Calling Myself Out

So I posted this blog last spring, called “The Jets and the Sharks,” because two sets of trees that I walk by on my way to the train look like they are ready to rumble. As you may recall in West Side Story, the Sharks are migrants from Puerto Rico and the Jets are the gang of white kids. In the post, I insinuated that the prettier crabapple tree with the blossoms represented the Sharks. While the less showy, meaner looking evergreen trees were the Jets. And by insinuate, I mean I wasn’t explicit at all and me being Judgement McJudgy about racism and plants was primarily in my head. Can’t you people read my thoughts?

Despite the fact that I did not spell it out, the idea stayed with me. And as I began to meet and greet the various trees in my neighborhood, I realized those evergreen trees are actually cedar trees. Insert needle scratch across the vinyl. In this post, Cedars! Who Knew?, I learned that in addition to being a very cool tree, cedar trees are held sacred by many Indigenous people.

So now every time I walk by these trees I think about my own assumptions about beauty and race. I mean, is that not the most privileged white person thing to do, to compare the pretty, light-colored trees to something “good” and the dark trees to something “bad”? OK, yes, it’s also kind of ridiculous that in trying to be mindful of race that I was actually being racist, and I was using trees to do it. My understanding is that it’s pretty common with newbies and anti-racism work — the being unconsciously racist part, not the tree part. The tree thing is just my particular weirdness. Despite all that, I submit to you that the whole episode has revealed an unconscious bias of mine that was insidiously hidden beneath some very righteous layers. And worse, I’ve dragged the innocent, magnificent trees into it.

I still don’t know why there are two distinctly different clumps of trees in this park. Was it a summer intern’s landscaping project? Random leftovers from somewhere else? What I do know is that the trees are the trees, and in anthropomorphizing, I have another place to look out for my sneaky racist assumptions.

In case you don’t want to click through to the Jets and the Sharks post, here it is–clear as mud, right?

There are these very interesting trees near my house, and I’ve been meaning to take a picture of them every spring. There are 2 clumps of trees on either side of the walking/biking path. On the one side is a group of uniform, practical looking, urban-stunted evergreens. On the other side, especially at this time of year, is an explosion of pink and white crabapple flowers that wind along the branches. The path separates them. And all I can think of when I walk by is West Side Story. They look like they are facing off, don’t they? The photo doesn’t quite capture it, but when I walk by, I half expect them to launch into a song. I leave it you to decide which trees are which group. (Although obviously the apple blossoms are the Sharks and the evergreens are the Jets, but you know, you do you.)

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