The Ignorance List: Things My Co-Workers Don’t Know

An Incomplete and Ever-Growing Project
*All names have been changed to protect the guilty.

For some context on the environment in my workplace, read my earlier blog entitled The Ignorance List: Context and Explanation.

Added 7/1/11

Saddam Hussein was responsible for the attacks on 9/11.

I wish I could remember the details of the conversation or even how it began, but Candace clearly expressed the belief that we went to war in Iraq because Hussein “attacked America.” One of our brighter temp workers paused with me as we both turned around to look back at Candace to see if she was kidding. I said, “No, he didn’t. Saddam Hussein had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks and the United States government as well as the whole rest of the world knows this.” Candace looked surprised and skeptical. Incredible. NOW she decides to be skeptical, go figure. She replied, “Yeah, but didn’t he have weapons of mass destruction or something like that?” I continued: “The only reason you believe this is that there was a concentrated effort to make you believe it. There was never any evidence found of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. The U.S. invaded Iraq illegally and against the wishes of the United Nations and the rest of the global community. It was a nice distraction from our failure to capture the real perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks and allowed Bush Jr. to continue his daddy’s war.”

Candace: “Yeah, but didn’t he need his butt whooped anyway? Wasn’t he doing bad things to people?”

Me: “There are lots of dictators and assorted other governments who are doing bad things to people. We don’t just invade them all to solve it. And even if we agree that Saddam Hussein was a bad man who possibly DID need his butt whooped, you should at least be clear on what he is and is not guilty of and what the U.S. motivations are when we invade another country. Hussein had NOTHING to do with 9/11. Your government and the media lied to you.”

Candace said nothing but looked offended. She also looked like she was thinking, though, so I counted that as a victory. The conditions of silence and thoughtfulness are unusual enough to be noteworthy in her.

Wank Gel

Hannah told me that she put some “wanky gel” in her hair before bed. I asked her if she knew what “wank” meant. She didn’t. I explained and suggested that she might not want to go around telling people that she rubs anything associated with “wank” into her hair. She told me I had a dirty mind.

1984’s Doublethink: Couldn’t Happen

I’m pleased to report that a brighter-than-average (for around here) college student is working with us for a little while this summer. Vic seems reasonably well-read and, for the most part, thoughtful and reasonable. There are occasional exceptions.

Some folks at work were discussing Big Brother and asked if we were “into” Big Brother. I literally do not own a TV and when I heard this, I was thinking 1984 and was confused by the question. Vic did understand the question although it must have initially hit him the same as me because he said, “Oh, you mean the tv show? No, not really.” Since he and I were clearly not interested in the other folks’ topics of conversation, we started discussing the book.

Vic described the phenomenon of “doublethink” from 1984 and talked about how he found it funny. Not funny peculiar, but ha ha funny. He talked about the absurdity of a government expecting people to believe one thing one day and something completely different the next. Then he said, “As if that could ever happen.”

After I pause while I replayed his words in my head to make sure I understood them, I replied, “It has happened, it is happening, and will probably continue to happen in multiple governments all over the world including our own. Remember our conversation with Candace yesterday? Bin Laden orchestrated an attack on U.S. soil. We pursued him in Afghanistan. When we failed to catch him, we blamed a totally different person for the attack and invaded a completely different country. Although everyone knew that bin Laden was to blame, it was easy to convince the American public to support a war in Iraq by telling them contradictory lies. Candace is proof that doublethink works just fine.”

Vic had no response.

Added 5/10/11

“What’s a cyborg?”

I don’t know why, but one day it just occurred to me that Inspector Gadget was actually a cyborg.  The realization tickled me so much I shared it with Hannah.  She looked me dead in the eye and, in all seriousness, asked me, “What’s a cyborg?”  I thought she was kidding and I laughed.  Then I realized she wasn’t kidding.  After confirming that she was for real and explaining to her what a cyborg is, I questioned her on a number of books, movies, and TV shows that might have exposed her to the concept.  Somehow, she just hadn’t ever encountered the word.  This co-worker, by the way, is actually in graduate school.

Who is Frodo Baggins?

It went down like this: Candace was asking about a customer’s job and couldn’t remember the exact name of the customer, but thought it was something like ‘Baggins’.  One co-worker with a bit more cultural savvy jokingly asked, “Frodo Baggins?”  Dead silence, blank stares.

It would’ve been less shocking if there had been fewer people in the room.  But as it happened, nearly all employees were in the room when the joke was made and ALL of them looked blank.  I couldn’t let it go, so I asked each individual in the room if they knew who Frodo Baggins was.

None of them did.

After I expressed justifiable incredulity that nobody knew who Frodo Baggins was, one girl who was a little more up on the movie review section of People magazine, asked, “Oh, was he in that Lord of the Rings movie?  I didn’t see that.”

I responded: “It’s also a book.”  And they gave me The Look.  The Look says: “Of course we don’t read books.”

And here’s the trippy part: These people LOVE movies.  They live to be passively entertained, particularly by movies with big budgets.  Fellowship won 4 Oscars and an additional SEVENTY-SIX other film awards.  You’d think the starring character of a movie this major might have made some blip on their radar.

But no.  No idea who Frodo Baggins is.

Why are we supposed to hate France?

I believe this episode began when a French word appeared on some paperwork.  A few minutes later, one of the younger students, Candace, asked me, “Why are we supposed to hate France again?”

She knew people had gotten upset about French fries and that for some reason we were supposed to hate France.  That’s all she knew.

I explained to her about the origin of the Statue of Liberty.  I told her about our shared history with France, citing a long-standing friendship with them, as well as their role in helping us fight for our own national independence from Britain.  She listened as I explained their role in assisting the U.S. in multiple wars over the years, including the Gulf War and Afghanistan.  I then explained that when we wanted to invade Iraq against the U.N.’s wishes, our old friend France finally told us no.  They refused to be a part of a war that they felt wasn’t right.  Their lack of support for our desire to go to war was interpreted as a reason to hate the French and led to renaming French fries to something as ridiculous “freedom fries.”  I also pointed out that the French call their “french fries” fried potatoes and really don’t give a shit what we call ours.

She said, “Oh.”

What’s a leader?  Aren’t leaders Nazis?

I actually do remember how this one started.  Candace asked me if I knew that Donald Trump might run for president.  I didn’t.

When engaged in any sort of political conversation at work (which is, thankfully, rare), I always attempt to find a way to say something truthful but non-confrontational.  I don’t want to have political arguments at work.  Here is the conversation as it unfolded:

ME: Well, it wouldn’t be the first time a successful businessman ran for president.  Remember Ross Perot?

CANDACE: No, but I’ve seen things making fun of him so I know who he is.  Maybe that’s what we need for president, a good business man to get our money straight.

ME: We could use a good leader.

[Note: I said this thinking that it was the least controversial remark I could possibly make.  No matter one’s political affiliation, a good leader is uncontroversially a good thing to have.]

CANDACE: Like the Nazis?  Isn’t that what they had?

ME: A leader?

CANDACE: Yeah, didn’t the Nazis have a leader?

ME: Candace, look me in the eyes and tell me what the hell you just said to me.

CANDACE: I thought that’s what the Nazis had, a leader.  Isn’t that what they called Hitler?

ME: No, they called him ‘führer ‘.

At this point in the conversation, Candace had to take a phone call and left the room.  Hannah entered.  The conversation continued:

ME: Hannah, do you know what a leader is?

HANNAH: Like, a liter of water or like a leader?

After I clarified the word, Hannah answered by doing a pantomime of a stern-looking marching solider, complete with Nazi salute.

What. The. Fuck.

I asked them why they thought the concept of “a leader” was intrinsically bound up with Nazism.  I received no good answer.  I explained that a leader is… a person who leads.  Leaders can be good or bad.  This seemed like a surprise to them.  I cannot for the life of me understand why.

Keepin it real.  Real dumb.

Categories: ignorance

Making Compassion Illegal

I’m not generally inclined to quote religious scripture unless it’s with the intention of debunking and/or criticizing it, but on this occasion I will because (a) it’s one the few pieces of biblical ethics that I feel able to condone, and (b) it’s relevant to a current controversy in Florida that has literally kept me up at night lately.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it and this parable from my childhood kept surfacing in my mind.

In the tenth chapter of the gospel of Luke of the new testament of the christian bible, a lawyer asks Jesus about attaining eternal life.  When Jesus flips the question back to him, inquiring about what is written in the law, the lawyer answers that we must love God and love our neighbors as we love our own selves.  Jesus replies that this is correct and if he does that, then he will live.  But the lawyer wants clarification: Who exactly counts as my neighbor?  Jesus answers with a parable…

The Good Samaritan

Luke 10:30-37

 30 And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, 34 And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? 37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

Have mercy, Jesus commanded.  When the recipient is a stranger or even an enemy (as the Samaritans were to the Jews)… still, have mercy.

Some Interesting Facts About Florida

Religious Affiliation: As of 2000, 74% of the population of Florida identified as Christian (including Catholics and Protestants).  I did a lot of research on religion in Florida and found a variety of reports on the percentage of Christian Floridians.  However, I decided to go with the first statistic I found on Wikipedia because it’s about average for the reports that I saw.  Some reported slightly higher, some slightly lower, but all indicated that a large proportion of the Florida population identifies as Christian.  This means most Floridians believe Jesus of Nazareth was the son of God and that his word is law.  Presumably this includes the above parable.

Poverty: Between 2007 and 2010, the number of Floridians forced to rely on food stamps went from 1.2 million to 2.5 million.  In just 3 years, it more than doubled.  (To qualify for food stamps, a Florida resident must be at least 133% below the federal poverty line.)  There were 2.4 million Floridians living in poverty in 2008. 18.4% of children 18 and younger were living in poverty, nearly 1 in 5.

Homelessness:  60 Minutes reports that the road to Disney World is lined with 67 motels housing about 500 homeless kids.  Not all are fortunate enough to have even temporary shelter… many live in vehicles.  Some of these children spoke to 60 Minutes correspondents tearfully about the difficulties they face, including trying to sleep at night when they are hungry.

Unemployment:  While unemployment rates improved slightly in April of 2011 in the state of Florida, 996,000 Floridians remain jobless.  For the first time since May 2009, Orlando’s jobless rate dropped below double digits… all the way down to 9.9 percent.  Of course, if I’m understanding their recent unemployment reform bill cuts correctly, it seems possible that the recent small drop in unemployment could be due to the fact that they’ve made it more difficult to claim unemployment.  If that’s the case, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs since it was apparently quite difficult already.

Wouldn’t it be neat if there was some good news?

The good news:  Twice a week in Orlando, members of the international nonviolent organization, Food Not Bombs, have been gathering in Lake Eola Park to feed the hungry.  The catch?  There isn’t one.  They feed the hungry.  The end.  Food Not Bombs isn’t selling anything.  They don’t accept payment or tips.  (But will take donations to buy more food to feed more people.)  They aren’t making a ton of noise.  Surprisingly, they don’t even spend much time preaching about the evils of war as their name would lead you to assume.  They just feed people.  (I’m not bothering to list references for this because I am speaking from personal experience, having participated with FNB myself in multiple locations spanning two countries.)

So here we have a largely christian American state that, along with the rest of the nation, has fallen upon pretty hard times.  Amid hopelessness and a growing pile of bad news, smiling faces bring respite to the destitute.  A nourishing meal.  A sense of community.  A reminder that people can still take the time to care for one another.

Now the bad news:

Unfortunately, Orlando has essentially managed to render this kindness illegal… those serving food to the hungry in the city’s parks are being arrested and fined.  Why?  Because Orlando passed an ordinance banning them from feeding groups of 25 or more without a permit… and if you DO have a permit, you can only feed people twice in one year.

How can this happen in a state full of people who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus?

Please don’t misunderstand… I’m not making an argument against christianity on the basis of this gross hypocrisy.  (There are too many other good arguments for its rejection that I don’t have to resort to a poor one.)  In fact, I’m not making any argument against christianity… not today.  No, I’m asking a sincere question: How can an overwhelmingly christian state do something so blatantly un-jesus-like, something that contradicts Jesus’  teachings so conspicuously?  Whether you are a secular ethicist or a devout person of ANY religion in the whole world, it must be evident that this is an unequivocal evil.  Is it not?

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

I think I’ll leave off the same way I began… by uncharacteristically quoting bible scripture. I address this to the Christians in Orlando, Florida: I realize it doesn’t matter what mere mortals tell you what to do. But it was your god who commanded you to be merciful, to help the needy, and to feed the poor.

Matthew 25:35-46:

35 For I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in;  36 naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.  37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or athirst, and gave thee drink?  38 And when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?   39 And when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?   40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.

   41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels:   42 for I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink;   43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.   44 Then shall they also answer, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?   45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me.

Categories: capitalism, classism, poverty

Money in America

I recently watched three documentaries that explore wealth in the United States… how we get it, who has it, who doesn’t have it, what we do with it, and what its consequences are.  I really enjoyed them and feel there’s an awful lot of extremely important issues wrapped up with the American pursuit of wealth eloquently captured by these films.  As of right now, they are all available on Netflix instant play.  I highly recommend the following:

The One Percent

The One Percent 

This film by Jamie Johnson, heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, amazed me by showing me something I’ve only been able to speculate about before: the motivations of the very rich.  Jamie Johnson bravely and directly questions the endless pursuit of more wealth and what is being done with the wealth they already possess.  He interviews his own family, economists, people from poor neighborhoods, and many others to show the power of the wealthiest people in America: The one percent who own 40% of the economy.

Born RichBorn Rich

Another Jamie Johnson film.  I believe this one was made earlier than The One Percent, but I watched it second as a bit of a supplement to the other documentary.  Born Rich focuses on the children of the very wealthy.  The diversity of attitudes between the heirs and heiresses was surprising and fascinating.  Some were as arrogant as you could imagine and some were quite thoughtful and even seemed deeply psychologically disturbed by their family’s wealth.  One even gave up his claim to inheritance.  The most interesting part to me was the extreme nervousness most of them seemed to have about talking about their families’ fortunes.  These young adults can do anything they want in the world… as long as they do what their family wants them to do.  (When investor Warren Buffet disowned his granddaughter it was specifically because of her participation in the above documentary, The One Percent.)

The CorporationThe Corporation

This film shows the history of the corporation in America, developing from a cooperative working group into a legal person under United States law.  The filmmakers build a compelling case that if corporations are, in fact, people, then they can only be regarded as crazy people: psychopaths, actually.  Using diagnostic criteria for psychopathy, with segments elucidating each criterion fulfilled by corporations clearly, they demonstrate that our financial culture is insane and bad for human life and all life on earth.  Incredible film.

Categories: capitalism, classism

The Ignorance List: Context and Explanation

A lot of the people I work with are college kids.  In some towns, this might mean that they are better educated, more informed, progressive, etc. than others, but in this town, it means virtually nothing.  The university here is a joke and I sometimes hear the students complaining about the professors who don’t give them the questions that will be on the test in advance.  If a student at my college had said something like that, the professors would’ve told them to go back to high school.  But I digress from the central point which is that these students are not exactly poster children for seeking knowledge. Nor are the older folks I work with.  Most of them either (a) never went to college or (b) went a long time ago and managed to learn very little that is in any way apparent to me.  Nor do any of them smack of auto-didactic pursuits.

They are an ignorant bunch.

To be fair, so is everyone to a certain degree.  I have great big holes in my knowledge of many topics.  But I console myself with the thought that I am aware of my ignorance and willing to admit that I don’t know everything.  And beyond anything else, I have the decency to be ashamed of my ignorance or at least not proud of it.

These folks at work tend to view knowledgeable, educated people as having misdirected priorities.  Sure, I may know the name of an author who wrote a good book and I may even have read the book, but if I haven’t seen the movie, they seem to pity me.  They roll their eyes when for the umpteenth they ask, “Have you seen fill-in-the-blank movie?” and I respond with, “No, but I’ve read the book and if you liked the movie, then you should read it too.”  I have to dial down my vocabulary for them and use simple words.  Using a “big word” targets me for teasing.  Them not understanding a big word isn’t the problem… it’s my using them that’s the problem.  They are proud of their knowledge of television shows.  Not even good ones.  Things like American Idol, reality shows, etc.  They are proud of their knowledge of diet fads, fashion trends, and celebrity gossip.  And kind of proud that they don’t know the sort of things that I know.

Maybe Chris Rock didn’t realize this, but crackas don’t read either.  Watch this video up until about 2:05 and replace the N word with cracka each time he says it.  What you’ll end up with is a beautifully articulate description of my co-workers’ attitudes about knowledge and learning:

I am forgiving of ignorance, truly.  I’ve had plenty of air-headed friends that I loved dearly despite how little they had going on upstairs because they were fun, caring, and sincere.  And in this town, I do brace myself for ignorance because it’s a major export here.  But the primary point is this:

Even when I am prepared for ignorance, I could never be prepared for this.

I have been literally shocked by the extraordinary ignorance displayed by my co-workers.  Things that stop me dead in my tracks and force me to ask someone to repeat something because I can’t believe my ears.  Some of this is politically important, some is trivial, but all of it is surprising as hell.

Here’s the current Ignorance List.  Brace yourself.

Categories: ignorance

I Dreamed a Farce

I live and work in a racist town.  People’s attitudes aren’t really a secret or a surprise around here…. unless you aren’t from around here and then it’s shocking as hell.  I grew up here, moved away when I was a teenager and stayed gone for 18 years.  When I came back, it was incredible how little had changed.  People are stupid everywhere, but they don’t even have the decency to be embarrassed about it here.

The upshot is that fighting racism here is like trying to bail water out of a sinking ship with a thimble.  If I made a point of challenging every racist remark I hear, I wouldn’t ever be able to do anything but argue with people.  Like, all the time, every day.  And since the majority of these idiots don’t think they are racist (it’s weird the way their minds justify things), I have to first explain to them why their remark was racist and argue with them forever about that… because they will simply insist that whatever they said/did wasn’t racist.

At the end of conversations like this, it’s obvious that (a) nothing I say will make them understand that they are being an asshole, and (b) the interaction results in them thinking I am an asshole for calling them out on racist behavior.  The only actual change is their opinion of me being lowered.  I don’t really care about that much, but when it comes to my coworkers, I have to get along with them to do my job.  So, for the most part, I do the clichéd “choose my battles” thing, which is necessary but frustrating.

I told you all that to tell you this…

One particular odd item of racism is that several of my female co-workers (who are the polite sort of racists lacking in outright malice, but making up for it with extraordinary feats of ignorance) have told me about dreams featuring… black guys attacking them.  Kidnapping them.  Mugging them.  Threatening them.  Hurting them.  It’s blackophobia.  They are really scared of black guys.  A black guy came in our shop one day and they were ready to call the police because he “looked suspicious.”  Turns out he wanted to buy something, go figure.  But their dreams are peopled with sinister black guys, leering with knives and guns.  It wouldn’t have been such a big deal to me if it had just been ONE of them that had the racist nightmare.  But it was three of them.

It was so ridiculous I told my partner about it.  I said to him, “I have had plenty of dreams of scary guys attacking me.  But they’ve always been white guys.  All the bad things done to me have been done by white guys.  And I know these women have NOT ever been mugged, attacked, or kidnapped by any black guys, so it’s not like they are reliving bad memories… no, they are dreaming up their own racist fears.  I have never once dreamed about a black guy doing anything bad to me.  It’s ridiculous.”

I said this.

A couple of weeks later, apparently inspired by my bizarre coworkers, I dreamed my own racist dream… except that it wasn’t.  It was too absurd.  It was a farce of racism.  It was so absurd, in fact, that I woke up laughing.  Here is what I dreamed:

I was in the bathroom.  The door opened and a black guy came in dressed in “look-I’m-a-robber” garb.  He said, “I’m gonna rob ya!” with a great big cheerful grin on his face.  I wasn’t really afraid, but the script says I’m supposed to yell for my man to come save me at that point, so I did.  My partner met us in the hallway, and he didn’t seem too upset or scared either.  He was like, “Hey, man, what are you doing?”  Not in a “what-the-hell-do-you-think-you’re-doing-here” indignant, angry way… but more like when a mom sees her toddler doing something mildly mischievous and asks him in the cute, playful voice, “What are you doing, you silly thing?”  The robber responded with a grin and a shrug that was straight out of vaudeville or an old-fashioned minstrel show.

We discovered more “robbers” out front of our house in broad daylight patiently loading our belongings into what can only be described as a stereotype of a car.  Fancy paint job, raised body, shiny chrome, etc.  There were at least half a dozen of them all seeming quite friendly and slightly sheepish that they had been caught robbing our place in broad daylight with the occupants conspicuously home.  None of them pulled weapons or even looked menacing.

It was extremely stupid.  Even while I was still asleep in the dream, I couldn’t take any of it seriously.  I was laughing in the dream and still laughing when I woke up.  It was literally a farce of racism.  It felt like it could have been an outtake from Blazing Saddles, or something.  A strong contrast from the very real terror these white women at work felt in their dreams upon facing the dreaded Black Guy.

I’d have a lot more sympathy if any of them had ever actually been attacked by anybody black.  That wouldn’t actually make it less racist, but it would make it more understandable, at least.  But no.  These women talk to me about their personal lives and, unfortunately for me, they feel comfortable telling me the very most private of personal stories.  If any of them had ever been assaulted by anyone black, I know, without a doubt, that they would’ve told me by now.

And here’s the kicker: Our shop is next door to a restaurant whose kitchen staff is 100% black.  There are several guys on that staff and all of these women with the Black Guy Nightmares know and interact with these men on a regular basis…

…They give us free snacks and drinks.

In exchange for…


They’ve been doling out kindness for years.  The white women say “thank you” to their faces and then dream of sinister intentions.

Is there an upside to all of this?  Not really, unless you count the discovery that my subconscious is actually capable of satire. 😉

Categories: racism Tags: ,