“And so to love this country and to love humanity is to push humanity constructively to be a better form of itself, and there’s no way we’re going to be a better form, there’s no way we can build a better humanity, while we still have on the shackles of racism.” –Ibram X. Kendi
Today Officer Brian Sicknick lies in state at the United States Capitol, where he was slain by an angry mob less than four weeks ago. This violent crowd was motivated to attack the very democracy that gives them the freedom to protest and assemble as they had that day for a rally. Why? Because they believed in a lie. It was a lie repeated so often that it started to become their truth. But it still remains a lie, and several people are dead, traumatized or seriously injured.
Big lies have killed many people, and one lie in particular. Because of that lie, many people have been unjustly murdered and discriminated against throughout our history, and it is time that we confront it. Some want just to move on and forget the insurrection, but the stories must be told. There must be an accounting and a return to reality and facts. For the truth to set us free and our democracy to survive, we must get to the heart of it all.
One of the reasons I believe we have lost our way is because we haven’t been honest about our past. This month, when we remember Black History, we celebrate notable Black citizens’ achievements and heroic examples. Only recently have we as a nation begun to dig into the truth of our past, one built on slavery and other human beings’ oppression. Marches and calls to justice continue decade after decade. It is time to answer the call. We cannot heal as a nation until we can bring equality to all people and make atonement for our past. We do this by reading, listening, learning, and willing to see through anothers’ eyes. However we also have to get active, change policy, and do the work of transformation. We have to see the insurrection for what it was–the uprising of the biggest lie ever told–that skin tone determines superiority.
Recently I heard a TED Talk presented by journalist and documentarian John Biewen, who explains where this lie originated and why. In his talk, he shares a conversation he had with Dr. Ibram Kendi, one of America’s foremost historians, leading anti-racist scholars and author of the just published, Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019. Through all Dr. Kendi’s research, he traced the lie back to the writings of one man. These written words literally invented the difference between blackness and whiteness to justify the sale of a group of people for profit. It was a tool meant to divide and disadvantage some people to the advantage of others. Even though scientific evidence proves that we are 99.9% the same, this lie has lived on and has allowed the oppression and subjugation of people of color. That lie got turned into laws and policies that allowed one to have more power and possessions based on skin color.
It all started with a lie.
So here is where it gets intertwined into the attack that we all witnessed at the Capitol. Anytime you have power over another, there needs to be a way to continue that, and the best way to do that is to create separation and blame. Creating false narratives about people who don’t deserve to be here are stealing your job, taking more than their fair share, and causing crime is the way to create fear and distrust. Continue the lie saying people voted who should not have and that there was fraud because of it. Create the threatening emergency that you need to fight for what’s yours. It was a lie that fueled empowered white supremacy that attacked the very foundations of our democracy for all the world to see.
So what has been genuinely stolen from us by believing in a lie? It wasn’t the election–every state election authority and judicial ruling has proved our election was fair and accurate. What has been lost because we continue as a nation to believe the big lie of white supremacy is our very soul. Our democracy is suffering and continues to be threatened.
It doesn’t have to be this way. As Dr. Kendi explains, what if we consider making all things equitable; wouldn’t we all have more? We only have to look to other democracies to see better healthcare and better safety-nets for their people. As he continues, a life of equality and justice is in all our best interests. We just have to commit ourselves to become anti-racists and work for policies that end the lie. A country that recognizes our common humanity and every human being’s value truly becomes one of great wealth and strength. It comes down to embracing the Civil Graces of humility and vulnerability to end the lie.
What happened at the Capitol building is a symptom of a growing infection in the heart of our democracy. It will not immediately be resolved but will take the willingness of each of us to engage in the work. First, we must confront the lie and hold those who perpetrate it accountable. Secondly, we must move to change policy in the direction of justice for all people. That is the collective work. Individually and simultaneously, we must root out the lies we carry and replace them with the truth. It is time we live up to the reality that all are created equal.
I want to close with something Dr. Kendi shared in his talk that he wrote regarding a picture of his four-year old daughter:
“I love, and because I love, I resist. There have been many theories on what’s fueling the growing demonstrations against racism in public and private. Let me offer another one: love. We love. We know the lives of our loved ones, especially our black loved ones, are in danger under the violence of racism. People ask me all the time what fuels me. It is the same: love, love of this little girl, love of all the little and big people who I want to live full lives in the fullness of their humanity, not barred by racist policies, not degraded by racist ideas, not terrorized by racist violence. Let us be anti-racist. Let us defend life. Let us defend our human rights to live and live fully, because we love… At the heart of being anti-racist is love, is loving one’s country, loving one’s humanity, loving one’s relatives and family and friends, and certainly loving oneself. And I consider love to be a verb. I consider love to be, I’m helping another, and even myself, to constantly grow into a better form of myself, of themselves, that they’ve expressed who they want to be. And so to love this country and to love humanity is to push humanity constructively to be a better form of itself, and there’s no way we’re going to be a better form, there’s no way we can build a better humanity, while we still have on the shackles of racism.”
We must find the truth in love and in seeking justice. All those lives lost to the big lies told call us to take on the hard work of making reparations with one another and our past. It can begin when we commit in our heart to ending the separation and the racism in ourselves and our communities and make a choice of the heart…a choice to love.
Photo credit: Vince Moro during a peace rally following the violence in Charlottesville in 2017.