Help! How do I tell my neighbor I’m offended by their “Black Lives Matter” sign without sounding racist?
Etiquette tips on how to interact in today’s world. Have a question for Mister Manners? Send your queries to email@example.com and look for replies in the coming weeks.
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
Q: My next-door neighbors have a “Black Lives Matter” sign on their front yard. I find it troubling that anyone—regardless of race—would promote the message that skin color can make someone superior. Is there a proper way for me to ask them to reconsider promoting this slogan without sounding to them like a racist?
A: If you sat down with your neighbors, I believe you’d come to discover Black Lives Matter has an entirely different meaning from the one you think it does. The message is not “Black Lives Are Superior…All Others Are Insignificant.” Rather, it’s a succinct conveyance that for far too long, men and women of color have suffered reprehensible wrongdoings in America.
If there was any doubt of our persistent, systemic problem, one in which lives are being lost due to scarcely covert racism, the killing of George Floyd is proof positive.
Does every life matter? Most certainly. Does the placard on your neighbor’s lawn insinuate otherwise? Absolutely not. The message on that sign is a testament to the fact that despite the reality of how things all too often play out, people of color have as much right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as any other human being.
For our culture to reach the place where every life is considered precious and valuable, we must commit ourselves to eradicating prejudice and hatred once and for all. And that begins with listening.
Regardless of one’s pigmentation, socioeconomic stratum, immigration status, gender or sexual orientation, we are grieving as a nation right now. Still feeling vulnerable in the midst of a stay-at-home pandemic that has already claimed a mind-numbing 100,000 lives, we are mourning the senseless and brutal taking of one particular man’s life.
George Floyd didn’t need a vaccine to still be alive today. He required only respect and consideration. And though manners and etiquette may seem like dainty tools, weak precepts that would crumble in the face of an issue as heavy as racism, don’t count them out.
The core components of good manners—kindness, compassion, selflessness, empathy—are among the most powerful weapons we have against the sorts of painful acts that have been tearing at the heart of our nation for the past 400 years.
If you consider yourself a person who cares—and as a reader of this column, I hope you do— recall the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “History will have to record the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
CREAMY, NOT CHUNKY
Q: I’m a senior citizen who’s been quarantining due to the coronavirus and have been fortunate enough to have several neighbors offering to grocery shop for me. I do appreciate this, though there are always one or two items they get wrong. The latest example was getting chunky peanut butter instead of creamy. I’m on a budget and would rather not have items in my cabinets I know I’ll never use. Would it be rude of me to bring these quibbles to their attention?
A: A much-used phrase of my sister’s when my niece and nephews were choosy toddlers was: “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” And though I feel your pain on the peanut-butter front, even on a fixed budget, surely the creamy versus chunky debate is a First World problem.
Rather than discourage these neighbors—whom I gather are shopping for you out of kindness as opposed to doing so for an hourly fee—I would simply be as specific as possible. No longer should your grocery slate include line items such as “bottled water.” Instead, you’ll need to indicate “lemon-flavored sparkling water in a 24-ounce bottle” if such things make a difference to you. Additionally, in the nicest of ways, alert the neighbor that if the store does not have certain items exactly as written, to skip them and move on to the next thing on the list.
Lastly, if despite your due diligence an incorrect item still makes it to your home, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Mister Manners, Thomas P. Farley, is a nationally regarded expert who appears regularly in the media to discuss modern-day etiquette dilemmas — from how to split a check fairly to how to get a word in edgewise. Follow Thomas on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And for more insights, listen to his brand-new podcast, “What Manners Most,” which will be focused exclusively on Coronavirus-related etiquette for the foreseeable future.