Watch What You Wear!

An Associated Press article in today’s local paper (I also heard the story on our local TV news this morning) notices that Dunkin’ Donuts pulled an ad in response to criticism of a scarf in that ad. It’s fine that the fast food chain wants to be sensitive to people’s feelings. I don’t want to criticize the company. But I want to ask the critics: do we need to be so sensitive that we cause a company to toss out an advertising campaign that has already been paid for just because “it looks like it might be” a terrorist symbol? How long does it take to check out the person’s stance on political issues? Has the person (in this case TV personality, celebrity chef Rachel Ray) given any indication of supporting the cause? It’s just a scarf! It’s a popular item of clothing. It in no way resembles a kaffiyeh (traditional Arab headdress that supposedly now symbolizes Islamic extremism) unless one refuses to look past the fringe.

Of course, this type of thing isn’t new. In 1999, a Washington D.C. mayor’s office staffer was fired (technically, the mayor accepted his resignation) for using a word that offended some folks. In other words, he was let go due to the ignorance of others, not due to poor job performance. The word was niggardly which is a synonym of miserly. It has the misfortune of having the same first 4 letters as a word which is truly a racial slur. But niggardly itself has no relationship to any racial connotation. In this case, people refused to use a dictionary.

In 1998, a Brooklyn teacher was forced to abandon her 3rd grade classroom because she felt unsafe. Virtually the entire community had threatened her bodily harm due to a book she used in her classroom. What was wrong with the book? Nothing. So what caused the uproar? The people in the community only heard the title of the book and knew nothing of its content, its author, or its intended use in school curricula. The book is entitled Nappy Hair. Now, nappy is a perfectly acceptable word if used to describe a rug or sweater or if used by a relative to refer to a child’s head, but evidently is not acceptable if it is used by a white person and directed at any particular person or group. I can accept that. But the book is a highly acclaimed attempt by African-American author Carolivia Herron to promote self-acceptance in African-American children and acceptance of racial differences by all people. The teacher was preparing her students to work together during the school year by using the book to promote acceptance of one another. For her efforts, she was vilified in her community and had to relocate her job assignment because people refused to read the book or any reviews of the book.

I do try to be aware of the appearance of impropriety even when an action is not improper in itself. But it is becoming nearly impossible to not upset somebody when so many people are looking for something to criticize. So many people refuse to look past the one thing that first catches their eye. Anything can look wrong at first glance. It depends on your perspective, the illumination, and so many other things.

Perspective

Do I have something in my past that colors how I look at the world around me? We all do. And because of it we tend to ascribe motives to others that may not be correct.

Illumination

Is there something involved here that I am not seeing? Is there some meaning here of which I am not aware? What are the circumstances? What does that word really mean? These are a few of a whole host of questions that, if asked, will shed more light on a situation.

Look beyond first impressions.

If we will open our minds to the possibility that first impressions are not always right it will go a long way to improve our personal, professional, and cultural relationships. We could have a lot less infighting in our families and churches, a lot less tension in our streets and schools, and a lot less arguing about ethnic issues.

Please, look past what a person is wearing and what it sounds like he said to truly find out where a person is coming from.

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