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.”