This Black History Month has me in a more ponderous mood than usual. I’ve been thinking a lot about truth and lies, especially the latter and how it’s working in our government today. And so much of this month is about the great big lies we have to uncover in order to heal and celebrate who we are.
Here’s the thing about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. They all start with a lie. Lies are armor we set around the truths we don’t like. They’re born of fear, a desire to protect ourselves from the ridicule of others, or from the self-awareness of our own shortcomings. But they aren’t born of ignorance. Ignorance implies we don’t know better. We do. We know when we have something to hide.
After centuries of having the dirty laundry of isms/phobias not only aired, but refuted by facts, by the accomplishments of the persecuted and the perseverance of the oppressed, devotees of prejudice got tired. Bone tired of having to defend their alternative facts (“I’m better than you and I deserve to be treated as such at your expense.”). Instead they were forced to defend, to no avail, the the lie at the roots, the lie in the seed planted. The lie that says there is one superior race, one superior sex, and one superior sexuality, and everyone else must suffer for the “inferiority” of their birth.
When asked how the powerful majority came to these ideas about race, sex, and sexuality, they touted biology. They touted religion. Money, zip code, dialect, whatever was handy for the season. Until all of these lies were batted aside and folks just had to admit, “I feel better about myself when I make you feel less than. I make more money if I use you to make it for me. I make even more money if I don’t give you your share when the work is done. I want to abuse you because it makes me feel powerful when I feel powerless. I want what you have and if you have it instead of me, it makes me feel like I’m undeserving. I want you to feel undeserving instead.”
And at the root of all this truth is the biggest one: “I feel this way because someone told me I should, someone who profits from my suffering and my desire to break free of it. I don’t know who I am if I question what I was taught, but I’m afraid it means I’m mediocre. I don’t want to start over.”
That’s the root of deflections like. “I’m not racist, but…” “I’m not sexist, but…” “I don’t hate LGBTQI folks, but…” “I’m not judging you, but…”
I truly believe most of the folks saying that know better, and just aren’t up for the challenge of having to defend their beliefs. To defend them would mean to lay the truth of them bare on some dark, lonely night, to pick through the bones and risk losing the the crutch that props them up. The things that make us hate are taught. If we use them to define us, they become an addiction. With every addiction, the addict keeps chasing the high they felt that first time, keeps upping the dose, keeps saying they have it under control.
No one gets addicted to truth. Truth is a choice. Truth is a commitment, and it’s difficult. It’s painful. It’s also unavoidable. You won’t escape it. You can’t log out of it, turn it off, silence it. It beats at the heart of us all, and it will come find you in the quiet moments when you can no longer hide. That is what this month is about. Remembrance. Truth. The things we tried to hide that have, and will continue, to come to light.
The onus is on each of us to examine the lies we tell ourselves about who we are, and to examine what’s left when we strip those lies away. Are we good people in deed, or just in hypothetical policies? Do we love ourselves, or do we only say we do? Do we feel righteous when we hurt others? Do we have a passion that *doesn’t* involve bringing someone else to their knees before us? Ignorance implies we don’t know the answer to these questions. We do. We know when we have something to hide.
We all have a purpose, we’re all deserving of life. And liberty. And the pursuit of happiness. We all deserve to be free, even if it’s just freedom from our own lies. You don’t have to hurt others to be whole. You can love yourself like a revolution. You can embrace the truth around and within you. And if you don’t like what you see, if what you see hurts you, you can change it. You can resist.