What Can I Say?

by Harrison Stock

The keepers of public opinion today
hand down to the masses what we are to say.
I try hard to please them and follow the mob.
If I say the wrong thing, I’ll be out of a job.
So, Masters, please tell me the rules of fair play,
and please let me know what you want me to say.

The venerable guardians of popular mind
decreed a hard rule of the most solemn kind:
“We want you to say—and we want you to care:
diversity here, and diversity there.
Diversity is what you must celebrate,
and if you do not, then you’re just full of hate!”

I said, I can do that—that doesn’t sound hard.
And so I held forth like an eloquent bard:
Those people are different, they’re not like me;
and I’m not like them, it is so plain to see.
Those people do things that others do not;
and others do many things those never thought.
I revel and celebrate such a great sea
of wonderful, colorful diversity.

But, “No!” cried the thought police; cried the mob, “No!”
“That man must be fired, that hater must go!
You think you’re superior in your own eyes,
and everyone else you dehumanize.
You’re prejudiced, and you discriminate;
you’re bigoted, and you are just full of hate!”

And I was quite stunned; I was taken aback.
I thought, Surely, you told me our culture must lack
a stale uniformity, boring and bland—
that noble diversity covers the land.
I said nothing more than you said I should say;
I only said people are different, OK?
Different, you know, as in “Diversity.”
But the keepers of conscience were deaf to my plea.
And herded like cattle, with no will or choice,
their intimidation just silenced my voice.
They turned my voice into a horn that they play;
so, please, let me know what you want me to say.

The Magi of masses went into deep thought
With wise cogitation, here’s what they taught:
“Equal! Equality! We’re all the same;
Each person can be anything you can name.
Equality is what you must celebrate,
And if you do not, then you’re just full of hate.”

I said, I can do that; that isn’t a chore.
I wonder: why didn’t you say so before?
Content of character, that is the dream.
We stand on our merits, or so it would seem.
One person succeeds and another one fails,
but we all have the same wind blowing our sails.
One stands and one falls, and since we’re all the same,
one has only himself for the credit or blame.

But, “No!” cried the thought police; cried the mob, “No!”
“That man must be fired, that hater must go!
You take for yourself and you don’t want to give.
You’re callous and culturally insensitive.
Those people are different; they’re not like you.
You can’t expect they’ll pass the tests that you do.
Special allowances have to be made
before those poor people can all make the grade.”

O brother! Now I am really confused.
I wonder: what’s wrong with the words that I used?
I said we’re different, and you tell me “No!”
Now you say what I said a minute ago.
You say we are different, and you say that’s great,
but back when I said it, you said it was hate.
You tell me what’s right, and then before long,
with no sense of irony, tell me that’s wrong.
I’m puzzled and don’t know how to fit in.
The rules keep on changing, so how can I win?

“How dare you pass judgment, you ignorant kine!
Your Masters have spoken, so just fall in line.
Don’t worry so much that you can’t understand,
(actually, that really is part of the plan!)
We’ve got some Kool-Aid here you can drink:
Go back and watch football and try not to think.”

I wish I could just figure out what they want,
but for every attempt all I get is a taunt.
I wonder: can anyone win at their game?
Are we all different, or are we the same?
O wise engineers of the popular mind,
I pray thee, O sages, would you be so kind
as to tell me quite plainly and without delay:
Just what the hell do you want me to say?

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