Having scoured the recesses of my soul, three white-robed men step back and huddle amongst themselves. These are inquisitors of the Church of Woke: theocratic vanguards responsible for investigating charges of blasphemy and heresy on behalf of the state church. I listen closely and can make out some of their accusatory whispers.
“His affliction is my affliction is grave.” laments a voice from behind a scarlet-red capirote.
“The typicality is unremarkable,” says the second.
The third inquisitor peruses the pages of a leather-bound bible, seeking the wisdom of the prophets. “Inquire further, and let Her words guide our judgment.”
“Yes, let our decision be equitable” reminds the first.
The three inquisitors chatter for a moment longer before once again turning to face me. The first inquisitor, perhaps their ranking leader, steps toward me. I am being studied with scrutinous eyes that seek to ascertain my guilt. Through small slits in the capirote my eyes meet his. They are dark and prodding, like stilettos piercing my flesh. With disdain in his voice, he speaks: “Having dealt with your type, I am all too acquainted with your linguistically contorted denials of sin.”
“You speak of my type?” I inquire. “Of what type am I?”
I sense a coy smile forming behind the cloth. He turns back to his comrades and chuckles, “Feigned ignorance. Need you more proof?”
The second inquisitor takes the bible and walks toward me while thumbing through it. “Would you deny the heretical nature of the racism you spake?”
I groan at the predictability of his claim. “Enough with these vagaries!” I protest. “I have spoken no such words.”
As if guided by divine providence, the inquisitor runs his slender finger down his Bible verses and stops at one in particular. He takes a deep breath and invokes the power of Her words, “stopping our racist patterns must be more important than working to convince others we don’t have them.”
“So you seek me to desist from accusations which I deny?”
We make no accusations; we speak truth to power,” replies the inquisitor.
There is only silence. The third and final of the inquisitors steps from behind the two and circles to my rear. He places both of his hands on my shoulders and leans in, whispering, “racism is the bedrock of our society. Hast thou not grown from this polluted soil?”
“So sayeth the prophetess,” the other two chant in unison.
“Then, by virtue of my existence, I am guilty?” I earnestly question.
The first inquisitor gazes upon me, and as if guided by powers beyond, he prods my psyche. “You have but one chance to acknowledge the white supremacy within. We cannot cast out what you deny”.
“And if I refuse this admission of guilt, what then?” I ask.
“Heresy!” he gasps.
The third inquisitor brushes past me and assembles in line with the other two. He crosses his arms against his chest and loudly proclaims, “Your defensiveness, denial, and resistance are deep.”
I grow increasingly frustrated at being unable to defend what is presumed valid. Anger bubbles from within and surfaces through my words, “Enough with the superficial psychoanalysis, what evidence supports these claims?”
They cringe and reel back with righteous indignation at my audacity. The second inquisitor strides towards me and grips me by my throat. I attempt to release his grip to no avail. He holds tighter and, with righteous furor in his voice, loudly proclaims, “This white fragility functions as a form of bullying!”
Together they nod in agreement, and the first chimes in, “Do you seek to make it so miserable for us to confront you—no matter how diplomatic our approach—that you believe we will simply back off, give up, and never raise the issue again?”
I continue to struggle while a vice-like grip suppresses any words from being spoken further. The inquisitor then releases his hand and walks back to the others. “We will never give up,” he quips.
As the public spectacle ensues, a crowd descends upon me, flanking me from all sides. Their eyebrows are furrowed, incensed by my presence. They know that judgment is coming, and there is a sense of emanating glee as they await the hammer of “justice” to bludgeon me into submission. In light of my audience, I consider my words carefully, “How can one offer a defense against these charges when assumptions of guilt supplant presumptions of innocence?”
An inquisitor slowly moves upon me and forcefully presses his palm against my chest. He lowers his head and closes his eyes; he can sense my heart beating with rhythmic intensity. He knows that despite my defiance, I harbor great fear. While whispering some sort of incantation, he seeks to exorcise me of demonic forces. “Confess the darkness of white supremacy within your heart and be released from its occupation!” he commands.
“His privilege will not let him,” another reminds.
The crowd is giddy with anticipation. If I cannot be cleansed by exorcism, I will be consecrated by fire. There will be no reprieve from this inquisition-turned street trial, and my narrowing chance to exit fills me with dread. I wonder if perhaps words of reason can shatter the crowd’s trance. Maybe their shackles can be broken.
Holding his holy bible, an inquisitor recites: “It is white people’s responsibility to be less fragile.” He holds his hand out before the crowd and appeals to some amongst them, “must our brethren of color twist themselves into knots trying to navigate this as painlessly as possible for you?”
“Was it not enough that they live under the yoke of your oppression?” an inquisitor asks. “Will you deny them the truth of their lived experiences?”
The inquisitor before me now removes his hand from my chest and walks away before turning sharply to face me, “Teacher, how much harm have you already wrought upon our Antiracist progeny?” he asks with piqued curiosity.
I look around and study the growing crowd that gathers around me. They are complicit in silence. I consider their collective power: with courage, they could rebuke this farce and save my life. Yet this optimism dims as I peer to the mighty cathedral towering behind the crowd. Its spires ascend higher than any other build in sight, and atop each rests an ornately carved stone eye. They serve reminders of the power of the all-seeing watch of the Church of Woke. Courage is required, I lament, for in speaking out, they too would find the unholy watch of this dark church turned upon their lives. What sins have they committed that may be revealed? What words have they carelessly spoken that would destroy their lives? What private thoughts have they pondered that the inquisition may reveal? Perhaps it is too much to ask ordinary people to upend their lives for one foolish enough to speak out.
These lingering thoughts depress my desire to persist in defense, yet I fear it is too late to turn back. My only hope is that there are some amongst the mob to which reason may appeal. I turn around to face the inquisitors and offer a defense: “Do I deny the existence of racism? What fool would? Do you seek perfection of spirit? Who can deny in a life lived not ever having been besieged by discriminatory thoughts? Is it these innately human impulses, for which men of all tribes have battled since time immemorial, for which I am to be judged?”
My words cause the Inquisitors to pause. The audience nervously glances amongst each other, knowing there is truth in my words. I sense that my appeal to the frailties of our collective condition may render their judgment less harsh, for whom amongst us has never sinned? This momentary glimmer of hope is broken by an Inquisitor’s response, “Without institutional power, what you speak of is merely prejudice; a condition that can be resolved through our Department of Inclusion’s rehabilitators. Your throne of Whiteness is a burden that weighs heavily upon these tortured souls. Do you dare invoke their trivial prejudices as equal to the oppression you inflict?”
Another inquisitor speaks, “Look at those amongst the crowd. Their indignation is righteous. To make this about oneself is the hallmark of White Supremacy. Do not deflect!”
These are clever men well versed in populous manipulation. I have been made “Other,” and conceding to universal guilt has done me no favors. By the burden of my identity, special weight has been granted to my sins that others are afforded reprieve. I consider my next question carefully: “To deny your accusations or acknowledge kernels of truth contained within grants me equal damnation. So I ask, what defense would suffice to prove myself worthy?”
“Worthy?!” The hooded figure nearly chokes on his words. “Perhaps you misunderstand our purpose. You are a sinner under your station!”
“Your faith offers no redemption or absolution?” I inquire rhetorically, knowing the answer.
The inquisitor holds a hand to his chest before bursting into laughter. He is followed by a thunderous and mocking bellow of laughs from the audience and his fellow inquisitors.
“Redemption? Absolution? Were such things even possible- and to be clear, they are not- one would first need to acknowledge their sins and beg for forgiveness.”
“And what of you?” I ask. “What spared you from judgment and trial?”
The inquisitor does not hesitate to respond, “Oh my child, we are all sinners and have been rightly judged. Yet, we have never denied our sins nor selfishly sought redemption for what is unforgivable. Our lives have been devoted to The Work as the price of our sins.”
The first inquisitor points his finger at me and offers a lecture, “Let us be clear of your particular predicament. It is not the Grand Inquisition’s function to prosecute original sin. This public debacle you subject us to is an insincere display of ignorance, for like all educated in our society, you were made known of your sins under the instruction of the Department of Equity and offered the same life for all of your stations: devotion to The Work. You chose to rebuke this path and revel in sin. The high crimes for which you stand accused of are not merely the taint of racism and white supremacy, but the manifestation of them in thought and word.”
“Consider our bodily odors,” another offers as a metaphor. “Where there is none amongst us who is free of them, there are those such as yourself who do not cleanse daily—those who attempt to normalize and take pride in what is offensive to the senses. You exude a stench amongst us and assault us with it daily; why the very breath of your spoken words is noxious. Where we offered you soap, you turned it away and gaslit us with the suggestion that our senses betray us.”
I am incensed by the vagaries of their accusations and forcefully reply, “I will not be judged for what is immaterial. These are phantasmic charges.”
One inquisitor scoffs, “spoken as a white supremacist! These words for which you are known are the very behaviors that cause such torment. The very act of denying one’s racism is racist for it mocks the lived experiences of those suffering under your existence.”
“A charge that insists upon itself,” I mumble.
Walking before the crowd, he holds out his hands in prayer. A sorrow resonates in his voice as he continues, “your existence and your words cause such trauma. Do you not see the psychic destruction these words wreak on the poor souls amidst the crowd? Do you not feel regret for the work we must do to socially and emotionally extract the venom inflicted upon our parishioners by your serpentine words?”
Another Inquisitor walks towards the crowd and speaks to some amongst them, “White Brethren of great guilt and shame, who amongst you denies the racism that strangles your hearts? Who refutes the emanations of white supremacy which instill fear and shake the hearts of the dispossessed?”
The crowd is silent, and some nod in agreement; their eyes express deep remorse as if their souls have been prostrated for the world to see. One amongst them, a white woman, appears visibly shaken. She pushes her way through the crowd, trembling with weakness. Does she possess the courage to denounce what has transpired? I wonder. I cautiously hope her words will repudiate this trial. I am soon to be made a fool.
Breaking from the crowd, she falls to her knees before the inquisitor. Tears roll down her cheeks as she holds her hands open and looks to the sky. “I confess my privilege and the scourge of white supremacy within my heart! Release me of this guilt!”
One of the inquisitors places his hand on her forehead and draws upon some imagined power before speaking, “while these sins cannot be absolved, you are a model for the faithful.” he authoritatively claims. “You have stripped yourself of the fragility this heretic is cloaked in, and so I offer unto you a life of perpetual penance.”
“What must I do?” she pleads through sobbing anguish.
“The work,” replies the inquisitor.
“In perpetuity,” proclaims another.
Mustering what courage remains, I walk to face the inquisitor standing before the woman. “Is this what you would ask of me? To confess to a lie so that the voracious appetite of your dogma may be satiated?”
The inquisitor places a sympathetic hand on the woman’s shoulder and looks at me. “You dare accuse this brave soul of lying? We care not to hear you blaspheme further, for what you are is self-evident. Social Justice will be our gift to her, but you? You are anathema.”
The inquisitor next to him laments, “I had hoped he would too have begged on his knees, not to spare himself from justice selfishly, but to do what is right.”
“This is no mere possession, but the embodiment of white supremacy,” the third inquisitor proclaims.
“The Antiwoke,” cries one from the crowd.
“What would you do with this pagan defiler?!” shouts another.
From deep within the crowd, more angry voices join in a chorus of denunciation. I hear one word rise above all others: “exile.” It is contagiously passed from one to another, now becoming an angry chant. “Exile! Exile! Exile!” It grows louder and louder, and every time it is spoken, it is done so with greater intensity and pronounced cheering.
I clench my fists and feel pangs of regret in my gut. Exile. There is no one who does not know what this entails, for it strikes fear in the hearts of men. Some say that consecration by fire is preferable, for it is a far quicker death. Exile is a slow and painful process. Social death is a prelude to corporeal death. Through exile, one is permanently severed from society. Interaction, conversation, and even acknowledgment of the exiled are punishable by death. Most of the exiled succumb to suicide, those that endure usually do so temporarily until scraps of food garbage cans dry up. I think of my family and what they will suffer as a consequence of my pride, for the sentence of exile falls not only upon individuals but entire families. Knowing my bloodguilt will become my son’s, I begin to weep.
An inquisitor coyly smiles at having broken me. He offers assurance to the increasingly vociferous crowd, “Worry not, for he will pay for his crimes. The evidence of his guilt is manifest to all who have witnessed his rhetorical mockery of the Faith.”
“Your accusations and judgment are an affront to reason and justice!” I blurt out.
The inquisitor continues, “… and his denial only confirms our judgment, for though he is blind to it, white fragility is a confession of guilt”.
“Who but a racist would deny service to Antiracism?” questions another.
Two men from behind accost me. They grab my arms and hold me in place as I struggle with futility. I am surrounded and outnumbered; no one will speak for me. Only cowardice is to be found here today.
The three inquisitors assemble in front of me, and one of them steps forward to render final judgment. “Your identity has laid forth commonsense charges, your words supplied evidence of your guilt, and your denial confessed what we knew to be true. For your defiance, you face social justice, and it is clear what they demand of your fate.”
Another inquisitor steps forward, “Is there anyone here today who would challenge our verdict or sentence?”
The crowd goes so silent that one can only hear the wind ruffling the robes of the inquisitors. I make an exacerbated plea, “would this ‘justice’ suffice for any of you? Is there not one amongst you who cannot see themselves where I stand? Do you think that they will not one day come for you? I appeal to our human equality! I ask only for a fair trial.”
The third and final inquisitor steps forward to respond, “what is fair is not equitable. Your privilege has rendered you with unseen powers, and so we were required to consider the dynamics of power that you lorded over us today.”
“A sham!”I exclaim
“A necessary redistribution of power. For the perpetually marginalized, equity offers hope. For the inherently powerful, equity equalizes. You now know what it feels to be at the mercy of an oppressor”.
Another inquisitor steps in, “perhaps you feel this is not fair, but to restitute the historical transgressions of your ilk, equity is the only way to impart justice.”
“Fear not,” assures an inquisitor, “for your sentence shall be guided by equity as well.”
“Yes,” an inquisitor nods in agreement. “You face good fortune today, for the sentence of Exile is in reality served by society. You should be thankful that these martyrs will once again bear the burden of your sins”.
A fleeting thought is upon me. What if I had conformed for the sake of peace? Would my safety have been secured? Would I have been offered reeducation? I consider these questions momentarily before rejecting them. No, my guilt was already established. Were I to fall to my knees as the woman had would still render Exile. All I would have accomplished was to affirm their faith before the eyes of the believers.
“Have you any parting words?” inquires one. “We are not so cruel as to deny a man a final chance to be heard before issuing The Decree of Silence,” he says with a smile.
The crowd laughs. I stare at the inquisitor, unamused. “I will not forsake a moment, uninterrupted, to address my countrymen.”
“Good,” replies the inquisitor. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a silver stopwatch. “Five minutes. An equitable distribution of time, for your words are disproportionately powerful, white male”.
“Would you let him further pollute our minds?!” shouts an angry voice in the crowd.
“His punishment will be… instructive”, answers the inquisitor. “Let his final words capitalize on this lesson.”
I am but a lone vessel against a tidal wave. This moment will not change my fate, but it will be death on my terms. I will defiantly protest against the drowning force of a society gone mad and will excoriate them before they seek to muffle my voice. I am reminded of Captain Ahab’s words in the conclusion of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick:
I will not give them the satisfaction of a Decree of Silence. If silence is what they seek, they will have to rinse their hands of my blood. So, with untempered rage, I fight back in words, yielding nothing and taking from them everything.
“Through a distorted lens, you gazed upon me and rendered fictitious charges based upon what is immutable. From whence we met, the original sin assured my judgment said to have passed to me by spiritual blood-link from those who looked as I do.”
The three inquisitors smile and nod amongst themselves, offering no denial of my words.
“For these reasons, my defense was made in vain. Worse, my very denial of these charges sufficed as the evidence that affirmed my guilt. No words could I have spoken to undo what was decided; it would have been more appropriate to remain silent.”
One of the inquisitors cracks a smile, and I watch as he quietly whispers to himself, “white men should not speak, but listen.”
I look at the woman on her knees. “So you would have had me bend the knee in submission and by your grace be offered a life of penance. So blind are you that you did not see in my defense I was kneeling before a higher judge than you; one that exists outside of your illusory reality, that preceded you and will endure you: The Truth.”
The inquisitors stand motionless and unmoved.
“For while you judged me, so too were you judged by The Truth. She stood as a mirror, mocking you by offering a reflection of your foolery to those that can still see. Though they are quiet, I promise you that the one-eyed still rule the blind”.
“Humph,” an inquisitor mutters.
“It is to those, though their vision may be obfuscated, that I now speak. Do I blaspheme heretical words? Of this I cannot deny. But consider this: in a theocracy of lies, the truth will always be heresy. You have chosen what you believe to be expedient to your social survival, but your silence affords you no quarters against the coming judgment of The Truth. On this day, she may lose the battle, but she endures as she has for all time. In the war between truth and falsity, she will win, and her judgment will be far mightier than that of these pretenders.”
Some amongst the crowd glance at each other, wondering to whom I speak.
“Already, the eyes of the Church are upon you. You may think you have them fooled, but no man is a greater actor than he who truly believes. How long can you maintain the charade? Even could you, at what point will innocuous words from a time long since passed come back to haunt you? And then what? Your silence will offer no recourse, and there will be no one left to speak for you.”
Peering into the crowd, I make out one, an elderly man, noticeably flushed. Beads of sweat roll from his brow, and he brushes them away while glancing at those around him. For now, he is unseen, but I see what they do not.
“The Truth is calling to you. I implore you to answer Her call, not for the sake of your momentary survival, but in the knowledge that service to Truth is our only hope for a better world. Will you live your remaining years as a coward on your knees, or will you rise as a hero and die standing against this army of fallacious madness? But you are just one man, you say? And so am I, but together we will fight, and when we do, the eyes of the world will be upon us.”
I look again to the man who stares directly back at me. I know that he knows there is truth in my words. I only hope that he possesses the courage to take up arms for the Truth.
“Thousands of years ago, a great scourge swept across the civilized world-devouring everything in its path. The mighty armies of Persia, led by Xerxes, were driven by whips and fear. They set their eyes upon Greece, an imperfect people who tended to the flames of truth and justice in a world enveloped by darkness. Xerxes sought to snuff out this light and subjugate the Greek people, and for those who sought to live at any cost, they submitted to a life of slavery rather than die in defense of their ideals. Who could blame them? What hope did the Greeks stand, let alone the world when Truth and Justice could be so easily extinguished at the whims of a tyrant?”
I pause and prepare for my final plea, my call to arms.
“Yet we have not entirely forgotten the world before this plague of lunacy beset us. We know that though we are subjugated, there was a time when something better existed.”
“Oppression!” a nervous inquisitor stutters.
“That world we knew was only made possible by those that defied- against all odds- the pernicious lies of the powerful. So, against Xerxes and his mighty army, the Spartan king Leonidas spat at his promises of security for the price of submission. Holding his sword, he said to Xerxes’ messenger, ‘come and take it!’ And he and his three-hundred king’s guard mounted a valiant defense for seven days, knowing that they would likely perish. Why fight against an inevitable death? Because they knew that their deaths would rally the armies of free people throughout Greece.”
The old man stands silently, but he stands as if he has never stood in his entire life. He is frail and would not last long against the crowd. Yet, his spirit is indomitable.
“Do you know what happened to these three-hundred Spartans?” I ask, speaking directly to the old man.
There is silence for a moment. Then a weathered voice rises from the mob. It is raspy and worn, not so loud as to ordinarily scare any man, but at this moment, it is as a deafening thunder to all who are a witness: “what became of the three-hundred, my brother?!” he cries out.
As if a spear had been hurtled from the crowd, impaling the inquisitors, they grab their chests and let out an audible gasp. The one holding his bible drops it to the ground, and the audience bursts into an agonizing cry at witnessing their frailty. They turn in righteous indignation to face the old man who dared to speak.
A smile crosses my face. “They perished to the last man. But in doing so, they rallied the Greek Peninsula who drove Xerxes’ army back from whence it came and preserved the light Western civilization so that future generations could bask in its warmth.”
This is my last stand. Thousands of years ago, some Spartan defiantly held his shield and pointed the tip of his spear at the oncoming armies of Xerxes. He knew he would die, but not before showing Xerxes how free men fought.
I pull with all my might and break free from the grasps of the shocked men who had held me moments ago. Turning to them, I place one hand on a shoulder and another to the hilt of a sheathed sword. Forcefully pulling it out, I step back and smile: “come and take it.”
Others amongst the crowd unsheath their swords, grip clubs, and pick up stones. Death is upon me, but they will have to earn my silence. I look at the old man who has nothing more than clenched fists but who is prepared to go down with a fight.
“Now, my brother, we fight. For the inquisitors spoke the truth when they said my death would be instructive, though not for the reason they thought….”