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Why I’ll never go back to Micawber’s

Written:
Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 12:58pm

There’s an absolutely, fundamentally racist rule being upheld at Micawber’s bar downtown.

The bar has recently instituted a rule that forbids patrons to wear flat brimmed hats, but allows curved brimmed hats. This rule didn’t really bother me until I thought about it. Had I been at home and heard from a friend that the rule existed I think I would have thought nothing of it and left my flat brimmed hat at home. However, I learned about the rule only once I was in the bar and when I looked around at all those with flat brimmed hats and all those with curved brimmed hats I was confronted with the reality of the situation and realized the reason for the rule’s existence.

Flat brimmed hats are the ones traditionally worn by young men of color, especially black men. Conversely, curved brimmed hats are mostly – almost exclusively – worn by young, white males. If there were a rule banning hats outright I wouldn’t see any problem with it, but the rule goes out of its way to make concessions for white patrons and assail black ones. Can you honestly tell me the difference between a flat and a curved brim hat? The only difference between the two is in who wears them.

After I flatly refused to take off my hat, I was asked to leave the bar. On my way out, I ran into a friend of mine who couldn’t understand why I would refuse such a simple request. Here’s why:

When an injustice happens, no matter how minute or inconsequential, as people we have two choices – we can either sit down and accept the situation or we can stand up and fight. When you sit down and allow an injustice to continue with no resistance, you give your consent to that injustice. I know the word injustice may sound melodramatic given that the situation in question is a rule at a privately owned bar, but it’s an injustice nonetheless. What Micawber’s did by creating that rule was prima facie systematic racism.

When you don’t fight something that’s wrong, you acquiesce to a system that uses your apathy to fuel itself. The more people that don’t fight the system and give their unspoken approval by not fighting for what is right, the stronger the system is and the more power it has perpetuate itself. As the line between what’s tolerable and what isn’t blurs, that line moves further back. And as that line moves further back, more and more things become acceptable public discourse. Fighting for something isn’t about fighting for just that one thing. Taking a stand against something that’s wrong is taking a stand against not only that which is wrong, but the potential wrong that could come about if that wrong continues. Sure, right now it’s just a rule about hats, but maybe next it’s people wearing flat brimmed hats now have to enter through the back of the bar, or maybe people wearing baggy jeans have to use a separate bathroom. Separate but equal, right?

The most distressing thing about my friend’s inquiry about my refusal to remove my hat was that it’s so reflective of my generation. It’s as if the y in generation y stands for generation apathy or generation y me? or generation y can’t somebody else do it? We’ve witnessed so much injustice in our generation, but where’s the outrage? Where’s the unbridled rage that overthrows regimes and topples iniquity? A coach of mine once told me that while his generation would rally and protest for a cause, ours is now content to send an e-mail and feel that they’ve actually done something consequential.

We’re a generation raised by The Man. We’re a generation raised to idealize the middle class and fitting in, in every possible way. A generation that’s got too much to lose and not enough to gain because we think everything in our world is so peachy keen. We’re a generation that’s too coddled by mommy and daddy to risk alienating them by taking part in some counterculture revolt. We’ve got too much to lose to actually be politically active: scholarships, honor societies, letters of recommendation, professional accolades, nice cars, great entry-level jobs. My generation has seen injustice and we’ve chosen on almost every occasion to sit down and let it pass. Hell, it’s not our problem. And if it’s not personally affecting us, why bother?

I can’t help but feeling that the epoch of George W. Bush would never have been allowed to pass in any other country in any other time period. The man has made such an absolute mockery of our constitution and everything our country stands for and what do we do? We buy bumper stickers and t-shirts. In any other time, in any other place, the young people would have stood up and demanded justice, but not us. We’re all too fat and lazy and concerned about what we need as individuals to care about the collective good.

I believe that my generation was raised to think that life would be fair and easy. We believed that if we just worked for it, and didn’t rattle the cage too much, life would give us what we had coming and everything would be fine. We sit down and move out of the way because it’s easy and it doesn’t cost us anything: no stress, no peace of mind, certainly no money. We’re perfectly content because we’re not the ones committing the injustice, we’re just following orders or following the rules.

A wise man once said that difference to authority is the lowest stage of moral development. I think we are a generation that believes that difference to authority is not only acceptable, but honorable. We seem to believe that an authority figure is due our respect because they are an authority. We deflect blame to those above us because to take on responsibility for anything would simply be asking too much.

What we fail to realize is that those above us know exactly what they’re doing and know that our difference to their policies, that doing what’s easiest and causes the least uproar, is exactly what allows them to push us around. Those in power know that by emblazoning superiors as demigods and feudal lords, they disarm the people and leave them at the mercy of their oppressors. We’re a generation afraid to make a scene for any reason and they know it.

So why do I refuse to remove my hat? Why do I take a stand against something so simple, when no one else does? Because it’s the right thing to do. I’m sick and tired of seeing people do the wrong thing just because it’s easy or it’s what they were told to do or because everyone else is doing it. Where’s our integrity? Where’s our balls? Where’s our sense of civic duty and pride?

It’s as if our generation has nothing to stand for because standing up for anything at all would be doing too much. That spirit of acquiescence and difference to authority, that seems to have indelibly permeated our generation, is what allows atrocities to happen. When you don’t speak up, you say nothing and when you say nothing you give your consent. No matter how small or inconsequential, when you see an injustice you can stand and fight or you can sit down and watch. As for me, I stand.

Post script: This isn’t intended to sound self-righteous, even though having re-read it, it certainly does. I don’t mean to say that I am the example that all others should follow, because I am truly flawed. I just mean that I feel like in this particular instance I did the right thing and I hope that myself and others will do so more often.

Also, Micawber’s is not a microcosm for everything that’s wrong with the world, just a jumping off point for this particular rant.

Post post script: My apologies for the exceptionally long note, I just woke up this morning and felt the need to write what I was feeling.

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