Tag Archive: civil liberties


Micro-Aggressions

On my way to the north woods of Wisconsin for a much needed spring break, I heard a new term on the radio: micro-aggressions. The term refers to the many little ways that people, in particular white people, most often privileged white men, continue the legacy of racism with snide side comments and little asides thrown out carelessly, denigrating African-Americans and their accomplishments. It’s almost as though these insecure people seek to cement a privileged position and are afraid, on some level, that giving another race equal treatment under the law will somehow take away from their rights.

There’s that famous cigarette ad saying from Virginia Slims: “You’ve come a long way, baby,” and when it comes to civil rights we have indeed come a long way in the last fifty years, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t have much work to do. Racism is no longer socially acceptable so I find people making derogatory remarks under their breath, usually among peers who don’t dare confront them or disagree.

At the same time, we have the dilemma of the well-meaning heterosexual white man who has inherited a position of privilege, and may indeed feel guilty about having certain birth rights, but doesn’t know how to start or continue a conversation about race and racism. I’m thinking in particular about a friend named James, Gentle James of a previous post, who doesn’t feel comfortable making much of any comment on race and racism for fear of speaking out of turn, or God forbid, not being forward-thinking enough.

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, recently tried something radical in having his baristas, also known as partners, write on random coffee cups the term, “Race together.” I think theoretically it’s a great idea to try and start a national conversation on race relations, and indeed the coffee community would seem like a great place to start, but I’m not certain that the average Starbucks customer wants to have any kind of meaningful interaction at 7am while waiting for that first cup of coffee. Perhaps if Starbucks had framed the conversation, saying that on Sunday afternoons, baristas will be approaching people to talk about racism, the whole project might have had better parameters. The way it played out, as I was driving out of town, one of the Starbucks employees who is a casual friend of mine named Dominique, waved at me through the drive-thru and asked about my weekend plans, while another employee, a black man named Marquise who I really don’t know all that well, rushed to the window, seemingly in the effort to raise the profile of the African-American community. Is it really fair to put the onus on all the minority employees to insure that they are noticed and appreciated? How does Howard Schultz contend that his employees respond to someone who might very well react in a racist fashion? Is it enough to say, “We don’t need the business of close-minded people?” So I guess my point is, I give Starbucks an A for effort in its attempt to redress the wrongs of recent racist flare-ups, but only a B minus for the way the company has executed its “race together” campaign.

Advertisements

Trust Issues

I was walking my Akita and Beagle this afternoon, and a slightly rusted blue van with a harried, somewhat disheveled woman pulled up next to me. She said she was lost, and asked if she could use my phone?

Something made me hesitate. She hadn’t asked for directions, just the phone, and she seemed quite rushed and frenzied, and something just didn’t feel right so I lied after automatically reaching into my pocket and said instead that I didn’t have my phone on me. She sped off in the same manner in which she had come up on me from behind.

I felt bad, but I’ve learned it’s important to trust your gut instinct. Still, I hate that we live in a world where we can’t even hand over our phone to a stranger. I live in what is a pretty safe subdivision in the western suburbs of Chicago, and I think the crime rate is fairly low in comparison to other areas, but we’ve had a lot of construction, and re-roofing of houses lately following a storm earlier this year, and there have been a lot of strangers here, there, and everywhere.

I have no proof that she wanted to steal my cell phone, just the gut feeling that “something wasn’t right in the state of Denmark.” This, however, is not the same world in which I was raised. Where I grew up, we rode big wheels, then later bicycles, up and down our streets without fear of strangers, and I believed in the basic goodness of my fellow citizen, yet something has changed in the intervening years.

While on many fronts regarding civil liberties we have made great progress as a nation, we have, as individuals, become more isolationistic. Gated communities have become even more gated to outsiders, and I’m not certain I have an answer to this fear of strangers. Facebook may have brought us closer in some ways to those we’ve never met, but our one-on-one interactions have remained hesitant and untrusting. I’m the first to admit it. I have trust issues.