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Inspiration for Working on Your Biases

21 August 2018

Eden read Mother to Son by Langston Hughes and felt encouraged knowing that even though the work of overcoming bias can be slow and complicated, it is always, always worth it.

Tags: diversity, eden read, poetry

If I could go back in time, I would like to revisit my undergraduate days and take a class on poetry at the University of Virginia. Growing up I always loved poetry because I was good at memorizing things that rhymed. In fact, I can still recite several pages of a children’s book that I used to read to my younger sister. More recently, however, I’ve come to appreciate poetry for the way that it helps me to articulate feelings that I have a hard time expressing on my own.

Last week I read Mother to Son by Langston Hughes with my summer book club. We were having a serious discussion about Charlottesville and the hard work of recognizing our own biases. We turned to this American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist for inspiration.

If you’ve ever been a part of a discussion on this topic, you know that you can only do so much self-reflection before wanting to get to the punchline: “what are we supposed to do going forward?” One thing I’ve committed to work on in my own life is maintaining a posture of humility regarding my experiences and perspective so that I can examine how my biases impact the way I treat others. Still, the larger work of figuring out how I can be a part of healing a city is daunting.

We left our last small group on Sunday without a clear answer. Though we didn’t expect to solve issues of bias in one summer, I sensed a general lack of satisfaction among the group that our months of conversation ended with a question instead of an answer. However, as I’ve reflected on Mother to Son, I have felt encouraged to take the task of overcoming bias one day and one conversation at a time.

Mother to Son, 1922

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.


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