Alternative Facts; or the Truth About America

“Let’s face it. I am a marked woman, but not everybody knows my name. “Peaches” and “Brown Sugar,” “Sapphire,” and “Earth Mother,” Aunty,” “Granny,” God’s “Holy Fool,” a “Miss Ebony First,” or “Black Woman at the Podium”: I describe a locus of confounded identities, a meeting ground of investments and privations in the national treasury of rhetorical wealth. My country needs me, and if I were not here, I would have to be invented.”

Just Saturday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer lied through his teeth on multiple events. Salty about the sparse crowds that came to celebrate the orange man who sells mail-order steaks, Spicer told us that the orange man’s inauguration drew the largest crowd in American history. Period. And somewhere, the orange man smiled.

Just a day later, Kellyanne Conway said that Spicer’s retelling of the story was “alternative facts.” Both Twitter and the mainstream media lost their shit. Twitter provided the jokes; the media provided the analysis. The orange man’s administration lost credibility the first full day he was in office.

But I don’t care about the reality of alternative facts. Truthfully, this country was dealing in alternative facts long, long, long before Sean Spicer started lying. Fake news and alternative facts now dominate our headlines, as if this country hasn’t been lying to its people — lying to itself — since its inception.

This is why I put the quote up there. It’s the introductory paragraph to one of the smartest scholars I know, a black woman named Hortense Spillers. The essay is about black women and their struggle to gain legitimacy in a country that constantly denies them recognition or validity. Those nicknames she talks about are not her own — and here is where the alternative facts come in.

Literally one of the most brilliant scholars of our time. And you don’t know her name. #alternativefacts

The truth is that there have always been at least two truths in this country — a white one and a black one. There are others, to be sure — like what Muslims actually believe and what (typically) conservative white people think about Muslims, and who women are versus the “pussies” men (of all shades) typically come to see them as. At least two truths. Which means alternative facts.

The only factual reality is that Americans lie to themselves. That’s it. Nothing more, and nothing less. We lie about our greatness and our might; we lie to ourselves about the freedoms we supposedly have and the equality for which we supposedly stand.

We lie about our race relations.

We lie about Martin Luther King (I actually wish the orange man would’ve removed that bust — he doesn’t deserve to have it), and we lie about our history.

We lie about Abraham Lincoln, as we honestly think that wrinkly bastard ended slavery out of his conscience and not because of political expediency.

White women lie about their feminism; do you honestly think all those white women at the marches really give a shit about women of color?

Black men lie about their commitments to justice. We’ll preach against racism while caping for Bill Cosby and Nate Parker.

Straight people lie about their commitment to sexual justice. We’re cool with it until our sons and daughters come out to us.

My point is this: given our history and our mythology about ourselves, why would we expect anything more from the orange man who sells mail-order steaks — a man who is literally the embodiment of America’s racist unconscious? We left the realm of truth when the founders decided to etch in stone their commitments to freedom and equality while enslaving masses of black people. Listen to Frederick Douglass:

To the slave, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

He said this on a fourth of July celebration. The Fourth of July! And yet, we still celebrate this holiday and our history as if we’re on a legendary march toward progress and equality. Talk about alternative facts; Frederick Douglass told the truth, and the whole country didn’t listen.

Black People; telling the truth since at least 1852.

So miss me with these cheap arguments about the validity of facts or the primacy of truth. Journalists still struggle to call Richard Spencer a white supremacist, and everyone assumes that racism would end if “we just got to know each other better.” Tell this to the black maids who cleaned white homes, cooked food for white people, and nursed white babies from their breasts. The families who “employed” them knew them well; and still sent them to a wooden shack out back to piss. These families knew their maids well; and they still treated them like shit, pushed them to the back, and asked them to do things that no one should ever be asked to do. Everyone — well, a lot of people — loved The Help, and yet so many of you missed the nasty lesson it unintentionally taught: proximity is not a synonym for progress. And yet, this country wants to continue to lie to itself about the possibility of racial reconciliation.

If you want to debate truth, go to the hood. A philosopher once said that the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak; and yet, this country refuses to hear the suffering of its most disaffected inhabitants. If you want the truth, if you want a fact that cannot be debated, listen to those who have been most put upon in this society. Read Ta-Nehisi Coates and Audre Lorde. Listen to James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. Because any other source — any source that denies the nastiness of this country, and refuses to reckon with her disgusting warts of racism, (hetero-)sexism, patriarchy, and classism — was draped in deceit long, long before Sean Spicer took the podium on Saturday.

The only actual fact in this country is that we lie to ourselves. Anyone who is unwilling to acknowledge this will always and forever deal in alternative facts.

And for those of you who disagree with me, check your sources.

Assistant professor of American Religion. #blackwords matter. cash app: $bikogray