Let us talk about ice cream. And sprinkles.
We only have vanilla. Tubs and tubs of it: creamy, inoffensive. One flavor (one shade, one experience) fits all. Occasionally, we see a brief swirl of color: artificial, garish, fished out and bit into only to betray in a bitter flare over our tongues. We learn to pick those out and set them aside.
We learn not to criticize the flavor, the attempts to imitate deeper, richer, nuanced tastes and culinary delights our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers spooned into our open, baby bird mouths on their laps, their eyes sweet and soft with their shared delight in our pleasure, our surprise -
We, too, are capable of creations that linger on eager, starved palates and settle over deprived hearts.
We, too, are capable of sharing our wonders.
Perhaps I stand up. Perhaps it is someone else, someone is tired of the flinches, the cringes, the acceptable, not too sweet predictability of the bowl in front of them.
We commandeer one, leftover tub. We take turns crumbling our cherished confections into our bowls. There is love. There is pain. There is authenticity in every agreed upon, willingly shared gift that we exchange between each other, taste, nod, learn each other from that shared spoon and similar fulfillment and relief -
Finally, I can share this flavor,
this wonder that is me.
And then, someone else — someone who has a seat at a different table, a table where their ice cream is garnished with a taste so comforting and known that the sharp taste of being known has already settled and faded from their tongue — decides that they take offense to our use of sprinkles.
They are too colorful, too loud, too noticeable. They take the shaker off our table and toss careless handfuls into their own bowl. After all, we’ve changed the tone, we’ve disturbed the mood. We’ve forced them to taste our experimentation and though it withers their appetite and furrows their brow, they will eat it and we will suffer through their disapproval and their anguish and their anger, their disappointment, that we could not remain satisfied with what we had.
But, perhaps, this is a flawed conceit to present from the beginning. Sprinkles — colorful, light, airy sugar flecks — seem so trite, so dismissive, when we talk about historically accepted oppression, dismissal, erasure, genocide.
The decision to present the need for a narrative, the need to feel the warm comfort in your belly of being known, being seen, being heard, to have the flavor of a story that is meant for you wash over your tongue after years, decades — centuries — of only knowing the sharp aftertaste of assumptions and stereotypes and having them repeatedly rammed and force-fed and jammed down your throat as the epitome of what you are —
To compress all that, a complex and continued struggle, into an issue of a topping on dessert — an afterthought, not even part of a solid meal, certainly not something that you should feel right or decent about asking for — is where the problem lies.
Not with a child who wanted a chance to see himself.
Not when you hold a position that one would assume came with a certain sense of responsibility: not to wave the banner of an unhappy, suppressive agenda — one story, and no others; one group of people, and no others — but to open your heart and your mind and allow every child their inquiries, their desired and deserved representation, without dismissing them with such acrid words as “peculiar” and “misguided” for wanting to see their own face in their favorite story.
(And, it should be noted, it should be underlined, it is never peculiar or misguided to complain if you or yours — the ones who are always seen, always heard — are told to sit down and step back and give someone else a chance at the mic, to sit down and step back at a rally or acknowledge your privilege or your error.
It is never even peculiar or misguided to berate and condemn this child, these children. It is never borne from your own insecurity, that someone else should be heard and respected and acknowledged, from your own flinching away from the possibility of other stories. Of course not.)
The problem lies with your assumption that we want you to eat the sprinkles, to even make them for us. We are done with toxic, candy-colored tropes that you demand we eat every single bite of. We are done with stolen and poorly copied travesties of those stories our grandmothers and mothers spoon-fed into our mouths: humiliation masquerading as pride, as confirmation of what we are and ought to be.
The problem lies with your assumption that I want to choke down your flinching and cringing and insistence that I am something foreign, difficult to parse out in terms like “human” and “normal” — Other. I am tired with burnt and carelessly created offerings. I am tired of being told to close my eyes and imagine that a bland, loveless bowl is meant for me, and not merely an afterthought because you’re too busy licking your own spoon clean.
It has been decades and centuries, and your problem rests in the fact that you see this as a game where you can continue to be smug, to look down on the little Oliver Twist with his fingers curled around his bowl, dragging up the courage to whisper, “Please, can I have more?”
To picture him instead in rich threads and with ice cream smeared around his lips, asking for sprinkles instead of plain vanilla. A greedy glutton. Someone who should be satisfied and make a full belly of miserly crumbs.
Whether you like it or not, we are claiming our place at the table. We have taken our seats. We are offering up our varying flavors, our traditional delights and newly discovered cravings. We are sharing them among ourselves and drawing strength from our similarities and falling in love with our differences.
Let us talk about ice cream, for now, if you want. Let us talk about sprinkles. Let us also talk about the responsibilities that come from being heard in this community, from knowing that no matter what you say — no matter who you say it about — it will not be a drop in the bucket, a continuous, exhausted wringing out between reddened fingers and wrinkled palms, a sense that we will perpetuate this conversation and stare down at our half-full bowls and start back again, scraping our spoons over a renewed surface.
We are reaching for our mirrors. We are eating from what we’ve always deserved to taste. It is not a matter of if — it is a matter of when.