Ibram X. Kendi & Keisha Blain on Impeachment, White Supremacist Violence & Holding Trump Accountable
As the impeachment trial of Donald Trump proceeds, we speak with two historians about the importance of accountability for the January 6 insurrection and white supremacist attacks in the United States. The scenes of violence at the U.S. Capitol were “familiar” to Black people, says Ibram X. Kendi, author, professor and founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research. “We have consistently, over the course of 400 years, faced white supremacist mob violence.” We also speak with Keisha Blain, an author and associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, who says Trump must be held accountable for inciting the Capitol insurrection. “We cannot hold back and play games here,” she says. “Whatever decision we make in this moment will determine the future of this nation.”
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Donald Trump is the only president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. Now the question is if he will be convicted in his Senate trial. And if he is, will they prevent him from running again for federal office?
To talk more about this historic moment, we’re joined by two historians, who have just edited a book that puts the white supremacists who rallied around Trump into the longer arc of U.S. history. The book is titled Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019. It brings together prominent Black writers to collaborate on what they call a “choral history” of Black American life. Keisha Blain is an associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. And Ibram X. Kendi is director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research,, where he’s the Andrew W. Mellon professor in the humanities. Professor Kendi is co-editor of the new book, along with Keisha Blain.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Professor Kendi, as you listen to and watch that video, which we have seen a number of times in the past since January 6th, though there was new video that we haven’t seen, and as the days go by, we will see more video of what took place, the Confederate flags, the horror, can you put this into the context of the history you’ve looked at, American history for the last 400 years?
IBRAM X. KENDI: Well, first, Amy, thank you so much for having us on the show.
And for me, as someone who has lived and sat in African American history, in many ways, those images, that video, what happened on January 6th, was also familiar to me, was also familiar to Black folks, because indeed when we have exercised our rights to vote, when we have exercised our rights to take office, when we have exercised our rights to be free, we have consistently, over the course of 400 years, faced white supremacist mob violence, over and over and over again. And then, those who incited the violence, typically, over and over and over again, were not held accountable.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, and, Ibram Kendi, I wanted to ask you specifically about this issue of mob violence, because so many people here in the United States are treating this as an unprecedented event, but, as you mentioned, there’s many examples throughout American history of mob violence by white mobs. I think of the Charleston — the burning of the Charleston post office in 1834 by a mob that was trying to seize abolitionist literature that was going through the South; the riots during the Civil War of whites attacking the Black community over the drafting of folks to fight in the Union Army; even 1962, the riots at University of Mississippi, hundreds of whites, armed, having shootouts with federal marshals protecting James Meredith’s effort to desegregate the University of Mississippi. So, what do you think has touched so much a large part of America in terms of this particular — this particular example of mob violence?
IBRAM X. KENDI: I think the unfortunate fact is that those other cases of mob violence, the victims of that violence were Black folks, were Indigenous folks, were Latinx folks, were not the citadel of America. And so white Americans oftentimes did not see themselves as the victims of those mobs, even though the victims of those mobs were Americans and they should have seen themselves. And if we can collectively see ourselves through — you know, as victims of these mobs, I think we would have a better country. But the way in which we’re able to do that is we gain a better understanding of African American history, which is why it was so crucial for Keisha Blain and I to put together Four Hundred Souls.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor Blain, in terms of the impeachment, a lot of people are suggesting that mere impeachment is not enough for what Donald Trump did, that he should instead be charged with incitement of criminal acts or possibly even sedition. Your response to that?
KEISHA BLAIN: Well, I think, quite frankly, we have to do everything possible to make sure that, one, that he does not run for office again, but also to ensure that we send a clear message that no future president can do what Donald Trump did. So, certainly, the impeachment is important, and I do think it’s important that Trump is charged, because we really cannot approach this lightly. We cannot hold back and play games here, because, ultimately, whatever decision we make in this moment will determine the future of this nation.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk, Professor Blain, about this coalescence of white supremacists, whether we’re talking about the Oath Keepers or the Proud Boys, the boogaloo bois, whether we’re talking about QAnon, this moment in history, and then go back in time for us, because, obviously, as you are both just explaining, this is not new, as you so magnificently lay out in your book, Four Hundred Souls?
KEISHA BLAIN: Well, white supremacy, certainly as an idea, and even as a movement in the United States, has very deep roots. And we can see that, quite frankly, since the founding of the nation. And I think what is clear in this particular moment is that white supremacy continues to shape American life and culture, and the uprising which took place in January is just a recent manifestation of that. But we can draw the connections certainly to, you know, the KKK, which most people know, but, as you point out, there are so many different groups that we can identify, so many individuals. And I think, for me, even beyond the groups — certainly, we have to talk about the groups — I’m particularly concerned about white supremacy as an ideology and the way that it seeps into just everyday American life and the way that ordinary people accept these views and ultimately live out their lives demonstrating that they have no respect for Black people. And I think that’s the danger of white supremacy, is the ideology and how it takes a hold of people.
AMY GOODMAN: Ibram X. Kendi, I’m looking at a quote from Pam Keith, a tweet: “Osama Bin Laden did not fly planes into any U.S. buildings. He just asked & inspired people to do it, drew money & resources to the effort, set the timing & launched the execution from afar. In what way was Donald Trump’s role in 1/6” — January 6th — “ANY DIFFERENT?” If you could respond to this and then talk about the use of terms? As you both have described, this certainly is not the first time for mob violence, especially when it comes to African Americans. But when it hit the sanctuary of power in the United States, the sanctuary of democracy, it took on a very different — it had a very different effect when all saw it around the world.
IBRAM X. KENDI: So, if you’re Donald Trump, and the only “success” — I have in quotes — that you achieved during your presidency was to cut taxes for the super rich, for people like you, and, meanwhile, your own voters, particularly working-class white men, are continuing to suffer — even before the COVID-19 pandemic — and as they suffer, you’re telling them that the source of their suffering is not your do-nothing attitude, is not you continuing to pass policies that support corporate elites against their own livelihood, but that the source of their problem are those Latinx invaders, the source of their problems are the Black anarchists, the source of their problems are antifa, and then you cause them to believe that you have so much support that, certainly, you didn’t lose an election, that it was stolen from you, and that this election was stolen from you just like your livelihood is being stolen from you by those Black voters in Philadelphia and Atlanta and in Detroit, you know, what do you think these folks are going to believe? What do you think they’re going to do?
And then he tells them to go out and fight. I mean, and it’s striking because, as Keisha said, the ideology of white supremacy mass manipulates people into engaging in violence against folks who actually are seeking to better their livelihood. And so, without question, Donald Trump has incited the violence on 1/6, but he has really incited so much more, you know, historically and currently, in this country.