Confession time. I’m not a William Shakespeare fan. I’ve always found the man and his works to be immensely overrated. I know, I know. There’s some unwritten commandment that all authors are supposed to swear eternal devotion to the poet and playwright. To do otherwise is utter sacrilege.
What can I say, I’m a rebel like that.
Ironically I’m forever indebted to Shakespeare as he taught me one of the most profound life lessons I would ever learn as a person of color with his tragedy, Othello.
Based on the story, Un Capitano Moro by Cinthio, Othello revolves around the eponymous protagonist; a Moorish general in the Venetian army. With themes of racism, love, betrayal, jealousy and revenge, the saga revolves around Othello and his downfall by the machinations of his treacherous “best friend” Iago.
Othello’s cautionary tale is one that has been drilled into me as a person of color who grew up in the South; beware treacherous and racist white folks (and even the occasional PoC) who will seek to destroy you while wearing the guise as a friend. As a driven and an ambitious person of color, I must remain steadfast and on my guard against those who feel threatened by my ambition and drive in my life.
I was having lunch one day with my buddy Katharine and she was wondering why I’m discreet about my career as an author. Outside of networking, promotional work, and certain loved ones, I keep my career on a need to know. She told me it’s such an accomplishment and I should be announcing it proudly to everyone.
I explained to her that unfortunately, I’ve had too many white acquaintances and even loved ones who went from zero to sociopath when learning of my accomplishments. Like clockwork, their expressions shift from shock to (feigned) happiness and then glaring in resentment. And before long they go into full Iago mode. Cheap shots about my work would commence and other attempts to sabotage me and my career. They aren’t just mad that someone achieved something they couldn’t, but a black person did it and shattered their Aryan superiority myth.
Two redflags of Iagos are insecurity and hubris. And while one would think the two are mutually exclusive more often than not, those who are usually the most arrogant and with the biggest egos are often trying hide their fears and insecurities.
A Classification of Iagos
The following are the different type of Iagos I’ve encountered over the years. By no means does this list sum up every possible type but it does provide a solid basis of what to be on guard for. It shouldn’t come as a shock that many Iagos can often fit many of these categories simultaneously:
The Perpetual Victim- It goes without saying that life is often cruel and relentless. Whereas some of us take ownership of the situation in question and try to resolve it, take our power back or what have you, such is not the case with perpetual victims. With a defeatist mindset, they spend more energy making excuses than actually addressing their issues. They’re happy being miserable. And as the old adage goes, misery loves company.
Drama Llamas- If you’re a Greek mythology buff like myself, you’re probably familiar with Eris, the goddess of discord.
“She stirs up even the strifes to toil; for a man grows eager to work when he considers his neighbor a rich man who hates to plough and plant and puts his house in good order; and neighbor vies with his neighbor as he hurries after wealth…she is the sister and companion of murderous Ares, she who is only a little thing at first but thereafter grows until she strides on the earth with her head striking heaven. She then hurled down bitterness equally between both sides as she walked through the onslaught making man’s pain heavier.”
(Hesiod’s Works and Days).
Suffice it say Eris has more than a few disciples here on Earth today. There are those who live for creating and instigating drama, either through lies, gossip or other schemes. Often they do it just for the sake of entertainment, playing the victim or validation.
The problem with drama and toxicity, in general, is that it’s rarely a spectator sport and llamas will often move heaven and earth to drag you into their cesspool. If you’re like me, I suspect you probably have better things to do with your time and probably prefer your drama to be limited to telenovelas.
The Critic– If they don’t have anything negative to say, they won’t say anything at all. The critic is the first to complain, decry or downplay any achievement be it yours or sometimes even theirs. Criticism from the occasional “hater” is mostly harmless but on the regular and over time such toxic reinforcements can have a deleterious effect on one’s mental health.
The Con Artist- Also known as a swindler or hustler, the con artist often possesses the gift of gab but frequently talks out of both ends of their mouth. Often thinking they’re the smartest person in the room, they’ll deceive or deal in half truths. Just dealing with these individuals and decoding their double talk is taxing, toxic, and ultimately they’re more trouble than they’re worth.
The Narcissist- relationships with narcissists are parasitic and one-sided. It’s all about them. Their egos, their whims, their insecurities, their attention, their spotlight. Everything else, including your well-being be damned. Do you really need those kinds of vampires in your life?
The Bigot- What many whites don’t understand is that bigotry is as much a threat to them as it is minorities. I’ve told this story before. About two years ago, I was on a friend’s social media page where a white mother continued to make racist and disparaging remarks about Trayvon Martina and Mike Brown. In the course of calling her out, I also pointed out that the stranger was an unfit parent and a child abuser. In a fit of blind rage, the woman confirmed through a tirade that she and her boyfriend had been reported because her daughter had been regularly abused. Given that the woman was a complete stranger and that was our first (and thankfully) only interaction, several friends wanted to know how I made such a Sherlock Holmes deduction. As I explained to my friends, if there’s one universal trait that I’ve discovered in all decent parents, no matter demographic or background, it’s that they look at all children as if they’re their own. So for a “mother” to coldly mock the death of a young boy, that means to me that she has no qualms about children being abused which stands to reason, she has abused her own.
At the core of bigotry (be it racism, misogyny, ableism, homophobia, antisemitism, anti-blackness, Islamophobia, etc.) it means some lives matter more than others. The core of white supremacy is that in order for one to rise, it must be at the expense of others. Which is why whenever there’s one ism, others are often present. How many conservative politicians have also been racist, homophobic, and pedophiles? How many mass shooters in the last year have been members of white hate groups?
So when we as a society are silent and complicit when it comes to calling out police brutality against PoCs, it’s inevitable that oppressors will target Planned Parenthood or the rights of trans people when it comes to using a restroom. And that is the twisted irony and beauty of bigotry. It is as irrational as it evil and it always comes back to haunt the bigoted and the privileged.
The Follower- Followers are often manipulative by utilizing insincere flattery and telling others what they want to hear. Followers are most capricious and gravitate who they deem is the popular or winning crowd. This also means their loyalties are in a perpetual state of flux. As a result, it’s nothing for them to throw you under the bus so quickly, you’d think your middle name was Michelin.
The Puppet Master- Very much akin to the con artist (and for that matter the narcissist) the puppet master lives to manipulate others. The difference is that while con artists will manipulate as a means to an end, the puppet master thrives on the power of manipulating others. The astute observer will discover that they often brag about their schemes. Needless to say, it is exhausting constantly being on guard and dealing with someone who thinks you have strings to be pulled.
The Abuser- Being a victim of abuse, be it physical or emotional, is a pill no one wants to swallow. As a survivor, I know this first hand. Emotional abuse is often difficult to identify because it isn’t as definitive as compared to say physical violence. Where as you know that if someone raises their hand at you is a line that should never be crossed, someone being verbally offensive could be simply the result of a bad day or it could be emotional abuse.
This article here breaks down other signs to look out for in potential emotional abusers.
Emotional abuse involves a regular pattern of verbal offense, threatening, bullying, and constant criticism, as well as more subtle tactics like intimidation, shaming, and manipulation. Emotional abuse is used to control and subjugate the other person, and quite often it occurs because the abuser has childhood wounds and insecurities they haven’t dealt with — perhaps as a result of being abused themselves. Regardless their trauma does not, has not and never will justify their abuse of you.
The Enemy Within- The greatest adversary you will ever encounter is the one you see in the mirror. Not only do we have to be mindful of potential external threats, but we must also work diligently to address any internal areas of opportunity. We have to make sure our insecurities aren’t hindering our blessings. We have to take ownership and responsibility for our actions. Most importantly we have to strive to make certain we don’t become our worst enemies. we do that by making a good faith effort each day to try to evolve.
Joss Whedon had a most profound quote about Iagos of the world. When it comes to toxic people he says this. “Really toxic people I avoid. I cast for sanity, but toxic people are different from divas. Divas are complicated. Truly toxic people are about trying to tear something down whether it’s somebody else, the story; they’re about power. Those people have no business in my life or the industry.”
No lie detected.