Yesterday while teaching my College Strategies class at Cascadia Community College, I asked my students if they had ever felt that they were met with judgement because who they seemed to be (to others) felt in opposition to a job they held or something they did.
Several hands raised. One student mentioned a friend of hers who is a preschool teacher; he happens to be male and he also happens to be black. She described the concerned look of parents when they dropped their kids off at preschool. Another student described that his sexuality has been questioned because he drives a Prius. A friend of one student gets shocked looks when she tells people she is a fisherwoman and not a model.
We then talked about how school structures and society can pigeon-hole us into certain professions or roles based on our backgrounds and who we are (or how we appear to be to others).
This deep and emotional discussion reminded me of a poem I wrote in graduate school called “Prove You Wrong,” in which I tackle these same feelings about discrimination, judgement, and assumptions. In honor of my students, I feel called to share it now:
Prove You Wrong
In seventh grade band, Mr. Law asked us
who we thought couldn’t play the music,
asked us to call on our peers to expose those
we assumed hadn’t practiced, played poorly.
“I do this to keep you on your toes,” he said,
“If you’re chosen, prove us wrong.”
I remember when he chose me to play the chromatic scale,
and the look on his face when I played it perfectly
forcefully belting my breath through the trumpet lips,
my saliva dripping from the spit valve into the carpet.
Proving him wrong was not enough. It is still not enough.
The crescendo is moving in the opposite direction–
the used car salesman assumes I want an automatic car
the track coach assumes I cannot pole vault
the relative assumes I want kids some day
the telemarketer assumes I’m straight.
It does not matter which assumptions are true.
I am tired of fighting against silence,
so I will push into the mouth of the crescendo
against the grain of television and fashion magazines,
against the comfort of repetition, synonyms, mirrors.
Into the loudest octave, I will drive against assumptions.
I will play this trumpet to prove you wrong.
c.2003 Courtney Putnam