Updated: Aug 15, 2019
By Deborah Diaz
Dear Neil deGrasse Tyson,
When I first read your twitter post, I could not help but relate to it.
Living in America, I have noticed that most of our day to day lives involve being in a constant state of political and social conflict. This lifestyle that we live in affords the government the ability to decide what is deemed acceptable for the public to know while still keeping up with its facade.
In all of the history classes I’ve sat through, the most important thing I have left the classroom understanding is that America is known for trying to cover the sun with a finger, especially when it comes to matters involving racism and slavery.
When you tweeted:
As a minority, I related wholeheartedly because it seems like we are the ones at whom the lies are spewed the most.
The government is constantly trying to blind us and keep us inside their metaphorical cave. It seems to me that the primary tool used by the government to build its lie and ensure its perpetuation of blinding the people in society is our education system. And although believing in lies always feels better, it is not the way we should live.
Being from a family of immigrants from the Dominican Republic denied me the connection to my roots and education played a large part in how my identity as a Dominican was replaced by an American one. Unfortunately, this enabled me to absorb whatever information was taught to me and take it as the truth.
I remember my time in elementary school, when the class would throw parties and make huge presentations on Elmer Trifold boards about the conquistadors and their great service to society by “discovering” the Americas. The curriculum pushed me to admire Christopher Columbus for his conquest of, not only America, but of the Dominican Republic as well. My teachers would emphasize that nothing would have been possible without him, and for a long period of time I believed them, not knowing that the Native Americans and Taíno had thrived with structure and power long before the white man.
I was taught that the conquistadors were “friendly and wanted what was best for the indigenous people” and that it was crucial to save them from their savagery. Instead of learning about the rape, war and constant bloodshed that the Spanish bathed my country with, I was blinded by the lies of civil meetings and mutual agreements.
Just like in Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, this experience made me realize that the way we are taught about American history only tells the victor’s story. We are force fed sugar-coated information to ensure a feeling of trust and security in our government.
When I was finally dragged out of the cave by reading and researching years later it felt exactly as Plato described, “[t]ake a man who is released and suddenly compelled to stand up, [...] in doing all this is in pain, [...]".
The whole ideology of what America stood for suddenly had no foundation. I realized everything I had learned wasn’t the whole truth, and it was painful to realize that the government and country you trusted never had your best interest in mind even from the start of the nation.
The sad thing is that my experiences are not exclusive. After reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me and watching Marjane Satrapi’s film version of her autobiography called Persepolis, I realized that I shared these same feelings of the education system with them both.
Growing up, Coates would contemplate why he had to risk his life going and coming to school where he would leave feeling defrauded and betrayed. Coates writes, “How could the schools valorize men and women whose values society are actively scorned. How could they send us out into the streets of Baltimore, knowing all that they were [...] I came to see the streets and the schools as arms of the same beast”.
As a black kid living in Baltimore every move made is a potential threat to his Black body, yet the schools were not acknowledging the everyday lives of the students.
From our elementary school years, we are taught that education is the only way to succeed and the only way to “be somebody” in life. The fact is most people don’t even receive the education they deserve. A lot of students constantly talk about how the teachers seem like they don’t even want to teach and how the assignments seem like they were setting them up to fail.
In the case of Coates, what he is learning is useless to him and his daily struggles on the streets of his neighborhood, much like the false information I was being taught in elementary school.
Marjane from Persepolis had a similar experience but in a different way. Sometimes people are exposed to truths that they would have been better off not knowing. At times, we are not ready to know the truth because instead of it helping us, it could actually have the opposite effect.
In Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi lived in Iran, where her country was filled with extreme political tension and soon became an active warzone. Satrapi’s life is opposite from what most people experience. Marjane grew up knowing the truth and there was never a need for her to question the reality of her country. However, seeing Marjane’s unique childhood I believe that it would have been better for her to remain in the dark about the country’s political atmosphere.
From the start of the movie we can see how much the truth has affected her even from such a young age. Marjane's parents are very vocal about the uproar the new Shah is causing, telling her about the bloodshed and injustice that is happening in the streets. This caused her to have a different mentality than the average child her age.
Throughout the movie Marjane exhibits actions that are directly influenced by her leaning the truth about her country, she runs around her house declaring “Down with the Shah!”. There wasn’t a need for her to know of the details of the massacres occurring at such a young age because it denied her the opportunity to have a normal childhood. Marjane at that specific time was better off believing in lies.
Yet, later on in life her knowing all the details of the political state of Iran became a tool she used against the education system that worked with her government to not only try to feed the students lies but to also deny it.
This unfortunately is not far from what we currently have in America. Education is supposed to let you challenge beliefs and find the whole truth not the half child-friendly version of the truth.
While in class Marjane’s teacher starts to lie about how there are zero political prisoners under the new government. Marjane, who has been exposed to the truth from her uncle, proceeds to enlighten the whole class on how the number of prisoners has actually increased. Without this knowledge Marjane would have believed the lies being taught just like I did.
So, Mr. Tyson, I have come to the realization that the truth is something painful, there is no way to deny that believing in lies feels better. As human beings it's in our nature to want to avoid pain by any means whether it be physical, mental or emotional.
The majority of times the truth hurts and although I’ve been enlightened on how deceptive the education system is, I don’t want the pain that comes with it. I don’t want the pain of knowing that the only country I’ve ever known doesn’t have my best interest in mind.
I know however, that to be a productive member of society and enact the change I need to see, it is essential to face the truth and all the bad that comes with it.