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.

But I Don’t Want My Kid to Lose!

The July 19, 2016, Tallahassee Democrat story which reported a student is threatening legal action because she was not selected for the Leon High School Cheerleading Squad has traveled far beyond our county’s boundaries. (It’s in Buzzfeed, the New York Daily News, and Teen Vogue, to name just a few publications which have shared the piece.)

In one comment I read on Facebook, a Leon Alum shared with his fellow alums, “I am just PRAYING there is another Leon High School out there,” citing how embarrassing it was for this story to be prominent on a local site in a state far from Florida. Nope, friend, that’s “our” Leon. (I am a proud parent of a Leon alum, hold the school in high regard, and would prefer the national stories to highlight Leon’s fabulous positive assets, like the Mane Event’s version of I Want You Back).

The Dissatisfied Cheerleader (and the Dissatisfied Cheerleader’s Mom)

After reading hundreds of comments which all essentially said some version of “suck it up buttercup,” “this is the problem with kids today,” and “her parents aren’t doing her any favors,” I’m at a bit of a loss re: what to add. My sentiments are, in many ways, aligned with theirs.

But if you know me, you know I love a blogging challenge, so I decided to take a page out of Mama Kat’s book and give this situation a soundtrack (she had a June writing prompt encouraging bloggers to “create a summer playlist”).

Track One: High School Student Wants To Be Able to Say “We Are Cheerleaders”

I definitely empathize with a high school student who wants to be a cheerleader. I did not try out for cheerleading at my high school until I was a rising senior. To this day, 35 years later, I can still feel how my gut was clenching with nerves as I sat in class waiting for tryout time. I did make it, and am SO glad to have the memory of being part of the cheer squad at my school. But I went to a very small high school; there’s no way my rudimentary skills would have qualified me at a large school like Leon. I can only imagine how fierce the competition is. I understand (I think) how fervently this student hoped to make the team for her senior year.

Track Two: The Student Did Not Make the Squad

According to the story, the student, a rising high school senior who cheered for Leon last year, tried out for the 2016-17 squad and was not selected. According to the story, she fell twice during the tumbling portion of the tryouts. The song says it best: you can’t always get what you want.

Track Three: Mama’s Not Happy (Daddy Either)

In Faint, Linkin Park sings, “Don’t turn your back on me I won’t be ignored.” By escalating the issue and filing a complaint with Leon County Schools, this student and her family have made it clear they have not accepted the decision of the tryout panel.

Track Four: To Reiterate, Mama’s Not Happy (Daddy Either)

Sorry y’all, there are just too many great “angry rock songs” to stop at one. Some of the lyrics of this one just seem so custom-made for the situation:

  • I am fueled by all forms of failure (note: not saying this kid is a failure in general, but in this case of the tryout, she failed to make the team)
  • I’ll take what’s mine
  • The reasons why you passed me by/Will always hold you down

These parents (and this student) want her on the team even though she did not meet the criteria to make it. They want to take “what is hers” (even though it isn’t).

Track Five: Teaching Your Child to Accept Disappointment is One of Parenting’s Hardest Responsibilities

Truth: One of the reasons I have yet to comment publicly on this story is the fear that one of my children’s former teachers will call me out. I have done my FAIR SHARE of helicoptering and trying to shield my children from disappointment. All I can say is we grow, learn, and evolve as parents. Yes, I complained when my son didn’t get recognized in the first grade science fair (I know … this was so much more about my hurt feelings than his). Knowing what I know now, I probably wouldn’t!

But I do know that taking this particular route, especially if the parents complained to the district office before trying to address via the coach and principal (I can’t confirm who they talked to (if anyone) before going to the district), when by all accounts their child simply did not qualify, doesn’t teach their child anything about accepting the outcome and moving on.

Teaching the child well in this situation, in my opinion, would involve a) providing support at a time of disappointment, b) exploring (if the student is open to it) what she could have done differently in order for this to be a growth experience, and c) taking the high road (not badmouthing the students who DID make it, remaining civil to the coach, supporting the school, etc.).

Track Six: Is This Entire Generation an Entitled Mess?

SO many of the comments, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, were some variation of “that sense of entitlement is the problem.” There’s a whole song about that, so of course it needs to be part of this post! (The song is really about some other issues besides the cheerleading tryout issue, but how could I not include a song called “Entitled”?). Relevant lyrics:

  • It’s not all about you
  • You’re not entitled to anything
  • You actually believe the world owes you somethin’
  • You’re not entitled to anything. You’re just like me.
  • The world owes you nothin’

Track Seven: We May Disagree But We Still Must Lean on Each Other

I don’t want to close out this playlist on the “entitled” concept. I had some difficulty choosing a song to represent how the student involved in this situation is STILL a child deserving of our compassion and nurturing. Her parents are STILL community members and are part of the fabric of who we are as a community, making Tallahassee the wonderful place it is. We still have to lean on each other.

As I have thought about this post this week, I reminisced about people who were honest with me about situations with my children, even when I was strident or accusatory. About Judy Kuhnle, who sent a patiently worded email explaining the qualities a gymnast needed to move on to the next level (strength, flexibility, and teachability). About Kelly Tucker who knew my kid well and picked up the phone to talk with me personally when I had suggested he do a tennis activity he was in no way ready for (which is what she told me — it was pretty easy to digest since I knew she was coming from a place of concern). About all the other people in this town who have been part of educating, training, and nurturing my kids (and, concurrently, me as a parent).

If we all go off to our separate corners, hurling accusations at one another, it’s unlikely that situations will be resolved positively and it’s highly likely that the students involved will learn nothing that will help them navigate a world that is, to be frank, often ugly, unyielding, and certainly not generous in delivering on outcomes we haven’t earned.

And fortunately, “trying out” to be a caring community member is as easy as cheering each other on, in victory AND defeat.

NOTE: In a conversation with Amanda Curcio, the reporter who produced the original story, she clarified the statement, “She didn’t initially make the varsity team last year…” The clarification: “The girl was not originally selected last year to be a cheerleader. But her parents made a similar complaint and [she] was put on the team – after not making it at the tryouts. The head coach who is there now was hired after this…”

Cheerleader Tryout Protest

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