I don’t know what happened to this post. I thought I posted it on January 4, but now I don’t see it. So, today my readers get a double portion.
What do you do when your learning leads you to something that doesn’t “fit” with your bigger narrative? I mean, what if you learn something that makes you a little uncomfortable, and that you wish weren’t true? You can just absorb this new knowledge and keep it hidden. You can just, sort of, ignore it. Or you can tell part of the story – the best part. Or you can tell the truth, the whole truth – well you know the rest.
We probably all know something about the story of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African-American youth from Chicago who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 as a consequence of some flirtatious behavior toward a white woman. In relation to my new project, I’ve been researching the Emmett Till story. One of the first things I discovered yesterday is that Emmett’s father “was killed in World War II.” The connotations of that piece of information made me imagine Emmett’s father to be a war hero. However, another source informed me that the man was executed by the military as a punishment for egregious behavior. Well, that’s a very different connotation from “killed in World War II.” Further research showed me that the egregious behavior had to do with a series of rapes of female military staff persons. Even worse. When you then realize that the people who were defending Emmett’s murderers cited his father’s behavior as evidence of a genetic pre-disposition toward uncontrolled behavior toward women, you realize that this fact about Emmett’s father is not helpful. Yes, the men who made this connection between Emmett’s father’s behavior and the defense of Emmett’s murderers were out of line. But still, you wish the facts could have been different. The writer who reported that Emmett’s father “was killed in World War II” evidently wished the same thing. Telling some of the facts in a way that creates an untrue impression is what we today call “spin.”
I want my writing to be free of spin. But it’s really difficult to make that happen. Some would say that it’s impossible.