Sam Sanders: 'This Isn't America'? The Lie We Have To Confront To Get To Truth The insurrection at the Capitol was just the latest chapter in America's ongoing battle over race, writes NPR host Sam Sanders. "Once you see it as such," he says, "it all makes a lot more sense."
NPR logo

The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Race

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/955392813/955938768" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Race

The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Race

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/955392813/955938768" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

There's been a lot of talk over the last few days about just what that attack on the Capitol says about America. We heard the same words over and over again - this is not who we are. But our next guest says it is. NPR's Sam Sanders, host of It's Been A Minute, wrote a piece about this on npr.org, and he joins us now. Hey, Sam.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Hey. How are you, Tonya?

MOSLEY: I am well. Thanks. So Republican Ben Sasse of Nebraska actually said, our kids need to know this isn't what America is. And you called that sentiment a lie.

SANDERS: I think it is a lie. Yes, I do.

MOSLEY: Say more.

SANDERS: You know, I think that since this country's founding, America has been a country built on racial hierarchy and exploitation and subjugation. And a lot of that history is still present, and we don't want to talk about it or examine just how big of a factor race is in American life still in 2021. And flashpoints like the insurrection last week are just the latest chapter in a book that we've been writing for decades and centuries now. When I look at those images from last week, one of the protesters was trotting a Confederate flag through the Capitol. There was a noose outside of the Capitol, and some of those folks had on T-shirts that read civil war. It's not new. It's with us. And it is who we are. It's who we have been.

MOSLEY: You know what's also interesting is the perspective. Your piece was shared on Twitter more than 5,000 times, and there are different reactions based on race. So Black people responded as if you were basically preaching to the choir, and others feel taken aback by this idea. How does this lie that you write about play out every day for you?

SANDERS: You know, the lie plays out, in the field that I'm in, constantly finding ways to speak truth through my work. You know? We talked about the insurrection on my show last weekend. And I got some emails from some listeners basically saying, well, it's not that bad. It's not really about this, particularly from white listeners, from white readers. I think some of them might feel that if they really speak to the reality of race in this country, it implicates them, too, to which I say, yeah, it does. It implicates all of us. But how do we move past it and get better until we acknowledge that?

MOSLEY: That's the big question. If this attack represents an element of who we are and some people can see it while others cannot, how do we actually move forward?

SANDERS: I think there's a few things. I think we have to start drawing some throughlines through the things that are happening in this country - Charlottesville, the church shooting in Charleston, the synagogue shooting in Pennsylvania. These are events that are about race, and it is racial violence. This is a throughline and a pattern that stretches back through our history. So one, we've got to do that. And two, I think that when these racial flashpoints arise, we have to fight the urge to do things that would keep us from speaking truth.

A thing that I notice a lot when there is racial trauma that happens in America - a lot of good-hearted folks, a lot of good-hearted white folks, they want to absorb a community's pain. And I think a lot of white people think that once they see that pain, they feel like they've done something. But they actually haven't done anything. There is no action. And so what I wanted to do with this piece was to not just perform Black grief again, but to challenge the, quote-unquote, "good white people" out there, to start asking themselves how they perpetuate lies about race that continue to allow racism to run this society.

MOSLEY: Well, you can read Sam's essay at npr.org. And Sam, thank you so much for this article.

SANDERS: Oh, thank you, Tonya. I appreciate it.

MOSLEY: Sam Sanders is host of NPR's It's Been A Minute.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.