The Lure of Complicity Lane

Dear President Trump,

I thought I’d share a conversation with you that I had the other day with a straight, white, male, cisgender colleague that I don’t think would have happened had you not been elected president. We were talking about some issues pertaining to inviting an outside consultant to work with him on a study he’s planning. Most of the issues were pretty mundane, but one wasn’t. My colleague wanted my thoughts on the pros and cons of looking past someone’s reputation for being sexist if their professional reputation was solid and he’d bring needed expertise to the project. My colleague has a friend at the would-be-consultant’s university and this person actually called Professor X a misogynist. Despite this strong label, we both initially tried out different arguments for going ahead and asking Professor X to consult, reasoning that he wasn’t known to have assaulted anyone, people can change, and that we didn’t know whether the other male luminaries in the field who he might ask instead had similar reputations.

I did bring up the issue of giving “Great Men” passes on sexist behavior, but we had just about convinced ourselves he should go ahead and invite Professor X to consult when it occurred to me to ask: “What if instead of misogyny, you were hearing Professor X is a racist?” We were both quite stunned by the impact the shift of frame had. I probably could have substituted homophobia for racism and we would have had the same realization that we need to take mistreatment of women just as seriously as we would take the mistreatment of any other group of people. I have to admit though, that even after it was clear we weren’t going to traipse down Complicity Lane, I wasn’t at all sure how to proceed. My colleague was quiet for a minute and then he said for now he’s willing to put up with someone who is an equal opportunity jerk but not someone who is only a jerk to certain groups of people. I told him I think I can live with this, but I reminded us both that life is short and there are almost always non-jerk options.

May we be brave enough to sort out our biases.
May we be happy when we catch our complicity.
May we have the ego strength to admit when we are tempted by expedience.
May we prioritize respect and integrity.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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