/healthcare policies? Ultimately, isn’t the challenge ALWAYS what to do with the Black people who built this country, who were classified as less than human by the Constitution’s framers in order that they were never able to participate in democracy, but who had the common sense to know that a laborer is worth his hire? Ultimately, isn’t even the concept of a “model minority” used to bait Black people? Ultimately, isn’t the rejection of attenuated citizenship the anxiety of white men who are terrified of the honest competition that they claim they value? And ultimately, the prisoner sleeps better than the jailer. Those who would maintain the rigid order of white supremacy acted out the desires and the anxieties of their legislative counterparts at all levels of government: from the school board where Daughters of the Confederacy have decided to take slavery out of American textbooks to an American president who bragged about grabbing women by the pudenda, have supported this type of action and continue to support it. The word to describe the events of January 6, 2021 is not “shocking,” but “inevitable.”

LaToya Jefferson-James has a Ph.D. in literature. She specializes in literature of the African Diaspora and cultural criticism.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store