Saturday, February 09, 2013

Ignorance or Prejudice - Your Choice

We got what we wanted, two tops for two little girls. We are making up a Valentines gift parcel for them and wanted to find a couple tops that fit the theme. With them in hand we went to pay. We shop here all the time and I went confidently on ahead. I turned and almost ran smack into a display case of women's panties. Joe and I have always felt uncomfortable shopping there for kids clothes as they are kept at the back of the store right behind the lingerie section. Our thought  is that there is a subtle message that if you wear these you are going to end up buying those. We try, as bashful gay men, not to notice that the breasts on the mannequins always seem to follow you when you walk by them. So, anyways, I almost ended up covered in silk.

The aisle way to the pay point was completely blocked. I was resourceful and thought, "OK, I'll just go through this way" ... nope, blocked. I was, again resourceful (you aren't resourceful if you don't try three times) and ... nope blocked. To get there I had to go to the back of the store, zip through to the other side and then go back up, but it also was blocked. I finally made it through a route that I couldn't even try to recount. By the time I was at desk, I was annoyed. We have this thing called the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and everyone in the service industry was supposed to be trained ... come on. I get you have to have sales but blocking complete access isn't a great idea and ... how come it's a fire hazard if I sit in one place waiting for someone and it's NOT a fire hazard when you place huge displays in the middle of an aisle?

So, as Yoda would say, "Annoyed I was. Um Hmh."

I asked to speak to a manager.

I was asked why.

I said that I had a question.

The clerk said, "Maybe I could answer it for you."

"OK good," I said, "Does this store block passageways for people with disabilities out of ignorance or prejudice, it has to be one or the other so which is it?"

The clerk said, "I will call the manager."

I pay for the items while awaiting the manager.

She arrives saying, "May I help you?" I could tell by her voice she hadn't been clued in.

"Yes," I say, "I have a question."

"Go ahead," she says.

I asked again, "Does this store block passageways for people with disabilities out of ignorance or prejudice, I just want to know which it is."

She blushed, anger flared in her eyes.

"Well, which is it, are the people who set up displays simply ignorant of the needs of people to get by or are they actively prejudiced against us?"

She stared at me.

"Take a look at the aisles there, there, and there, and tell me you don't see a problem."

She still hadn't spoken but went to look.

"Oh," she said.

"So, ignorance, prejudice, just let me know, I'm really, really curious."

"I would have to say ignorance," she said, continuing, "these really are in the way aren't they?"

After she promised that they'd institute a policy of doing a walk by every time the displays are set up to ensure accessibility I turned to leave. To do so I had to go back to the kids section, across the store and then wend my way through the other side to get to the elevators.

As I passed on the other side she was on the phone talking rapidly while absently pointing at the blocked aisles.

Point made.


Anonymous said...

Good on ya! I've always wondered - what happened with the exchange at the airport with the twit that took over your payment with debit. Did you every hear back from them?

I too have repeatedly complained about accessibility. It is satisfying to see changes when you return. I hope you too see a change.

Glee said...

What a brilliant way to deal with it. Instead of asking do you realise that...? It is confrontational and very to the point. Especially if you do the stuck record and keep repeating it. I am impressed.

It's taking us decades but gradually we are breaking through the bullshit that surrounds us. Our clarity about what discrimination really is and how we deal with is much progressing. :)

Dave Hingsburger said...

Right Glee, and really, what other option is there? It's ignorance or it's prejudice ... it HAS to be one or the other. I could tell that the manager, the clerk and the people in line were appauled by my suggesting that either of those could be the reason why they were blocked - I think they like the idea that it's my fault for needing space, not their fault for not providing it. This question put the shoe on the other foot.

Anonymous said...

So cool!


Your way of making your point!


Anonymous said...

How cool is that. Yay! :-)

Tamara said...

Perfect question.

Maggie said...

Beautifully done! I'm so glad she got the point.

Rachel in Idaho said...

Well done - I am inclined to come down on the side of ignorance, more than actual prejudice or malice. People just don't THINK.

This is why a fellow choirmember patted me on the freakin' HEAD last Tuesday at rehearsal. I got mad. I let it show. "I was just trying to say hi," was her explanation to my "Don't EVER do that again!" response. "Go for the SHOULDER. Not the head! It's so patronizing!"

She then apologized profusely. But I have known this person for over two years, though we're not close friends. There are exactly three people in this state who I might, under limited and understood to be mutually humorous circumstances, let get away with patting my head. And none of them WOULD. Interesting, no?

I felt incredibly disrespected. But I also believe she really truly didn't mean it that way. And when I ran into her at the store yesterday there was no patting. Just worry about our upcoming concert, which I share, as always. Though we always manage to pull it together in the end, somehow. Our choir director is one of my favorite people ever and is one of the trusted three. He's amazing. He and his wife are adopted family of mine.

Sorry this went on and on. But I had to get it out somewhere and this struck me as a safe place. Seriously, though, as angry as I can get over these things, I think a lot of it comes down to ignorance or a lack of imagination. I don't think it's always active malice. That doesn't make it more acceptable, but ignorance is fixable. I know I fixed a bit last Tuesday night, which makes me feel better about the whole incident.

Anonymous said...

So ignorance isn't any more acceptable than active malice, even though it's "fixable"? Wow, seems harsh. Guess nobody here has ever said nor done anything in ignorance, or been grateful for some understanding when one has made a fool of oneself. It's rarely been my experience that people react well to being treated with rudeness and/or anger when they have made a mistake, and it seems at best counter-productive to use it as a first contact in making change. I wonder if Dave could have gotten the same results without embarrassing the women? Different styles, I guess. I'm a large, gay, disabled woman, and deal with accessibility issues daily, for what it's worth. To me, "active malice" is so far removed from ignorance as to be a different beast altogether.

Rachel in Idaho said...

I wasn't trying to say ignorance is acceptable, only that when confronted with it, it can sometimes be remedied more quickly than deliberate discrimination. The majority of people don't like to think they are being discriminatory or bigoted even when they ARE but honestly just don't THINK ABOUT IT. I don't scream at people when they look at me oddly, or pat my head, even the stranger once who tried to pat me again to apologize for patting me. But I have no problem saying, "Do not do that! This is why!" to people I KNOW.

Anybody who has known me for two years in any way should know better than to pat me on the head or I will end up thinking I've done something wrong, which I did that evening. Frankly the alternative, which is that they think, "Awww, she's so cute!" and put me on some sort of pedestal is unthinkable to me. I don't think anger is a bad response under such circumstances, especially when said anger is accompanied by some sort of an explanation. She should have know better, dangit. Now she does, with no apparent grudge held. Ignorance dispelled. Patting on head=patronizing. Done. I only hope she carries that into other human relationships she has down the line.

And onto the topic of the post directly - people using wheelchairs will be in stores. If I ever run a store I will damn well keep that in mind and keep things as open and accessible as I possibly can. And if I messed that up and it pissed you off I would want to know so I could fix the problem!

Dave Hingsburger said...

For the record, I wasn't angry, I was annoyed - these are hugely different things. Like Rachel I think that ignorance and prejudice are very different things. I also believe that there comes a time when morphing any kind of upset into assertion is appropriate. I tire of the constant lecture about being 'nice' as a means of affecting change. There IS a place for confrontation and there IS a place for anger. I was in a HUGE store, they had no excuse for blocking access. Ignorance or prejudice were the only two options. We all advocate in our own ways, sometimes I choose to be gentle, sometimes I choose to be confrontational - both can be effective. I don't think that, when we have so few tools for change, we should throw one away.

Ettina said...

"I wasn't angry, I was annoyed"

Just out of curiosity, what *is* the difference? My Dad also draws a distinction between those two, but to me, they seem like different degrees of the same thing.

Steph Ioannou said...

It's definitely a matter of ignorance or prejudice. Some people may think that ignorance is more excusable because "well they just didn't know." I think ignorance warrants no special considerations and is just as harmful as prejudice: discriminating based on nonsensical beliefs versus discriminating because you are too naive to see people's experiences beyond your own. The result is still unfair treatment.

Beth said...

"We all advocate in our own ways, sometimes I choose to be gentle, sometimes I choose to be confrontational - both can be effective. I don't think that, when we have so few tools for change, we should throw one away."
Dave, I love it! Heck, I don't just tire of the "be nice!" lectures, I tire of the lectures that we must choose to always use only one of those tools.

I think I disagree with you about ignorance and prejudice, though. I'm not sure those two are necessarily exclusive. When there's a long history of institutionalized discrimination, prejudice comes to be seen as "Just the Way Things Are." But to suggest that people may be unintentionally prejudiced tends to lead to vehement denial at best even though I'm sure we all have some prejudices against groups. Still, ignorance is no excuse for actions that are the same.

Consider a company run by boss A. Boss A thinks women are erratic and incompetent, so he doesn't promote women beyond a certain level though he keeps his motivations to himself. After a long career, boss A retires and is replaced by boss B. Boss B had been in the company for years and had much respect for boss A. Boss B doesn't promote women beyond a certain level because women aren't promoted that high in the company, figuring there must be a reason and not knowing the reason was boss A's sexism. Is boss A worse than boss B? Is A more culpable than B, considering their actions here were the same? Does the company have a problem with institutionalized sexism even if boss B himself isn't sexist?

I would say this store has an issue with ableism even if the employees don't realize it. While it may not make them awful people, their ignorance doesn't make the actions (or lack thereof) any better.
Ettina, I'm not Dave, so this answer mightn't hold for him, but I find a difference between frustration and anger. I asked my parents about it, too, and they do, also. Our consensus is that if annoyance is a kind of any more basic emotion, it's a degree of frustration rather than anger (though some people also use it for a combination of those two.) My parents couldn't describe the difference. I can explain, but it comes out strangely. I have alexithymia brought on by brain damage. I've tried really hard to expand my ability to recognize and decipher emotions, so I can explain what differences I recognize (largely in physical terms) but you may not think about emotion that way.
To me, anger is a hot emotion, frustration (and annoyance) lukewarm. Anger is fire, be it flames rising and spreading or coals smoldering. Frustration is pressure building, vibration like you're shaking inside, it's that itch you can't scratch.
Itch brings up another thing. You can be annoyed about an itch but there are few circumstances in which you can be angry about one. Anger, I think, requires agency (someone to be angry at) or unfairness (which someone must have started at some time long past).
I've worked hard to understand emotion, and that's the best I've got. Oh, and I drew myself a chart with faces and the names for basic emotions in English and Spanish (and transliterations for each). Both anger and frustration have the eyebrows angled down in the middle, but anger has a frown and frustration a flat mouth. So angry is >:( and frustrated is >:| . I hope some of that explains a difference.

wendy said...

Good for you, Dave!

To wade into the "niceness" debate I have this to say. No movement ever succeeded because the people in it were so gosh darned nice that everyone realized they should treat them better. None. Ever.

When women were fighting for the right to vote they went on hunger strikes, got themselves arrested, were threatened with medical force feeding. They stirred up trouble. Before they did that they were not considered worthy of notice.

The birth of the gay rights movement was at the Stonewall riots when a group of people finally fought back against the random arrests of the bars patrons. And the first to fight back were drag queens.

Understand, I'm not advocating rioting (though I'm also not saying that it is never an appropriate response). What I am saying is that nice is highly over rated when trying to advance a cause.

Just my opinion.