The Great Divide(r)

Recognizing Microaggressions

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:

Recognizing microaggressions

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) …:

Recognizing microaggressions

…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.

Microaggression 101

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.”

In Closing

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?

Recognizing microaggressions

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.Recognizing microaggressions

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

We Have to Talk About White Privilege

If you have ever driven along an Interstate, searching for the hotel where you have reservations, seeing it seemingly VERY CLOSE but realizing you have to figure out how to get off the interstate, get onto a service road, and find the entrance to your hotel, you know that things are not at all as easy as they first appear. White privilege is like a service road.

I have been wanting to write about intersectionality (and, related, white privilege) ever since I heard the word (yes, it’s been less than a year), but I have hesitated for a variety of reasons. The first reasons that come to mind are:

  1. I don’t understand the topics well enough
  2. I am afraid I will lose friends
  3. I alone can change no minds
  4. I am, as all of us are, so imperfect in my attempts to live life fairly

But those barriers are just going to have to co-exist with my attempt to say my piece on this. In my own home, in conversations with my closest family members, in multiple other environments, it’s time to talk about white privilege even if the attempt is grossly imperfect, if relationships unravel, if no minds are changed.

Because, whether it is a problem for us personally or not, our inability or unwillingness to put our privilege in context and figure out how to be in community with all our fellow people hurts us all in the long run.

White Privilege

One Book That Changed My Understanding About White Privilege

I wrote earlier that it has been within the last twelve months that I have heard the term “intersectionality.” I heard it at the We Won’t Wait 2016 gathering, as presenters explained the inequities faced by women of color. When I got home, I told my husband, “I felt guilty about being white.”

Sitting around feeling guilty about something I clearly can’t change about myself is not exactly constructive, so I set about trying to figure out what those speakers meant and what I could do.

I participated in an online book club about the book Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. Although I never ended up being able to join the group via Facebook live, the experience got me to read the book, and the comments in the Facebook group itself enlightened me.

Here are a few takeaways:

  1. The distribution of VA benefits after World War II, for example, led to inequities for African American returning soldiers. Many African American soldiers did not get access to the same educational or housing benefits that white soldiers received. (More here and here.)
  2. “Hide and seek” has a different meaning for inner city black kids than suburban white kids. Okay, this one could be vulnerable to being a HUGE generalization. But I believe Debby Irving when she says that many black kids are taught not to play hide-and-go-seek because they don’t want to associate being hidden with “fun” — because of the ramifications down the road for their interactions with law enforcement officers.
  3. “Helping” …….. isn’t always. Debby Irving talks a lot about how we as middle- and upper-class white people are brought up to help, to be optimistic (believe me, since me alter ego is the Optimism Light this one got my full attention). I get the irony of the fact that I am raising the issue, lover of causes that I am. But I have to look at myself in the mirror and ask about the lens through which I see my helping choices. Am I being a “white savior” or a “fellow human sharing my resources”? Author Nate Regier, Ph.D., writes, “Non-consensual helping is a personal violation.” Hmmm.
  4. Taking kids out of their environments to expose them to culture doesn’t always have the downstream effects we imagine it will have. One of Debby Irving’s first jobs was being the coordinator for an arts program in Boston. The program would bus children in from disadvantaged areas of the city in order to help them “get culture.” Irving writes convincingly of why that plan did not have the effects organizers hoped — these children didn’t necessarily understand the environment — the imposing buildings, the etiquette expected of them as arts consumers, the very “foreign-ness” of it all.

As a White Person, I Take Ease of Access Totally For Granted

Typically, we would think of interstate highways as helpful to reaching our destination faster. Limited exits so that no one slows down, the ability to drive at relatively higher rates of speed, uniform signage and format. The problem is, if the gas, food, shelter or other services we need are off of a service road, we have to get off.

White privilege is akin to being on the service road, doing whatever we need to do, easily. For people who do not have white privilege, they are speeding along, on a road defined for them by someone who presumed what they wanted, with limited ability to get the basics and extras they need and want in order to live a life equitable to ours because someone blocked the exits.

Things I Still Haven’t Made Peace With

  1. Reparations. Slavery was wrong. What’s a stronger word for wrong? Let’s go with reprehensible. Slavery created the foundation of the inequities toward black people that still ripple through our society today, in ways big and small. My challenge with reparations is two-fold: I don’t understand how they would work and I am not sure what positive difference they would make. The United Nations thinks they are a good idea, though, so that carries some substantial weight with me. (More about the recommendation from the United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent in this Washington Post article.)
  2. Decisions Like the One Bill Proctor Made. Bill Proctor is an African-American county commissioner here in Leon County. He boycotted a commission retreat last December because slaves had been used on the property in the 1800s. While I am sensitive to the issues slavery poses to him, I guess this is one of those things that, taken to an extreme, could mean none of us could meet (or live) anywhere. Taking the example further, I should surrender the deed to my house and the property I live on to the Native Americans. It never really was mine to begin with and it probably was not handed over by them willingly or without sacrifice on the part of an entire people.
  3. Statues/Historical Monuments. It is a good thing that we are all so much more sensitive to the effects of monuments glorifying people who perpetuated racism. I struggle with the fact that removing the tangible evidence that these people were once celebrated doesn’t remove the fact that these people were once celebrated or the lessons we should learn from that. One article with more on the topic hereEditor’s note 8/22/17: This topic gained prominence recently, as the people around the nation reacted to the Charlottesville violence. I am coming to realize that the best route is (often) eliminating these statues. I still feel the process must be done deliberately, with context. ~ pk
  4. Language Hypersensitivity. Have you looked at any house plans lately? Notice anything different? Some designers are re-naming the master bedroom the “owner’s suite” or “mastre bedroom,” believing the term “master bedroom” carries too many negative connotations from a historical and gender perspective. Words evolve. Did you know the word “bully” started out with a positive connotation, meaning “sweetheart”? The word “sarcasm” has as one of its root meanings “stripping off of flesh” (ouch …. sarcasm can feel that way sometimes). Language hypersensitivity could render us all mute.

What Can One Person Do?

I ask that question multiple times every day. I think Father Tim Holeda’s Awareness-Understanding-Action model may be a good guide.

To increase your awareness, start with an open mind then read things and talk to people who will help you expand your perspective. Here are some recommendations.

Book: Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving

Site: Being Black at School (personal note: this site and its mission are the brainchild of my friend Kelly. Feel free to fast forward past the other 1700 words in this post and donate to BBAS. It’s that relevant and necessary.)

Site: I’m Not the Nanny (especially the Multicultural Resources page)

Site: Black Girl in Maine and Blog Post: ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ IS MORE THAN A MERE SLOGAN

Article: Black Americans are Killed at 12 Times the Rate of People in Other Developed Countries

Article: How Redlining’s Racist Effects Lasted for Decades

Article: Native American Council Offers Amnesty to 240 Million Undocumented White (Note: I am still processing this article but I think it really needs to be included as it presents a “what if?” that is thought-provoking.)

Article: What White Children Need to Know About Race

Article: White kids are bullying minority students using Trump’s words

Article: Why “All Lives Matter” is Such a Perilous Phrase

Article: Why Is It So Difficult for White People to Let Serena Williams Be Great?

Blog Post: 5 Truths About White Privilege for White People

Blog Post: 10 Ways to Practice Institutional Racism at Your Non-Profit Organization

Blog Post: All right, “color-blind” colleagues, we need to have a talk

Blog Post: Beware of Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: The Tale of A Progressive Professor Who Forgot To Hide Her Racism And Got Her Ass Fired

Blog Post: How To Be A Better White Woman To Your Black Friend

Blog Post: I Don’t Discuss Racism With White People

Blog Post: Nebraska high school A.D. writes column about the racism his students face

Blog Post: Othering

Blog Post: One Life at a Time: A Different Angle on #BlackLivesMatter

Blog Post: Please stop requiring anti-racism and diversity trainings for POC in the workplace

Blog Post: Police officer’s daughter asked to remove ‘Blue Lives Matter’ flag

Blog Post: Taboo Sex, Racism, and Gay Men: A Chat in Black and White

Blog Post: This is What White People Can Do to Support #BlackLivesMatter

Blog Post: Welcome to the Anti-Racism Movement — Here’s What You’ve Missed

Blog Post: Why I’m Absolutely an Angry Black Woman

Book Review: A Powerful, Disturbing History of Residential Segregation in America

Blog Post: Books About Indigenous Peoples

Article: Our church was named for Robert E. Lee — here is how we changed it

Reality: Really watch what is going on in your family, your office, your community, our nation. Sometime there is book, blog post, or article more informative than real life

To increase your understanding, all I can say is that understanding often follows from awareness. Try step one, and I’m pretty sure you’ll make progress.

Regarding action, most of the links under “awareness” also have suggested actions. For me, much of the past year has been about opening my mouth when it would be easier to be silent. I was being shuttled from home to Enterprise Rental Car a few months ago by a driver who decided to pontificate on “Muslims lying in roads” and why white people will never get along with “them” (black people). I think his words to me, I suppose born out of the fact that I was younger than him, were “just wait and see.” UMMMMM. Short of jumping out of the moving car, I wasn’t sure what to say to indicate that absolutely nothing he was saying was appropriate, EVER. I managed something like “everyone has the right to express their opinion” (about the Muslims) and “that hasn’t been my experience” (about black/white relations). I am sure I didn’t change his mind, but I had to speak up.(I also shared the conversation’s content in my feedback email to Enterprise. I never received a response.)

I love a line in Korbett Mosesly’s piece (linked to above).

I realize that institutional racism may not be your goal or intention. You may not even be aware of the complexities of racism at your organization. I hope this post moves you from unintentional racism to intentional allyship.

 

I, for one, intend not to intentionally block any more of the “interstate exits” and do my part to help everyone have access to the things they need, especially, and the things they want, as an intentional ally.

White Privilege

(This post is a response to two Mama’s Losin It Prompts: “book review” and “share a quote you love.”)

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.