Recently I heard about a man who was fired from his job — a job he’d had for over 20 years — at a farm supply store because a “concerned citizen” had taken offense over the way two items had been placed side by side. This concerned citizen took a picture of the offending items and sent it to the corporate headquarters. From there it came down through channels until the man responsible for stocking the shelves was let go.
So what were the offending items? Niger food and raccoon traps.
A little language history…
Now, to those who aren’t aware of the etymology of the N-word, it is a derivative of the word negro, meaning black. Niger also means black.
Raccoon, or coon as it’s more often used (as in “once in a coon’s age“), has been used as a racial slur for a very long time.
Some basic information about farm supply stores
In a farm supply store you’ll often find Niger food for birds, squirrels, ducks, geese, chipmunks and other outdoor pets — including raccoons. As for the raccoon traps, that’s rather obvious. They are humane traps for capturing raccoons.
Putting Niger food next to raccoon traps makes sense if you trying to help someone humanely trap a pesky raccoon. This is exactly what the man stocking the shelves was trying to do.
Enter the “bad samaritan”
It’s good to be alert to racism and to do our part to head it off, but sometimes it seems we’re too sensitive, seeing racism where it isn’t. The man responsible for sending the picture of the Niger food and raccoon traps thought he was doing a good deed. Unfortunately what he did was get someone fired for doing his job.
I think there are two reasons this happened: 1) a concerned citizen was ignorant of the realities of the situation and 2) society has become hyper-sensitive to the issue of racism.
As I said, being alert to racism is necessary and we must do what we can to stop it, but we also must consider that our perceptions are skewed because of this.
For instance, Mike Duran, a Christian horror author, rarely designates ethnicity to his characters. However, in a review of his book The Resurrection Katherine Coble stated there was a racist undercurrent simply because the antagonist had an afro. Mike addresses his own questions regarding society’s hyper-sensitivity to racism in his post White Men, Black Women, and Fictional Stereotypes.
Before reading Mike’s post I hadn’t considered the ethnicity of characters as a big deal, except in the case where the character is obviously used in a derogatory way (like Coble’s assertions of Mike’s antagonist being an “ignorant colored person”). After reading it I began questioning my use of characters and the question of whether ethnicity matter.
Now, after learning about the farm supply employee losing his job over a customer’s ignorance, I’m questioning our push toward educating “white people” about race and racism. And, in case you’re wondering, both men were white.
It’s good to know about racism. It’s good to stand up against it. It’s bad to see it where it isn’t.
What do you think? Was the concerned citizen doing the right thing by sending a picture straight to corporate or should he have checked his facts first? Are knee-jerk reactions ever a good thing, especially when considering race? How can we keep something like this from happening again?