In celebration of Black History Month - Salish Current
February 9, 2024
In celebration of Black History Month
Vernon Damani Johnson

A commentator raises the question during Black History Month as to where Americans can find a durable consensus on our domestic security. (alamingdx / Shutterstock)

February 9, 2024
In celebration of Black History Month
Vernon Damani Johnson


The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

We celebrate Black History Month and the heroic leaders and movements that have advanced racial justice by remembering that the struggle for justice for African Americans is but a part of the history of movements for racial justice in this country. 

Scholars define security in two ways: International security is the defense of state institutions from foreign usurpers. Domestic security is the defense of those same institutions from overthrow from restive elements among the home population. With the nation increasingly polarized since the 1990s, domestic security has become a more pressing problem for our nation-state.

One problem for the political establishment is how the educational system functions to reproduce patriotic citizens. 

Florida eliminated advanced placement African American history because conservatives complained that history should not be taught in a way that might make some students feel bad about themselves or the country. This reveals how educational systems, controlled by localities and states, are also part of the system of domestic security.  

As with the nation at large, establishment elites are divided on the question of race.

The conservative wing, which is overwhelmingly white, is itself divided between white assimilationist and white nationalist. White assimilationism seeks to sweep race under the rug and see America as a place where hard-working individuals can ultimately succeed, regardless of race. White nationalists believe the country should always be controlled by what the white majority wants. 

As the country lurches toward the day when racial minorities will become the majority, white nationalists have reacted with increasing violence. White nationalism (also known as white supremacy) was at the core of the Christian Patriot and Christian Identity ideologies of Oklahoma City federal building bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in 1995. White nationalists were prominent among those storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The Republicans are the party of the conservative establishment. They had historically pandered to white nationalists to get their votes. When Donald Trump opened his campaign with vitriolic anti-immigrant rhetoric, the racist genie of the Republican base was let out of the bottle. 

Today, the white nationalist faction of the party has overrun the white assimilationist establishment. Domestic security for white nationalists means border walls to keep brown folks out, banning books about our sordid racial history, and no reform of policing and criminal justice practices that mistreat working-class and poor people of all races. 

On the other side of the political establishment are liberals who, after twists and turns over the years, basically agree with progressives that “a more perfect union” in the U.S. would be multiracial democracy. The leader of that liberal establishment, our president, has used the term “systemic racism” to describe our country’s racial ills. There is broad consensus among liberals that we should learn about our tragic racial history and face our multiracial future courageously. 

The Democratic party gave us our first African American president, and Democratic presidents have appointed many more people of color in cabinet and other administrative positions and to federal judgeships than Republicans since the 1970s.

More profoundly, the shift is taking place across civil society.

Cultural institutions such as museums and the film and television industries, often under pressure, have racially diversified their personnel and programming. The advertising and marketing industries have joined the party. We increasingly see interracial couples and families in ads, probably now to a greater extent than we find them in the real world. 

In professional sports, the National Basketball Association pushed out the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers 10 years ago over racist remarks. The Washington, D.C., football team and the Cleveland baseball team discarded their Native American names after popular pressure. A majority of the employee/entertainers who make billions of dollars for the owners in football and basketball are African American. I think the owners are responding to their personnel as well as their clientele!

Led by universities, many civic and cultural institutions have adopted land acknowledgements in which they recognize that they sit on Indigenous land. Often such statements refer to the land as stolen.

The liberal establishment has already decided, through a combination of political pressure, the profit motive, and, yes, some old fashion goodwill, that its version of domestic security lies in servicing the aspirations of an ever more racially diverse society. 

We have two versions of national security and identity before us today. The conservative establishment has gained federal court appointments and rulings. It has tampered with voting laws and legislative districts. They ban books. They rally around a former president who has said that if re-elected he would be “dictator for a day” and refers to immigrants as “vermin.” 

Conservatives who fear a 21st-century America are working to control political institutions, because they have lost control of cultural institutions.

This Black History Month let us ponder where can we find a durable consensus on our domestic security. Is it in a white nationalism that can only be realized via authoritarianism, or is it in a multiracial democracy promising only that we continue to have the space to work out our problems?

— Contributed by Vernon Damani Johnson

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