Over at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates recently posited racism as cruelty — from jokey emails suggesting that the President’s dead mother indulged in bestiality to the cruelty inherent in “sneer[ing] at the unguarded thoughts of dead children,” and so much else besides. He takes the idea further:
[T]his embrace of cruelty is arguably the dominant feature of the present conservative movement. It has been repeatedly expressed in alleged “humor.” The assertion of a right of judgement over the First Lady’s physical person, for instance. Or watermelon patches on the front lawn. Or Obama waffles. There is little distance from that kind of cruelty to aspirin between one’s legs and from aspirin between one’s legs to transvaginal probes.
I find Ta-Nehisi’s point particularly powerful. Let’s call conservative social attitudes, policies and legislative efforts what they are: Mean. Mean-spirited. Cruel. When you reduce living, breathing human beings to your worst ideas about them, and act on that reduction, you’re acting with genuine cruelty. Plain and simple.
But here’s another thing that I can’t stop thinking about: When you do these things, you’re also lying.
Bigotry is lies.
It doesn’t matter if the bigot actually believes what he or she is saying. When you tell me that black Americans should “demand paychecks instead of food stamps” — you’re spreading lies. When you tell me that “if you’re involved in the gay and lesbian lifestyle, it’s bondage” — you’re spreading lies. When you tell me that Islam and Muslims are “pure, unadulterated evil” — you’re spreading lies.
Spanish is the “language of living in the ghetto“? Women frequently and regularly lie about having been raped? Recipients of unemployment insurance need to “get off their backsides and get a job… [and] stop stealing from their neighbors“? Lies, lies, and more lies.
Cruel lies, at that.
These are not differences of opinion, or legitimate perspectives on the world. These are lies told and perpetuated in order to allow those who tell them to have power over certain classes of human, or, at the very least, to feel superior to said humans. And I’m done pretending otherwise.
I can accept that your religion teaches you that men should control women, and that birth control and abortion are wrong. But when you insist that you have a right to impose that belief on me in this country, a secular nation by definition and design — you’re lying. You can believe in your heart of hearts that homosexuality is disgusting. But when you insist that you have a right to deny LGBTQ Americans their civil rights as a result — you’re lying. On and on and bloody on.
At a certain point, willed and willful ignorance becomes willed and willful deceit, of the self and of others. If you honestly believe that certain people deserve to be denied some measure of human dignity because of how the Good Lord/Mother Nature created them? Then you, sir or madam, are full of it.
And if you’re an elected representative of one of this nation’s two political parties (like every single one of the people to whom I link following the words “bigotry is lies”), I have an even greater duty to call you on it.