Nightmarish memories of the Jan. 6 insurrection flare up whenever I read updates about that day of national trauma. I picture again the crazed stampede up the capitol steps, shards of shattered glass, the arrogant fool’s boot planted on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk, papers strewn like rubbish, members of Congress frozen like prey, awaiting death. l hear maniacal shrieking, taunting, howling — even the savage chant of death threats.
Almost daily we learn of more suspects and arrests, clandestine command chains and hidden stashes of deadly weapons. Attention has shifted from the anonymous mob to the individuals who eagerly joined the frenzy.
World-altering events are not triggered by mobs, no matter how massive or passionate. History is made by individuals — one person, one decision, one act, one moment in time.
I wanted to look beyond the sheer size and force of the mob and into each distinct face, as if through a telephoto lens. As a photographer, I believe the human face is the universal language. What would these faces tell me? Scrutinizing each face, mostly white and male, I was stunned.
I saw teeth bared like fangs, neck veins bulging, mouths contorted, heads thrown back like wolves, eyes filled with bloodlust.
These are the human beings claiming superiority because of their white skin pigment? To whom, exactly, are they superior?
White supremacy is rage and hatred masquerading as a “scientific” principle that fair-skinned humans are genetically and culturally superior and should banish or subjugate all other races. Adherents hold that centuries ago, Europeans brought to America the world’s highest civilization, with its scientific and artistic achievement, enlightened philosophy and Christianity. Whiteness must be protected from annihilation at all costs. Supremacists degrade others as if they are not only of a different race, but of a different species altogether.
Which precious elements of white culture were the insurrectionists preserving? Among the suspects I know of no writers, artists or philosophers. No legal scholars, ethicists or teachers. Not one of them is a scientist, inventor or mathematician.
Where are the builders and thinkers essential for an educated and humane society?
In 2019, I taught incredibly bright students in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the world’s poorest nations. It is easy to blame countries for their own poverty and disease. We too easily forget that for centuries, our “superior” race brutally captured and enslaved millions of young Africans to fuel America’s economy. The massive wealth produced by their agonizing, demeaning labor was hoarded by merciless masters.
From 1885 to 1960, Belgian white supremacists occupied Congo, looting rich land and resources from largely industrious and peaceful tribes. King Leopold’s bloody reign sanctified murder, rape, torture and mutilation with the pious and pernicious lie of Christian benevolence. When Congo finally ousted Belgium and elected its first president, the American government assassinated him.
To read Congo’s history is to weep for its people.
Crime and corruption exist in every nation. But the Africans who kindly befriended me strive tirelessly to master new skills, work from dawn to dark in small kiosks, create art and music to give voice to their people, become doctors and professors,
With all my white, middle-class, American advantages in life, I felt acutely inferior to them.
In Congo, I found inspiration. I found hope, determination, and grit. I found vibrant beauty in the dark faces of earnest, polite, magical children. The Congolese I know do not bitterly claim victimhood as white supremacists do. Looking toward to the future with cautious but clear-eyed optimism, they are not dispirited by their challenges.
I may walk around in white European skin, but I am neither intelligent nor resilient enough to face the trials they do. Their spunk and spirit put me to shame.
To white supremacists, I say: Do not crow about your concocted superiority under the banner of our flag or in the name of Jesus Christ. You are a pox on your race, nothing more than a reincarnation of its most brutal despots.
Mobs are nothing more than individuals consumed by hysteria and hatred. Democracy can only be preserved by bold individuals who honor equality over imagined superiority — one person, one courageous decision, one compassionate act, one fleeting moment at a time.
Ann Florence taught English in a predominantly white school, weaving black history, current events empathy, and courage into her curriculum. When she refused to follow a policy that violated her district’s testing ethics standards, she was terminated.