These days it seems like every time I turn around someone is saying something diametrically opposed to reality. Voices yelling revisionist history and anti-science are suddenly louder than ever. It feels like that, anyway. Of course, it’s not actually like that at all. From history to science and everything in between, Americans have never acknowledged reality. In fact, the country’s entire existence is based on an especially loud incapacity for truth.
The US is built on the promise that you can do anything you want wherever, whenever and however you want—if you’re white. Whiteness is the American promise of superiority and it has claimed authority over reality for the entire life of this country. Whiteness will shout you down with its own versions of science and history. It will falsely interpret your experience and have you convinced your very own senses are lying to you.
Instead of seeking truth, science and history have often sought to explain the greatness of whiteness. Racist ideologies like phrenology and eugenics not only passed for science in a bygone era, but they also have heavy influence over contemporary thought. For example, our previous president is a devout eugenicist. A deeper, more horrifying example is that as recently as 2016 half of white medical trainees believed such myths as Black people have thicker skin or less sensitive nerve endings than white people. Yes, from clinical trials to algorithms racism can be as much a part of science as beakers and Bunsen burners.
Just one look at the nationwide anti-CRT efforts will tell you all you need to know about how accurately this country wants to tell its history. Quick glances at books like Lies my Teacher Told Me and A People’s History of the United States will show you just how invested this country has ever been in conveying its own historically accuracy.
These “sciences” and “histories” combined with exclusively white courts and governments create self-fulfilling cultural white supremacy. Because whiteness is viewed as supreme and reality is not, whiteness must be experienced as the natural order. Reality itself becomes blinding and confusing and therefore must be battled and dismissed.
While stemming from racism, our cultural inability to comprehend reality is not limited to our social constructs. Our continued losing battle with COVID-19 is another example. We know some people refuse masks and vaccination, while others get vaccinated but treat the vaccine as a cure, disregarding limitations. The actions of both groups extend the length of the pandemic, but neither group is required to understand the effects of their own actions.
Climate change is another issue beyond our cultural understanding. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a report urging countries to rapidly decarbonize. If you’ve noticed that California is perpetually on fire or heard Biden’s “code red” comments while touring areas ravaged by hurricane Ida, then you can more or less guess what the report says. Somehow the Biden administration quickly dismissed the IPCC report, its own promises, a perpetually flaming California and the rest of reality, saying the report doesn’t present sufficient cause to end offshore drilling.
One might expect recent images of white US Border Patrol Agents on horseback whipping split reins at Black asylum seekers to have been from the previous administration. They weren’t. When the insulting and absurd idea of banning horses was presented as a fix, it was not from the nefarious and clownish voices representing the previous president. It was the trusted, calm and reasonable voice of Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki.
Every day it becomes more clear that the systems created to preserve our ideals do nothing else. Unfortunately, the same rate of clarity does not apply to understanding what our ideals actually are now and have always been. It is the logical conclusion that systems based on social scarcity will ultimately undermine themselves out of existence. Members of excluded groups have always known this. That exclusion has always been justified by “science” and “history”. That exclusion is the reason for the lie and the volume at which it is told.
And it is not new.
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Image by Joshua Sukoff via Unsplash