Is America Finally Having Its Moment of Anagnorisis? - OZY | A Modern Media Company
Attendees at the ”Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” protest against racism and police brutality.
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Christina Greer

Christina Greer

Christina Greer, Ph.D., an associate professor at Fordham University, is the producer and host of The Aftermath and The Counter on OZY, political editor at The Grio, the author of Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream, and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC. You can find her at @Dr_CMGreer on Twitter.

Some of you may remember reading Oedipus Rex in high school, the Greek tragedy in which the protagonist, Oedipus, realizes the exact moment when he has fulfilled the Oracle’s prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother.

The moment of anagnorisis is the point in a play or novel in which a principal character recognizes or discovers the true nature of their own circumstances. With this seeming moment of “reckoning” in America right now, it seems appropriate to ask, “Is America finally having its moment of anagnorisis?”

America’s core principles were founded on the notions of liberty, democracy and freedom. However, we must recognize and accept that the United States was also founded on principles of white supremacy, anti-Black racism, patriarchy and a particular type of racialized capitalism that subjugated most of the nation. One need only look at laws and practices for hundreds of years to see how the nation continually struggles to live up to its ideals and promises written so eloquently on paper, yet so woefully unfulfilled in practice.

March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom

Ariel view of the crowd assembled on the National Mall during the civil rights march in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963.

Source Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty

With the recent uprisings and protests in cities and towns across the country, many have asked whether America has finally reached a crossroads. Would this nation embrace and embody the ideals so eloquently expressed in our founding documents? Could all Americans believe they have rights to the notions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Could Black Americans drive, walk, pray or play without fear of being gunned down by an agent of the state or a vigilante? Could immigrants live and work in this country without fear of unwarranted deportation or unlawful imprisonment? Could citizens of color attend school or work without fear of harassment and derision?

Many older Americans of color, Black Americans in particular, have mentioned that this moment feels akin to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Then, the country was moving through uncomfortable, often volatile moments of integration and assimilation. Far too many whites felt that equality in the United States meant the loss of their way of life. What would their schools and neighborhoods look and feel like with newcomers? What would happen if the playing field were somehow leveled? During this moment in American history, we saw President Lyndon B. Johnson use his powers of persuasion with Congress to pass legislation to integrate the nation and to protect citizens. The passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and both the Voting Rights Act and the Immigration Act of 1965 sought to protect all citizens in ways never seen before.

Sadly, the progress in the U.S. has ebbed and flowed for centuries. After the Civil War and during the Reconstruction period beginning in 1865, the nation saw the rise of African American elected officials, the growth of Black financial institutions and the establishment of educational institutions for African Americans. The progress was met with backlashes of epic proportions. The increase in lynchings, the destruction of thriving Black communities and the all-around domestic terrorism were intended to send an explicit message of power and control. Then, the moment of “reckoning” was met with extreme brutal force against Black communities and attempted destruction of Native American tribes and ways of life. The passage of Chinese exclusion acts and the internment of Japanese Americans years later further solidified America’s willingness to punish and even kill people of color for merely existing in the land of the free.

So here we are, at another crossroads in the nation’s history. It feels like a reckoning to many. Swells of white Americans are marching shoulder to shoulder with Black Americans in their pursuit of justice and equality. Many white Americans are looking at their schools and workplaces and seeing homogeneity and an abundance of resources and asking why it is their circumstances are so different from that of Black Americans and other communities of color just minutes down the road. Families are seeing stories of another Black man, woman or child being killed by that state and wondering how and why these events can continue to occur at such frequency. The injustices and inequities are palpable, and many white Americans are recognizing these realities for the very first time.

Thousands gathered in New York's Times Square for a

Thousands gathered in New York’s Times Square for a demonstration organized by Black Lives Matter.

Source Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty

This moment has been a shock to the system. America has been exposed. Her corruption and inequality and recklessness with certain lives can no longer be hidden. Some have chosen to not look away. Some have chosen to fight to make the ideals of the United States a reality, something that has been lacking from the country’s inception. However, some have turned their backs on grieving families and separated children. They are comfortable blinding their own eyes for the sake of their personal peace. I do not know if the moment of anagnorisis has arrived in this relatively young nation. The results of today’s election will likely help me see more clearly what this nation will become in the years ahead.

Christina Greer

Christina Greer

Christina Greer, Ph.D., an associate professor at Fordham University, is the producer and host of The Aftermath and The Counter on OZY, political editor at The Grio, the author of Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream, and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC. You can find her at @Dr_CMGreer on Twitter.

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