The worst whipping I ever received was when I was 8 years old. Among the draconian rules that governed my mom’s house was an archaic list of words she outlawed in the home. Along with the customary cusswords, for some reason, she forbade us from calling any other human being a “liar” or a “dog.”
One day my three sisters and I were sound asleep taking our (forced) daily nap when we were overcome by a rancid smoke. My mother burst into the room and found—to everyone’s surprise—that there was a smoldering flame coming from the compartment in the dresser where she kept my basketball footies, my sisters’ church tights, and every other piece of footwear for me and my sisters.
The sock drawer was on fire.
Although all of my sisters and I were in the same room, no one would confess to the sock-drawer arson, so my mother went down the line and displayed one of the finest spanking forms in the history of parentdom. I actually received an epic, almost historic, double dose, because when she reached me, I, in a fit of rebellious rage after trying to cajole my sisters into a confession, stupidly but loudly proclaimed that whoever had set the sock drawer on fire was a “lying-ass dog.”
A few days ago, Ryan Lochte fabricated a story that he was robbed at gunpoint by a roving group of brown-skinned gangster thugs who bought guns, secured a getaway car and had police uniforms—all in an effort to get a few wallets. Although it sounded fishy to a lot of people, most of America immediately believed it because … white fright.
American empires are built on the little white lie that rests on the premise that people of color are scary and dangerous. There is a long history of white people gaining money, power, influence, sympathy or a few more Twitter followers by using the currency that is the dark-skinned demon. It buys white fright, and in America, with white fright on your side, you can get anything you want.
There are countless white-fright stories of white men coercing women into accusing black men of rape to initiate lynchings and retake valuable land from newly freed slaves in the post-Reconstruction South. In 1918, when black sharecroppers in Phillips County, Ark., decided to unionize and combine resources, farmers spread the word as far as Mississippi of a black conspiracy to murder white planters. The result was 237 dead black men, women and children in one of the worst mass lynchings in U.S. history. Lying-ass dogs.
America’s war on drugs began when newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst decided that hemp production might endanger his pulp and paper empire, so one of his papers editorialized the now famous quote, “Marijuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.” That the drug war was a black thing always sounded like a tinfoil-hat conspiracy theory until last year, when an aide from the Nixon administration—who invented the term “war on drugs”—revealed to CNN:
You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the [Vietnam] war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. […] We could arrest their leaders[,] raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
One of the reasons accusations of racism seem so inflammatory is that there is widespread belief that pointing out a racist act automatically means the person who did it hates people of color. Contrary to popular belief, racism does not necessarily equal hate. Racism sometimes manifests itself in the privileged apathy that does not consider people of color a lower, lesser form of humanity. Instead, people of color aren’t considered at all. To some people they are just brown props on a white stage—to be manipulated and used as needed. We are step stools and tools. They don’t always shoot black people in the face or string them from trees; sometimes they just carelessly toss us under the bus of their choosing.
Like when, in 1994, white fright went viral with Susan Smith, who told the story of how a black man carjacked her in South Carolina while her sons were in the car, only for it to turn out that she murdered them and drove them into a lake.
Like how the elder President George Bush swept into office on a platform of white fright with the Willie Horton ad that portrayed Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis as soft on crime because he furloughed a black convict who went on to rape and murder a white woman. It is still considered the greatest and most effective campaign ad in political history.
Like when Charles Stuart’s wife was murdered in Boston and he was left injured after a black man invaded their home. Police terrorized every black neighborhood in the entire New England area, and Massachusetts lawmakers even considered reinstituting the death penalty before investigators realized that Stuart had killed his wife for the insurance money.
Like how Donald Trump coalesced a political following and undercut a class of politicians far more experienced and smarter than he by standing on the platform of walling out Mexican rapists and kicking out Muslims.
Like how Hillary Clinton built a career on helping children and minorities, until political expediency and the thirst for a little more power made her barnstorm the country warning America that we had to bring the “superpredators” “to heel” and kick the welfare queens off welfare, even as sociologists in her husband’s own Cabinet warned that neither of those was a viable solution.
It didn’t matter. It never does. Ultimately, they all consider black people to be chattel, to be used or tossed aside at their convenience. Whether they are trying to become the leader of the free world or get another post-Olympics season of a reality show, they don’t care, because brown and black people are just things in their eyes.
Last year my oldest sister finally unraveled the most enduring mystery of my lifetime when she confided in me that she was the one who had set the sock drawer on fire. I don’t think she let me take that whipping because she hated me. Like Ryan Lochte, she was just playing with fire and things got out of hand.
But I do believe that one of the truest revelations of character is the split-second decision you make when the world, society or your mama is holding a belt, looking down your throat waiting for the truth. Sometimes it is solely up to you whether you accept responsibility or let someone else take a beating. In that moment, some people would never allow another person to suffer for their own personal gain.
The others, like Ryan Lochte, are lying-ass dogs.