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The Stories We Tell

The story of the Naked Emperor is one of the most powerful stories we have because it is about the nakedness of our fictions, it is a story about the stories we tell, stories so widely accepted that they make the most naked lies possible.

Our bookstores and libraries have fiction and non-fiction sections, tightly delineating the difference between the two, and while it is polite to admire the authors in the fiction section for their inventive storytelling, it is riskier to go up to a New York Times journalist and compliment him for the same thing. But it is riskiest of all to treat a story that the media is telling us as nothing but a story.

That is something Stephanie Eisner, a cartoonist at the Daily Texan, a student newspaper at the University of Texas discovered, when she drew a little cartoon which depicted the Trayvon Martin case as a simplistic story being told by a maternal tabloid media to a gullible child. Accuse the storytellers of telling stories and they fight back with a story aimed at you. The story was that Eisner was a racist or as one student protest sign said, "The Daily Texan, Racist Since 1900". And how do you argue with that?

Racism is a very powerful story. Short of accusing someone of being a pedophile or a religious fanatic, it is the worst possible story that can be told about them. And unlike pedophilia or religion there is no defense against it. There is no way to disprove such a charge and therefore no exoneration from it. The suspense was brief, the ending was as predictable as any a hack writer could have written. Apologies were made all around, heads bowed to the floor, Eisner was purged, officially because she had used the word "colored" in a cartoon, a word that happens to appear in the name of the largest black organization in America, unofficially because she had called the whole thing a story.

Another word for storyteller is liar, but it's an inadequate word. A liar lies about a thing. A storyteller creates an entire narrative, a world that the listeners inhabit. He adds details to it, creates villains and heroes and convinces us to live in that world for a brief time or forever.

The Trayvon Martin tale is another story in the Big Book of American Racism. There are many stories in that book, some linger for decades, others vanish after a few weeks, but all share a common idea. That idea is that we are not all one country, nor are we northerners, southerners and westerners, or farmers and city folk-- we are black and white. Some of us are black and oppressed and some of us are white and oppressors. This is the other thing that stories do-- they make us see ourselves in a new way.

The story of racism says that all our other stories don't matter, the ones about Bunker Hill or the Fourth of July, Omaha Beach or the Tet Offensive. The only story that matters is the story of the slave ship, the plantation, the lunch counter and the hoodie. It says that we are no more than the sum of our skin, that our destiny is to be black and white, the well meaning oppressor and the angry slave, and that any society we create will forever be hobbled by that legacy. It says that we are forever damned by racism.

It is not a very good story, but it has a power of its own. If you are a black man looking for ways to understand the world, it is a compelling story. If you are an angry hipster, hoodie clad, drinking and listening to things ironically, but still fuming over more injustices than you can name, this story reinforces your view of the world. It says that the world of your parents of the men in suits, of the builders and breakers of the world, cannot be redeemed. It is damned to fall and out of it will arise a glorious cooperative of locally grown food, universal health care and brotherhood for all.

But if you are an ordinary sort of person who works for a living, who has no strong feelings on race, but a strong desire to be left alone, this story does nothing for you. It does not explain the world or tell you about yourself. It says that you are a bad person because of the color of your skin and that you unawareness of your own badness is a form of privilege which is racism. You are doomed because you are damned and damned because you are doomed. It may make you want to favor a black man, at the cash register or the voting booth, to show that you aren't that kind of person at all. And you may even force yourself to sit through an entire showing of Roots just to establish your basic decency. But the story has no real hold on you.

The Racism story is not a very good story for most Americans. Unlike Manifest Destiny or even that old one about George Washington chopping down a cherry tree, it does nothing for them. That is why it must be reinforced, told over and over again, until everyone is immersed in the tale from the moment they arrive at work to their sensitivity training session to the moment they get home and turn on the television to discover another report on racism.

The tale of Trayvon Martin is a catechism, it teaches the faithful to recite what they already know and urges the less devout to remember the tenets of this warped faith in the depravity of white men. Everyone knows the story. The details don't properly matter. Zimmerman's race, who hit who first, these are minor elements. What matters is that we remember the moral of the story. That we are bad.

The response to those who have challenged the story has been furious, because the story cannot be considered apart from its moral. To challenge the specifics of Trayvon Martin's lamb-like innocence or George Zimmerman's black, or white hispanic, racist heart, is an attack on the moral of the story. The storytelling moralists have responded to this heresy with all the subtlety and vengefulness of inquisitioners rooting out Daily Texan cartoonists and flashing new bulletins every hour that aim to prove some new element of the story.

In between commercial breaks for dog collars, allergy medication and cold cereal, experts are constantly appearing to analyze the 9-11 tape, Zimmerman's bruises or some other detail of the case, and pronounce that the Church of Racism is correct, that its priests have been accurate in every detail so that only sinners and fools would question its sovereign faith in Universal White Racism. But all the furious activity is accompanied by the barely suppressed anger and fear of con artists who worry that the sheep no longer believe a rocketship is coming to take them up to the post-racial comet.

They are right to be afraid because their story is not very good and it isn't well-liked. The only reason it has this much power is that a better one hasn't come along and all the old stories have been tucked away, stomped on and tossed in the trash. Each month the story must be renewed again, the racial passion play dipped in the blood of some designated victim, and then held up to the television cameras, as we cry, that his blood is on our hands.

That is what Obama meant when he said that we must search our souls, what he really meant was that he wanted to search our pockets. Once a mark has accepted his guilt, it is easier to pluck him. That is also the power of the story, it can make us focus on the story, rather than the reality around us. The story says that we are a racist country. The reality says that we are a bankrupt nation. Which are we to believe, our lying eyes or their bleeding hearts? 

The story is constantly being told to insure that we never escape from its confines, that we never stop thinking outside the boundaries of the story, debating how racist we really are, rather than looking at the shambles that the storytellers have made of our economy. The threat of guilt and the promise of redemption at the heart of the story has lured us into a trap made of words and the story is retold to add more words, more bars, more weights and chains of letters to our hands and feet. The story has us trapped while the ruin continues around us.

They cannot give up on the story, because they know no other world but the one that they created with the story. It is an ugly world, but it is all they have, and in that hell they rule, rather than serve. Even if the tale of Trayvon Martin joins the legend of Tawana Brawley and the ballad of the Duke lacrosse team, there will be other stories. We are a large nation and the raw material of stories is out there. And they will be told as long as the words hold power over us.

That is the source of our weakness. Decency. It is our decency which lured us into the story. Our eagerness to prove that we are not bad people, that we may have made mistakes in the past, but that we have put those mistakes behind us. But the storytellers are not decent people. They are deeply and thoroughly corrupt. They understand decency as a weakness to be exploited. A self-righteous lie that we tell because we are as bad as they are. And so they play a game with us. They give us the chance to prove our innocence in a rigged game that always ends in guilt.

This is the essence of the story. Its purpose, its beginning and ending, and its soul. It is their most powerful story, but not their only story. Each day they tell us more tales, the same stories with a few details changed. The foods that yesterday might have saved us, now doom us. A thousand dangers loom around us despite our every precaution. Everyone is bad, but the people reading us the stories. All the stories they tell us have one common element, they are meant to weaken us. They teach us to be afraid and to see no enduring truth or abiding point of safety except the storytellers.

The stories they tell shape our world. Some are more successful than others. But none of the stories can change reality. They cannot create jobs, restore wealth or make anything work. They are not magic stories. The stories are lies, their only power is the hold that they have over us. To fix the world, we have to step out of the story, leaving behind the narrative, disdaining its conceptual framework and its assumptions, and then confront the naked truth of the world before us. Only then will we be able to make a new story worth telling.


  1. Great post… wow, this one is going to take a couple more days to process

  2. wow, daniel. excellent excellent! i know as writers, sometimes we can feel like a stubborn dog with a bone, tackling the same story yet again. but each time, you manage to take us a little deeper and provide another angle of the prism pane. i am with you on stepping out of the narrative. as long as the media keeps telling their lies, we will stand and counter with our truths. fantastic post!

  3. Anonymous5/4/12

    Even if the tale of Trayvon Martin joins the legend of Tawana Brawley and the ballad of the Duke lacrosse team, there will be other stories.

    It is heading that way. But long before that, the story tellers will move on, while burying the facts of the present case.

    Meanwhile, the vicious assaults in general, of rapes of white women by Blacks, continue at a huge pace. But there is no story here, no story of PTSD continuing through life.

    The myth making "Tales of Racism" from the MSM induce PTSD within America as a whole.

    This is the true State of the Union. It will break America from within, long before its Islamification.

  4. Anonymous5/4/12

    Feelings of resentment and hatred from blacks will never end. These feelings are reinforced every day ...as the Rev Wright unknowingly revealed..


    "He is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains, he did not put me in slavery and he didn’t make me this color."

    His enemy made him "this color".

    Something neither he or anyone can change; so he and others like him, blame anyone they can. Jealousy and resentment and hatred are terrible things to live with every day.

  5. Namaste, that is exactly what I try to do

  6. Chris5/4/12

    Great work, thanks for putting into word my frustration and anger. Watching "The First 48" and praying we can overcome the horror these storytellers wrought on this culture.

  7. Wonderful article once again. I only wish I had been following the case more closely but I was on jury duty and that occupied too much of my time.

    When the judge charged the jury at the end of the trial he told us that if a witness lied about a material fact in the case we could dismiss all of part of his testimony.

    One sure way to get out of jury duty during voir dire (to speak the truth/jury selection) is to mention juror nullification--for example saying you will find someone not-guilty even though they are because the law in a particular case is unjust.

    Can you imagine the chaos massive juror nullification would cause our legal system?

    In a way, the media is leading us in that direction. Forget material facts, forget the veracity of what is said, forget the law. Accept opening and closing arguments by attorneys.

    If you feel a law is unjust...juror nullification.

  8. They are not liars or story tellers.. The proper term is "myth maker".

    Been going on for a long time.

    The nature is simplicity that can be recognized by an individual with the iq of a squirrel.

  9. Chag Sameach Daniël & readers.

  10. Mike Richards11/4/12

    'They understand decency as a weakness to be exploited.'

    Thanks for clarifying the inchoate.

  11. Anonymous27/9/14

    some of these stories also have as their root the Saul Alinsky school of thought...evil and more evil will carry the day...do something on Alinsky...he is an adversary to your way of thinking...


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