What is America without Kyle Rittenhouse?
For that matter, what is America without James Alex Fields Jr. or Dylann Roof?
What is America without the Klan?
What is America without the winners who won the West, and the overseers in the cotton fields?
Come to think of it, what’s Wall Street without the Black Wall Street Massacre?
America without Kyle Rittenhouse is no place at all.
It was a place that some call “Turtle Island,” never before seen by anyone brought here in chains from Africa.
Like my home country of Australia, what has been founded in this place is the manifestation of a century’s long white settler-colonial dream, accompanied now by the cold sweats of a society’s long, slow awakening from that slumber.
“Invasion is a structure not an event.” Past is present.
Over the centuries, what has the white settler had to do to construct this colonial project? The mind and soul reel at the retelling of the brutal capture and lethal transatlantic transportation here of almost 400,000 Africans, and the centuries-long enslavement of their many million descendants. The most American of stories, of “how the West was won,” is the darkest tale of genocide and land theft imaginable.
And all this was just the beginning.
It is in large part due to this country’s great Black thinkers, from as far back as Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. Du Bois, through to today’s writers like Henry Louis Gates and Michelle Alexander, that we have come to understand how the white power structure regained its footing, after initially losing the war, to maintain possession of its enslaved workforce. But what do the actions of Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha tell us about what is happening in America’s settlement today?
Footage from Wisconsin on Tuesday night showed us that Kenosha PD was on the same team as Kyle Rittenhouse’s band of armed civilians, demonstrating in real time the continued construction of America’s colonial project. As it was with cops and the Klan for decades, it has always been a mixture of settlers and settler law enforcement who have suppressed or disposed of Black and other marginalized people who have challenged white authority, deeming them surplus to requirements for the success of this settlement.
There can be no surprise, then, that today, in other news, we see the release of a new report called,“Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement.” When I saw this I asked myself, amid the deep cynicism of the moment, ‘Is there a year since the founding of law enforcement in America when this title would not have been appropriate?’ After all, it has not been possible for white settlers to establish a successful colonial project in this country without armed forces – civilian or “professional” – being willing to do what is necessary to defend what white society has accumulated for itself.
While past might be present, it doesn’t have to be the future.
The uprisings, teach-ins and local organizing happening everywhere threaten to shake the foundations of America’s settler-colonial project, reshaping it to uplift the historically marginalized and oppressed. As we work to do this, naming and dismantling the “logic of elimination” embedded deep in the structural foundation of this country is a key way to get to the root of what’s been going wrong in America from the start.
 Patrick Wolfe (2006), ‘Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native’, Journal of Genocide Research, 8:4, 387-409, p. 388. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14623520601056240
 Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Databas, ‘Estimates’. Available at: https://www.slavevoyages.org/assessment/estimates