Most of you are probably familiar with the ampersand. The symbol looks like this :& and means “and.”
It occurred to me, and perhaps your have had the same thought, that the inclusion movements throughout our history have been a constant process of addition: gradually adding more and more people to the register of those whom we consider equals. Of course, if you read the Constitution literally, you might believe that from the beginning, everyone has always been “created equal.” But ask people of any race besides white, any gender besides male, any sexual preference besides hetero, and you will find those that tend to disagree.
I also play, in this poem, with the rainbow imagery so prevalent this time of year, since it is Pride Month and many of us hang flags to commemorate our alignment with the cause. Like many of our actions, this one is often done for the benefit of others, so we will seem like nice, tolerant people. Unfortunately, as the constant back and forth of our own Florida state politics has shown, progress in one direction–toward equality–is often followed by a period of regression–toward returning to the previous status quo. Religion, tradition, and deep set beliefs stand in the way of what may seem like simple equality, to those who seek it.
I also point out that the rainbow is a spectrum–which brings to mind the autism spectrum. The Inclusion that autistic individuals have had to fight for, and which still is an imperfect, partial thing, has also been stymied by the realities of life. Money, time, safety, independence or lack thereof, and the aging of those whose natural role is to care.
In color theory, a spectrum includes opposites, contrasting colors–colors that when combined form browns and blacks and grays. Even while decorating, few people include the entire spectrum in their palette. Much less in their social circle. Stirring the pot which contains all types of people means combining combustible, opposing forces.
I am not saying that intolerance of difference is a good thing. I am only saying that it is. The existence of opposition was a fact when people sought to abolish slavery, and when they sought to have their civil rights recognized. Each gain is hard won, and is pushed back upon, as soon as our backs are turned. And even if our idealism might lead us to believe, that equality is achievable now, intolerance and pushback must be reckoned with.
Here in this poem, I mull over the seedy side of even the most well-meaning and purposeful movements toward greater inclusion. Movements such as that heralded and celebrated during Pride Month. And I wish everyone better luck from now on, in convincing our flawed human race to do what’s right.
This rainbow–jeweled spectrum–
With trembling bands of light,
Its sibling strands and ampersands
Contrast, combine, to night.
While cheery-colored opposites
Upon the color wheel
Would seem to strike a contrast,
When combined, these tones reveal
Our muddy thoughts and instincts,
For humanity hates change,
Admiring difference–at a distance.
Close, we re-arrange
The palette, cull, to suit our needs,
Traditional and bland.
We pick two colors, maybe three,
And toss the ampersand.
What use have we for everyone?
Too many spoils the clique.
Inclusion breeds confusion.
Stirring all will dull the mix.
This flag hangs proud upon my porch,
They walk by and they know.
But have I friends of every hue?
The answer, simply: No.
Our simpering claims of openness
Apply to what we know.
Yet throw some strangeness in the mix,
And watch our colors’ glow
Devolve, to churning thunderclouds
And storms that howl and twist.
And watch our union disappear,
Less rainbow now, than mist.
Copyright 2023 Andrea LeDew
For a poem about privilege, read Chicken Fight. For a poem about how much worse things used to be, and in some ways still are, read Contagion. For another pride poem which frets about pronouns, read Wishful Thinking.