Distortion

Consider how radically different your life would have been if you had been adopted in 1962 by a Chinese peasant couple who traveled to the United States from their rural home outside the tiny village of Zhongxin in . Instead of the privileged upbringing you experienced in the United States, you would have grown up amid rice paddies, buffaloes, and mud-brick homes. Your education would have instilled in you an utterly different world view than the one you hold now. Your native language would be Southwestern Mandarin.

Unlike the childhood experiences you remember now—those happy times riding your new bicycle and playing with your new toys or video games, for example—your memories would reflect a happiness that did not rely so heavily on access to material wealth. “Oh, but we were not wealthy, not in the least,” you might say. Compared to the life you would have lived in that mud hut outside Zhongxin, you were incomprehensibly wealthy. If you think honestly back to your childhood here in the U.S., you will realize just how wealthy your family was. You had indoor plumbing for most, if not all, of your early years. Your kitchen stove, which was inside the main part of your house, was powered not by dried dung and wood chips, but by electricity or gas. Your water was delivered through a tap, not from a bucket pulled up from a communal well. You would have had a happy childhood, nonetheless, in the rural China of the early 1960s.

Your happiness in that hut would have derived from relationships between members of your adoptive family and other villagers who supported one another through brutally challenging times. But one brutal challenge friendly faces could not overcome was the bullying you experienced from children in nearby villages. Those children made fun of you because you looked very different from other children. Your skin was strangely pale. Your eyes had an odd, circular shape about them. To those kids, you looked misshapen, deformed; as if you had emerged from the womb of a creature that was, like you, not entirely human. And it wasn’t just the children. Their parents, too, looked at you as if you were an aberration. They turned their gazes away from you as they passed you on the road. They whispered among themselves as they glanced in your direction, quickly averting their eyes when you looked at them.

But you survived. You became a teenager and, later, a young adult. You joined the Communist Party and read the newspapers that reported on the atrocities committed by Western countries. You believed what you read, too, because the papers were published by the government. Westerners, you learned, were materialistic in the extreme. Their natural human qualities, you were taught, were extracted from them as they grew up, replaced by the bitter, poisonous fruits of Western propaganda. Only the Chinese people possessed the most attractive and admirable qualities you should seek to cultivate in yourself.

Ah, but in fact you were not adopted by a Chinese peasant couple. You speak English. You live a nice life. Maybe it’s not overflowing with riches, but it’s more than comfortable. As you think back on your childhood, you remember the bullies; not necessarily kids who bullied you, but they bullied someone. And maybe you were the bully. But that’s all history, right? And as you ponder the differences between that life you might have had and the one you have lived thus far, you know you were taught only the truth; no distortions or lies found their way into your education. Right? And government propaganda never put Asians or other “foreigners” in a negative light, right?

Truth. What is true and what is not? Is propaganda a distortion of facts or is it the intentional misrepresentation of falsehoods as truth? Just as I wonder who I am beneath my veneer, I wonder what other societies are like under the paint we, and they, use to cover their blemishes. And what about our own society? Are the history books even remotely correct? How much did they leave out? We know they left out a lot. They neglected to mention the 1921 massacre and destruction of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street or, if they did mention it, they called it the Tulsa Race Riots. How much more is there we don’t know because it was intentionally withheld from us? How much do we “know” that is untrue? Yes, I’m wandering off course again. I do that. But if I don’t write it down, it might escape my brain, never to be captured again. And that stuff in my head; it needs to be captured before it does any more harm.

 

 

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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