The trembling in my soul that began leading up to the observance of the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr has not yet stopped. I shuddered at the thought of hearing people who hated and still hate what Dr. King did to dismantle the capitalistic, white supremacist system that caused and still causes so many people to suffer offer flowery words of tribute. For what purpose? Only to bolster their objectives of continued racial oppression. by twisting and manipulating a few words that he said.
Were he alive today, they would be attacking him. As it is, though Dr. King was murdered in 1968 it wasn’t until 1983 that Congress approved a holiday in his honor and it took three more years for the holiday actually to be celebrated.
We live in a society that thrives on deception. The powers that be from the very beginning created a myth of American exceptionalism. They decided from the beginning that some people were more worthy than others, and they wrote those beliefs into the Constitution. This country was never meant to be the “land of the free and the home of the brave;” too many people were excluded from human and humane treatment from the beginning.
The deception with which this country was founded, and the deception that continues to be an identifiable element of our society can make one tremble with rage. Do the people in power know they are being deceptive? And if they do, do they care? Howard Thurman, though, makes an observation about deception – saying that it is “perhaps the oldest of all the techniques by which the weak have protected themselves against the strong.” The disinherited have survived by practicing deception, i.e. acting like everything is OK when that is far from the truth. The words of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, “We Wear the Mask” comes to mind:
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but O great Christ our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
If Thurman’s observation is accurate that deception is that which the weak use to survive, then we have to lift up the possibility that this country, which has touted and boasted about its strength, is actually very weak. It has created a narrative that has enabled it to survive against nations, principles, and ideas that are much stronger than anyone cares to admit.
But on an individual level, we deceive ourselves if we do not admit to ourselves that this entire debacle called Americanism grieves us to our souls. It causes us to tremble. Every time we have to swallow our pain and anger because of one more assault, we tremble. We dare not show it for fear of being castigated, fired, or worse, but it is inside of us. Thurman says that the “question of deception is not academic, but profoundly ethical and spiritual, going to the very heart of all human relations. For it raises the issue of honesty, integrity, and the consequences thereof over against duplicity and deception and the attendant consequences.”
We must admit and own the trembling within us. We must not fall prey to the narrative presented by the deceptive American society and government that criticizes the anger that the disinherited rightfully feel. This American government is not good for “the least of these,” and Thurman says we cannot continue to call a lie the truth.” He writes, “the penalty of deception is to become a deception.” That is not acceptable. We cannot be in true relationship with God – who is Truth – if we submit to a deceptive narrative that was created to steal our joy, our hope, and our faith. Thurman says, “sincerity in human relations is equal to sincerity to God.”
I got through the day by refusing to listen to any of the “tributes” to Dr. King that were offered by people who are actively trying to destroy everything he and other Civil Rights leaders did. They are not only trying to destroy what he and the Movement accomplished; they are also trying to dismantle and destroy the entire country.
It may be that it will not only be Black people will be wearing masks to hide their pain at what is going on in this country because the attack on liberty, constitutional rights, honesty, integrity, and principles will affect a lot of people. Were Dr. King alive, he would be mortified.
As well we should all be.
A candid observation …a