Are you on Twitter?
If so, put “grocery divider” in the search bar and take a scroll through the results.
Go ahead. I’ll wait. (But if you want to save keystrokes, click here.)
The thread appears to have begun here:
It may have been a joke, but the 1,700 comments and 48,000 retweets, not to mention the 261,000 “favorites” show the staying power this idea has.
Although the thread has some laughs (this tweet is from 2011 but it seems appropriate for the “humor” part of my post) …:
…it mostly has references to the idea that the use of a grocery divider (especially the rush to get the thing down as quickly as possible) is a microaggression.
I’m not qualified to give a microaggression primer, but here’s a bit of background.
Merriam Webster defines a microaggression this way:
a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority)
There are some evocative examples here (chosen by me partially so I could give a shout out to my former employer, Fordham University!).
And Psychology Today breaks microaggressions down into three categories: microassaults (read more about those from Sailing Rough Waters), microinsults (more on those here, also from Sailing Rough Waters) and microinvalidations (more on those in this Teen Vogue op-ed).
Why I Use The Grocery Divider
Perhaps I am speaking out of both sides of my mouth by saying what I am about to say. Maybe it’s hypocritical to argue that it’s silly for one Tweet to “stick” so deeply with so many people yet spend an entire blog post writing about it. But writing is how I sort things out (and try to encourage others to think critically), so here goes.
The use of a grocery divider on my part is just that … a lifelong habit grounded in an attempt to be courteous, informed by my high school experience as a grocery cashier and driven by the fact that I am ready to get out of the store.
That’s it. End of story. Not intended to be a microaggression.
But I Can’t Stop Thinking About This and Neither Can Many Others
Here’s how things have gone since I first saw a tweet about The Great Divide(r):
First, I think about this every time I am at the store.
I had a conversation with a cashier about this at Publix the other day. This is how it went down:
Me to cashier — as I am putting the divider down (see “lifelong habit” above) even though there wasn’t anyone in line behind me — “I guess it was pretty silly to do that since no one is behind me.”
Cashier: No comment, neutral reaction.
Me: There’s all kinds of talk on Twitter about how ridiculous it is to put the grocery divider down.
Him: It’s just what people do to separate their groceries. No big deal.
(Cue angels singing. I am white, the cashier was black, context that I find important for this post.)
Second, isn’t it crazy how the grocery store is the microcosm that puts our behavior in perspective?
It’s insane (and possibly a sign that I could organize my life better) how much time I spend at Publix. I’m there multiple times per week.
(I imagine, somewhat related to these stories, that anyone who shops at Vineyard Publix would agree it’s an overly courteous place — shoppers and workers alike — we fall all over ourselves apologizing if we almost collide while turning into a new aisle. We are a collectively polite group for the most part. This includes the divider question.)
I was buying six shrimp at the seafood counter at Publix the other day and the associate jokingly said, “There’s a seven-shrimp minimum.” I told him that would be fine. He said, “I’ve only had one person in my entire time here be offended by that ‘minimum’ joke.” At the same time I said, “who could be offended by that?” I also said, “But years ago I had a sobbing breakdown in the cold cut section because of something another shopper said to me, so grocery stores really do bring out something emotional in us.”
Third, the divider is a practical matter.
Here’s an homage to the power of the stupid divider. At my former employer, we had an auditor require us to make our corporate credit card procedures more stringent. (There had been some overreach, a story that won’t get told here.)
When I was buying supplies for a business-related occasion while using my corporate American Express card, my daughter put a fountain drink she had gotten at the deli on the belt, and it was accidentally with the business items vs. our personal items.
When it was discovered that I had spent $1.75 (or whatever) on a personal soda, I had to repay the $1.75 (fair enough) but the card was also locked up in the CFO’s office and I had to check it out every time I traveled on business (which at the time occurred frequently). The only solace is that the same thing happened to one of our most senior leaders, because he accidentally paid for his Firehouse Subs lunch with this corporate card, which was located next to his personal card in his wallet. Side note: neither of us works there anymore.
Fourth, it isn’t just Twitter.
I found a blog that started off discussing Pet Peeves (not the grocery divider) that ended up in The Great Divide(r) land in the comments. One person said they wouldn’t put the divider down because they don’t work at the store (this “don’t work at the store” idea applied to at least one justification for leaving the cart in the parking lot instead of returning it too). And this may have been in the Twitter thread vs these comments, but there is also a “use self checkout if you have an issue with the divider” camp too. (I personally feel like self checkout is REALLY a way to do the store’s work for them, but that’s for a different day I guess.)
Fifth, it’s hard to talk about these types of things productively.
I thought I could ask a question about this topic (of the idea that using the divider is a microaggression) in a private group I’m in that contains an amazing, diverse assortment of people committed to discussing race, how white people can be aware of white privilege (and address it), and many other things.
As the thread progressed, most responses were in the “it’s common sense” camp, but I was asked/told:
a) why I hadn’t only asked black people because doing otherwise just gave the white people in the group the opportunity to justify themselves
b) why I hadn’t asked the tweeter (my response: because many of the responses to him had been attacks and I didn’t want to join the chorus/I also said I thought the group was a safe place for this type of thing and hoped to take advantage of it to feel out this topic)
c) told I was making the problem worse
I deleted the entire thread and spent the rest of the evening wondering about the set of interactions and wishing we could have finished the discussion. I DM’d the person who challenged me, explaining why I had taken the thread down (basically, that I didn’t want to alienate anyone) and have not heard back from them.
Ultimately, Respect for Each Other Matters
In writing this post, I worry I will undo any good I did (if there was any) by writing We Have to Talk About White Privilege.
If you are someone for whom use of the grocery divider feels like a microaggression, I respect that.
I have read someone I respect a great deal, Shay Stewart-Bouley of Black Girl In Maine, say that the work of coming to terms with racism is both internal and external. I wholeheartedly agree.
I like what Cheryl Strayed had to say about the internal work:
You don’t have to relinquish your heritage to be an ally to people of color, Whitey. You have to relinquish your privilege. And part of learning how to do that is accepting that feelings of shame, anger and the sense that people are perceiving you in ways that you believe aren’t accurate or fair are part of the process that you and I and all white people must endure in order to dismantle a toxic system that has perpetuated white supremacy for centuries. That, in fact, those painful and uncomfortable feelings are not the problems to be solved or the wounds to be tended to. Racism is. – Cheryl Strayed
And although this piece isn’t technically a guide to doing internal work, this one line by Morgan Jerkins in How I Overcome My Anger as a Black Writer Online somehow seems connected to the importance of internal work, while it is also a bit of a segue to the external:
My therapist taught me that before I spoke to an audience of thousands or millions, my first audience should be myself. – Morgan Jerkins
And about the external work, again I am no expert here but I think it begins with ceasing our silence when we see racism. Michael Harriott wrote “…silence in the presence of injustice is as bad as injustice itself. White people who are quiet about racism might not plant the seed, but their silence is sunlight.”
When I rush to put the divider down at the grocery store, my intent is straightforward: I don’t want to accidentally pay for someone else’s items (the budget is tight) and I don’t want to add stress to the cashier’s job.
Why eat up extra minutes having a transaction voided when I could better spend my time and efforts trying to do something that really makes a difference?
I am linking up with Kat Bouska, for the prompt “Share something that entertained you this week, can be an article you read, video you watched, someone’s FB share…whatever!” Although, to be clear, “entertained” isn’t exactly what this topic did for me this week.