When I worked at the newspaper, one of our regular assignments was new business stories. My editor handed them out on a rotating basis when a request came in from the business owner or from one of our advertising reps. If your name was up, this story was your baby.
Normally it was a pretty simple deal. Call the business, make an appointment, stop in and chat, write a short feature. But I’ll admit I was a little apprehensive when a new tattoo parlor moved into the area and it was my turn to take a new business story.
I am probably one of the most straight-laced people you’ll ever meet. My ears are double-pierced and that’s about as wild as I get. I am so vanilla and boring it’s ridiculous. Tattoos were not in style when I was in my late teens, early twenties but even if they had been, I would never in a million years have gotten one. I didn’t have a problem with other people having them; just not for me.
But I was a professional so I made the appointment and drove to the business to do the story. There was another, established tattoo parlor just around the corner from the newspaper office that kept a ratty old couch on the sidewalk in front of it. People – not sure if it was customers or employees — who looked decidedly stoned would sit on it and watch people walk by. I was relieved that this new place did not have this feature.
I went inside and the owner looked like your stereotypical guy that owned a tattoo parlor. He had ink and piercings on every piece of real estate I could see. Still, I shook hands with him and got to work on the interview. As we spoke, I began to feel a little silly for making assumptions about his business. It was very clean. He and his employees were very polite. They strongly believed in their art and everything displayed was tasteful.
But when I got up to leave, things turned awkward. He asked me if he could see the story before it printed. I said no. That’s against policy because it would be a holy nightmare if we had to get clearance every time we ran a story. People ask that a lot so I wasn’t surprised. I offered to call him and read him his quotes to make sure I quoted him correctly, but that was as far as I would go.
Then he asked me if he could just write his own story and submit it. I was kind of surprised because I thought we’d gotten along just fine. That’s when it hit me. He was looking at me, a middle-aged mom with her khaki pants and cardigan sweater and thinking there is no way in hell I want this chick to write my story. She’s going to get it wrong, so wrong because she doesn’t get it.
And I almost laughed because I realized while I’d been judging him, he’d also been judging me. I offered to just drop the story altogether but he must have decided any press was better than none because I left with the green light to write the story. He called me the day after it ran, brimming with praise but a lot of that was probably just relief.
I was thinking about this story the other day when I was reading about all the controversy surrounding this year’s Oscar nominations. I’m not going to speak on the race issue because I’m very sure I’m not qualified. But I will say this: We all judge each other. Every single day.
It’s sad but it’s true. We judge each other by the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the neighborhood where we live. We make assumptions about people based on where/if they go to church, where/if they work and whether/if they graduated from high school or college. Or if they served in the military or if they were born in a foreign country or if they listen to Taylor Swift.
I could go on with a thousand examples but I think you get my point. No one is exempt from judgment. As we get more mature, one would hope that we’d learn that so often these initial assumptions are just plain wrong, but I’m not sure we do. My father-in-law refuses to eat at any Jimmy Johns sandwich shop in the entire world because a couple of his coworkers one time got sick from one restaurant, a place I had eaten at a dozen times and never gotten sick. There are people who won’t set foot in a church because one congregation did them wrong. There are people who look at skin color and make all kinds of assumptions based on their experience with just one family.
I don’t know what it is like to be black in America but I do know what it’s like to be a woman in a world that devalues your worth. We get paid 77 cents to every dollar our male counterparts make. We are sexualized and dehumanized on TV and in movies and even commercials. If I go into an automotive shop, the guy behind the counter often assumes I know nothing about my car. In some cases, he will take advantage of that.
I don’t think anyone, regardless of race, gender or religious bent can claim they corner the market on what it means to be judged and marginalized. I think we all experience it every day but to different extents. I think we live in a society today that is more open than it’s ever been (Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vogue never would have happened even five years ago), but people still feel the impacts of intolerance. That judgmental nature isn’t going away because it is so ingrained in our hearts.
When I was in grade school, my mom moved back to the Midwest after she and my dad divorced. This was in the mid-seventies. I was in kindergarten. From kindergarten through sixth grade, I was the only kid in my grade (usually two or three classes per grade) who had parents who were divorced. It’s so common now, but literally it was just me until the parents of a boy in my sixth-grade class split up during the school year.
My best friend for the first couple years of elementary school was the daughter of a Pakistani family that lived a few blocks away. Her father was a doctor and they had a nice house with a swimming pool. At that point, my mom was renting a small but decent house with me and my brother. I was totally cool with the fact her skin was darker than mine and the food she ate at her house was different and that she was Muslim. None of that matters to kids. But her mom found out my parents were divorced and that was the end of our friendship. When I look back now, I can see her mother had other issues (she always made a big ta-da about the fact her daughter was in an arranged marriage and was too good for American boys) but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt when she rejected me for something that was completely beyond my control. The irony is that in our community, which was 99.9 percent white, she had probably experienced discrimination due to her skin color, but that fact did not save her from her own prejudices.
Now as for all of the Oscar buzz, I’ve got to say it’s kind of ridiculous to see this level of drama over an outdated awards show by people making millions of dollars. I mean, let’s face it, black or white, they are all getting rich from the entertainment industry.
But I think it is a reminder that we judge too harshly sometimes and we make assumptions based on the wrong criteria. Some are crying racism, when I’m not sure that’s the case. But maybe they have a point that good movies aren’t being made with a diverse cast. I sure know how hard it is for women over the age of 30 to have a presence in Hollywood. Dialogue needs to happen but I think it needs to start at a place where we acknowledge we are all human with the feelings, dreams and hurts that come with that. Somehow we need to see each other as individuals. I know that takes more effort, but if we’re honest, that’s how we all deserve to be treated.