Sick of sticking to the script

Dear President Trump,

This morning on the way to church I was thinking about the HP article by Felicia Harris where she describes how Michelle Obama “crashed” her book club meeting. Really, the book club members won tickets to Obama’s book tour and it happened that Obama had read the love letter they sent her several months before and said she wanted to meet with them when she visited their town. What I was thinking about was Harris’s sense that Obama had given her and so many other women, particularly black women, “permission to be (ourselves) in every moment of every day.”

Actually, what happened this morning is that thoughts about the book club got paired up with a snippet from a Roots song I listened to yesterday from their song called “One Time.” The line that won’t leave me alone is:

“stick to the script, n*gga – f*ck your improv”

It’s not exactly clear who’s speaking here, but the message is insistent and it is stark – do not stray from the script you’ve been assigned, do not make stuff up yourself, do not get out of line. A few lines later the narrator elaborates:

“Play your part, shut the f*ck up, and do as I was told”

The “or else” is unstated but it’s clear as day that “forgetting one’s place” in the system can have devastating consequences.

Circling back to the Obama book and Harris’s sense that it helped her feel she has permission to be herself every minute of every day, I thought about how precious that idea is. I also somewhat cynically wondered how the “stick to the script” line would feel when different groups were swapped in because I think a whole lot of us don’t feel we have permission to be ourselves every minute of every day. I’m just going to list a couple here because they make me queasy, and sad, and angry…..

“stick to the script, bitch – f*ck your improv”
“stick to the script, fag – f*ck your improv”

They conjure Lawrence Dunbar’s and Maya Angelou’s Mask poems, don’t they?

I can hear you starting to fuss that plenty of cis-gender straight white men also feel like they have to wear masks. Yes, of course you all are not immune to the cultural rules that dictate who can behave how, where, and when. Absolutely – we are all bound by expectations and norms. And, the consequences for stepping out of line, for engaging in “improv,” are absolutely not evenly distributed.

May we all be safe to be ourselves in every moment of every day.
May we all be happy to shred the scripts.
May we all engage in healthy, creative improv.
May we all make peace with the full expression of each one’s humanity.

Tracy Simpson

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