This was always our country

…millions of Americans cast a vote for a candidate who told white supremacists to “stand back and stand by,” advocated for the execution of the Central Park Five, and famously bragged about sexually assaulting women (to say nothing of his catastrophic mishandling of the novel coronavirus and brazen disdain for democracy). From the African American Policy Forum statement on the 2020 election.

Don’t look so shocked at this deep divide. It was always like this —

Black and White, north and south, indigenous and invaders, rich and poor,

native born and immigrant. We should not pretend this is new,

this animosity, this fear, this change we can see.

Instead of southern slave catchers coming north for the escaped,

instead of counting black bodies as three-fifths of a person,

instead of Black Code laws and Jim Crow laws

and a 13th Amendment that allows a sheriff to re-enslave any black person

who cannot prove employment,

instead of lynchings and cross burnings,

we have more black people incarcerated today in prisons than were ever

enslaved. Incarcerated by a system of justice that never offered justice

for everyone.

I was outraged at the children locked in cages at the border,

separated from their parents.

Until I remembered that it was always like this —

indigenous children ripped from their homes and sent to “Indian schools” to

learn how not to be Indians,

that was the start of not caring about the children. Now

we have the “school to prison pipeline” where darker skinned children

as young as six are handcuffed, put in squad cars, and taken to prison.

It has happened here, in this time, in this place.

Laws restricting women’s access to reproductive healthcare —

birth control, abortion — how dare they pass those laws?

Women’s bodies have never been ours to hold, to share as we want,

not as others would insist. In this place, in another time, women

were burned at the stake for lesser offences. Or drowned, or forced

into back alleys or locked in asylums or imprisoned. It is still

happening here, in this time, in this place.

Yes, we can celebrate today. One half of the country prevailed,

said no to the callous bully who cares only for himself. But saying no

is not enough. There is so much work to be done,

and we can only do that work if we remember — yes, this is our country,

and it was always like this and it is time to say yes, it is true. And yes,

we must change.

Judith McDaniel, PhD, JD, teaches Law and Social Change at the University of Arizona. Her book, Sanctuary: A Journey, was published by Firebrand Books in 1986