Dear President Trump,
I told you yesterday that I took a class over the weekend on allyship and shared an initial take on my manifesto for wholeness based on one of the writing exercises we did. Another of the exercises involved writing a letter to an ‘ism or ‘ism-like construct; sexism, racism, classism, ageism, able-ism, homophobia, etc. Our instructor called it an epistolary and reminded us that many of the writings collected by the major religions have used this form. I chose racism as my focus.
I know you, and I hate you. I wish I could honestly say I’ve only seen you from a distance when other people were hosting you, but that would be a lie. Sadly, you live in my house too. Mostly you lurk around in the corners of the attic these days, but you still show up in my living room way too often. I’m doing a better job of noticing when you show up, when I’ve had a racist thought or reaction, or have said something racially insensitive or failed to let someone know I saw a racially charged exchange. But I’m sure I still miss you when you’re directing my attention in certain prescribed ways that are not (yet) conscious to me. I can’t even imagine a reality without you and when I try, I worry that whatever I’d come up with would be tinged by you because as a white person I don’t know how to step out of the world view I’ve been fed. In the face of your awesome, icky power, it’s hard to know where to start.
I suppose maybe a place to start is right here with this epistolary exercise of addressing you directly rather than ducking and shying away in hopes that no one will think I’m associated with you at all. You’re sort of like death – always there in the background but always a downer to bring up and focus squarely on. Unlike death, though, I have to believe you aren’t inevitable, that even as prone to primitive in/out, us/them distinctions as we humans seem to be, I have to believe we don’t have to stay stuck with you and don’t have to stay stuck with a system that privileges certain groups of people over others according to whatever physical or cultural distinctions we arbitrarily pick to sort by. And really, it’s not just you, Racism, that’s at issue here. We do this sorting and pecking and elevating and demeaning over so many different ways humans might be distinguished from one another. It’s a wonder anyone can keep all these categories straight. But that’s been it, hasn’t it? You and sexism and homophobia and all the other divisive constructs have gotten to us early and often. We learned before we could speak who is “supposed to be” in what roles, who “deserves” the bulk of the attention. We’ve been reinforced for following suit and punished if we step out of bounds. You could give master classes in operant conditioning.
Hey, I know, how about if all the people agreed to do some basic cognitive therapy? It would involve learning to recognize thoughts and beliefs based on you and all the other ‘isms and then subject those thoughts and beliefs to a series of simple inquiries; am I confusing feelings with facts? engaging in all/none thinking? ignoring important information? over-generalizing? failing to consider the source? etc. Once we’ve taken an honest inventory, we’d practice coming up with truthful, balanced thoughts about the situation at hand in a “just the facts” sort of way to counteract the poisons we’ve been ingesting since we were tiny. Obviously this is something of a pipedream right now, but I can imagine a public health campaign based on this approach. I bet there are kids out there now who are getting this sort of counter-terrorism training and are seeing that you are really full of shit and shouldn’t take up residence in their psyches. It’ll probably be harder for me than it is for them, but I’m going to take up this practice and use the tools of my trade to address you as an affliction I don’t want or need to have.
May we be safe to see all the ‘isms we harbor.
May we be willing, if not happy, to face our ‘isms.
May we be healthy enough to challenge and correct them.
May we change paradigms that keep us at war with one another and with our best selves.
So shall it be.