“Insurrection” and Black Citizens


W.E.B. Du Bois in 1918

From The Baffler:

The very terminology—“black citizen”—was, of course, an oxymoron upon the birth of this very nation. The founders and state officials effectively only acknowledged the status of African-born persons as property—that is, unless they resisted or rebelled, in which case they were the “internal enemy.” This obviously recalls W.E.B. DuBois’s oft-quoted diagnosis that black Americans suffer from double consciousness, measuring themselves through their own eyes as well as through the eyes of “a nation that looked back in contempt.” By the same logic, it must be articulated that white Americans suffer from double vision—a variable sight that originates from the dual status of blacks in America as both property and persons, then both wards and enemies of the state.

Where the concept of the black citizen is variable and oscillating, incorporating all previous incarnations of the black American’s legal status, the “white citizen” is an invariable, stalwart image—the original citizen. This helps to explain why white nationalists presume to call themselves “patriots”—aligning themselves with revolutionary founding fathers—all the while committing acts of terror in the name of flag. It also sheds light on the numerous incidents where white rioters were deemed unthreatening, and their violent acts—from the deadly protests of white nationalists in Charlottesville (whom Trump referred to as “very fine people”) to the storming of the Michigan state capitol by armed white men protesting ongoing pandemic lockdowns—were not considered an insurrectionary threat warranting federal military intervention.

Although “insurrection,” under the Act, was legally undefined, in its usage its meaning has become clear. Calling forth the “federal cavalry” has historically suppressed uprisings that regard the unending struggle to fully incorporate black Americans as citizens of the United States. This historical struggle is graphic and violent, representing continuing battles in a “civil war” that began long before 1861 and continues to this day.

“Insurrection in the Eye of the Beholder”, Hawa Allan, The Baffler