I keep thinking about the feces.
Last week, angry Trumpists stormed the United States Capitol building. The police were overwhelmed and were not given additional support. (It’s beyond the scope of this post to speculate about their heroism, complicity, or the reasons for the lack of support.) Once inside, the insurgents posed with statues, stole artifacts, and smeared feces on the walls of our chief legislative federal institution.
The smearing and throwing of feces is a symbol of defilement and disrespect that probably pre-dates humanity, as any scientist who studies ape social behavior can tell you. I cannot think of a more disrespectful thing to do that doesn’t involve violation of a body or destruction. But the feces was merely a footnote in this story.
I think of a man with a lucrative and promising career who lost it all for having the unmitigated gall to kneel before our flag instead of standing for it, as a protest against police brutality that still showed respect for soliders, as he was asked to by his military friend. I think of the off-duty police in the mob who showed their badges to the Capitol Police, saying “We’re doing this for you,” as they pushed past them to get their mayhem and defilement campaign going. I think of the bombings of 1921 and 1985, in Tulsa and Philadelphia, where domestic perceived threats in Black skin were bombed away. I am not aware of other domestic bombing initiated by government entities, though I am aware of ones initiated by domestic terrorists and insurgents.
All I can see is The Lie, naked and brazen, shameless and flamboyant.
When a Black person is harmed or is killed by a police officer or a self-appointed deputy, we are told that they should have behaved in an orderly and compliant way and they wouldn’t have gotten hurt. And it’s important to talk about harm, whether that’s actual physical injury or psychological terror. We center our language around those who have been killed and have no language to talk about the persistent humiliation and fear cultivated in boys and girls growing up in overpoliced and underresourced neighborhoods. We are tracking the spending of our dollars but not our cents, and the bills add up.
Before anything, Black Lives Matter is first a call for empathy. “Can’t you see that my life also has meaning? Can’t you see that I’m a full human, too? Can’t you see that your callous treatment of my life and well-being is hurtful?” We are somehow, as a society, always able to find this empathy for a rural white farmer or factory worker. We can even find this empathy for the disaffected Trumpists who masquerade as salt of the earth but are actually petit bourgeoisie with second homes and sport boats or pickup trucks. We ponder how we can help them be less sad about the election as they take leisure time from their small businesses, steady union jobs, or comfortable white collar jobs to storm the United States Capitol with weapons and hostage-taking materials. We’re even able to find this empathy for rioters who tear up their cities after sports victories, surely a matter of the least significance to the state of the nation.
Yet, here we are again, facing The Lie and the shards it produces as its fragile frame disintegrates all over the floor.
We pretend that there is a logic to this. We pretend that the rules are evenly applied and that what we care about is compliance and order. We pretend that there is equal justice in this country despite reams of data to the contrary. We pretend that any differences in outcomes have nothing to do with compound interest dividends on injustice and everything to do with cultural or individual failings. And then, when Black bodies get unruly, we meet them with overwhelming force, and if necessary, smear them across the pavement.
White men are killing themselves at higher rates than any other group in the country, and researchers can’t seem to figure out why. We talk about our increasingly impersonal society and the decline of religion as possible causes. They can’t figure out why Black people, with the stressors they have and the discrimination they face, don’t have higher numbers. While causes are complex, I posit that one major contribution to this disparity is that the people of African descent who were enslaved and made into “Black people” always have known The Lie was The Lie, so while we have fought generation after generation for a better truth, we haven’t placed our hope in the lie that things were fine and that no significant introspection or reconstruction needed to be done. Because of the numbing and confusing influence of The Lie, the people of European descent that were made into “white people” have been left in the wake of The Lie’s demise with a truth that they cannot face.
This January 6, this Epiphany, there was no hiding from the awful, horrid truth. Blue Lives Matter, until they get in the way of white supremacy. All voices are welcome, until they get in the way of white supremacy. Compliance, law, and order matter, until they get in the way of white supremacy. Our institutions of power matter and should not be tampered with, until they get in the way of white supremacy.
The American flag matters, until it gets in the way of white supremacy.
The only animating force or principle to this movement is the preservation of white dominance through the tools of white supremacy. This is why Pence can be a hero one day and Public Enemy Number One the next for choosing his Constitutional authority over the whims of the mob. This is why even their icon, Trump, can be seen as a betrayer for choosing to comply with the demands of the legislators and administrators that keep a check on his power. The political cults that have risen move the goalposts freely and change the rules at will, because whatever they say they care about is a lie. Dominance and control are their only desires. The spirit of the evil age when the truth was able to move freely and without shame fights to live, and it carries on in our unexamined hearts and in our unreformed institutions.
The truth remains silent, but it persists, smeared across the halls of justice of our country, smeared on our neighbors’ homes, in our banks, on our streets. The truth is smeared across our pulpits and pews, obscuring passages in our holy texts, sticking the pages together so that context becomes impossible to glean. The truth defiles the values we say we hold dear and ruins the complex interwoven fabric of the tapestry that is our nation at its best.
The truth stinks.