Somebody told a lie one day, and that lie was that this country loves all its people equally. I was swaddled in this lie as an infant, forced to stand with hand on heart and stare at it as a teenager, and as an adult I learned that in order to kill it, I would have to expose it, to show it for the fittingly pale charade it is, to burn the simulacrum of American inclusivity at the stake.
I saw this lie when I was twelve years old, and my sixth-grade teacher got a phone call and turned to us pasty and frightened and told us to talk amongst ourselves while he listened intently to a tiny black radio at his desk. My father picked me up from school early. He told me he was worried about what might happen to me. Even then, he knew.
Within three days, I learned my new name. This name was “terrorist,” sometimes also “Ay-rab” and “towelhead” and “Paki” when my classmates felt creative. I tried to play along with these jokes that were not jokes, laughing at the wrong times, absorbing the shoves and pokes and channeling them into failed comebacks and awkward banter. I did not yet understand pain and thus did not yet understand the humor of the marginalized. I saw the lie when one of my classmates (whom I desperately wanted to befriend) told me, “Shut up, you fucking terrorist,” and my math teacher laughed along, his thick glasses opaque and forbidding.
I saw the lie at the airport, where it became simple routine to prepare for random selection. Hey, Jim. How are the wife and kids. Let’s get this over with. Hands out, then at my sides. Yes you may run the back of your hands along my torso to check for weaponry.
I saw the lie on CNN and MSNBC and FOX and Al-Jazeera where children who looked like me died screaming and afraid and reduced to pieces, without name, without family, somehow become less than the sum of their parts, and no one could tell me why. No one could tell me why that child deserved to die but I didn’t, or did I, or did I.
I saw the lie in American History class, or rather, after class, when I read the real histories, when I found out that gunslinging settlers never defeated the natives, that the plague they spread did it for them—when I found out that Columbus was a war criminal and a butcher and a fever-dream hallucinated by some sick European deity of colonization—that Lincoln cared not a goddamn penny for the slaves and Washington owned them himself and Jefferson was a rapist and good old 20-dollar Jackson killed six thousand Cherokees on his death marches—but we can’t call them that because only Nazis and communists conducted death marches.
I saw the lie in my full-length mirror on bad nights, desperately pulling at my own skin, wanting to see white, white, white, replaying mangled Apu accents and locker-room turban wraps over and over again.
I see the lie still, but I am stronger now, angrier and full of shock-and-awe venom and drone-strike precision. I am J. Abdur Rahim, crushing fascism beneath the weight of my words, I am Huey Newton in suit and tie, I am Sophie Scholl with the guillotine on the other neck, I am Stokely Carmichael with a bigger fucking gun. I am Horatio Alger’s assassin, Uncle Sam’s fifth column, Rupert Murdoch’s sweat-soaked nightmare.
I am, I can only be, I have no choice but to be, the truth.
Emmett Haq is an MFA candidate and teaching assistant at Stony Brook Southampton in Southampton, NY. He's studied under Ted Pelton and Susan Scarf Merrell and is an editor at Starcherone Books. His work has also appeared in Portland Review, Gandy Dancer, SLAB Literary Magazine, and Many Mountains Moving. He is currently an editor and freelance writer for local magazine Dan's Papers, where he writes about a wide array of topics, but mostly beer.