I’ve got work to do

Dear President Trump,

I’ve got work to do. This morning when I saw the title of the “Poem-a-day” in my inbox (“If All My Relationships Fail and I Have No Children Do I Even Know What Love Is”) I assumed the author was a woman writing about a romantic relationship having ended and her biological clock ticking. Nope. It’s by a man and the poem is a description of a male fire fighter at a coffee shop hanging out with his 5-year-old daughter before his shift . I wish this weren’t the case, but I immediately pictured the fire fighter being a white man. I caught my racial stereotype after a couple of lines, but didn’t catch my gender stereotype about the author until I was reading the author note at the end. For all my struggles parsing the layers of my assumptions, it’s a beautiful poem.

In addition to being a compelling piece of work in and of itself, I’m grateful for the poem because in encountering it I was baldly confronted with how ingrained my mental sorting apparatus is. It also made me wonder how many times a day I fail to catch my misapprehension of someone or something because I am too blinded by my assumptions. Many of these instances are likely quite inconsequential, but still, I am probably repeatedly doing some bits of violence every day by not appreciating people and situations as they truly are.

This morning on my run I picked up a torn five-dollar bill that was lying in the street. It’s from the central part of the bill and has half of Lincoln’s face on it. He looks really sad and weary. If he were here today, I wonder what he would think. My guess is that on the whole he would feel sad about the lack of reckoning we as a nation have done on race and racism (I hope he’d also feel sad about our parallel lack of reckoning on gender and misogyny). In describing the Legacy Museum that is opening soon in Montgomery, Alabama, Bryan Stevenson (remember him? He wrote “Just Mercy”) said “…unlike South Africa or post-Nazi Germany or many other societies traumatized by history, we’ve hardly begun to grapple with ours — and so cannot yet get beyond it.” I like that he included the “yet”; it’s hopeful and incredibly generous.

May we be safe to recognize when we blunder down blind allies.
May we be happy to catch ourselves when our biases lead us to misperceive.
May we be healthy enough to insist on truth and reconciliation and not settle for expedient gloss.
May we accept that true peace isn’t possible in a world infected with prejudice.

Tracy Simpson

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