Last Saturday, I had just ordered breakfast at 2Cats when I overheard a 30ish couple nearby say what a neat idea it was to turn an old house into a restaurant. As I am wont to do, I asked the couple where they were from.
The young man responded that they were from Arizona and they were thinking of creating a unique restaurant in an old church, a ‘Mom and Pop’ place. He added that all the restaurants in that area were franchises and he thought a restaurant in a church would go over well.
He went on to explain that they were looking to do something together and thought it would be just right for them. So, to me, they were a couple.
After a brief pause I asked if they had been hiking.
He said that they had done the Precipice and he had fallen.
Again he said he had fallen, this time adding that he had fallen because, looking at his female companion, “She threw a rock at me and I fell.”
He then turned his head toward me and didn’t see that she shook her head, letting me know that she hadn’t.
It hit me in that moment that I had just witnessed and recognized a microagression. I reacted viscerally … I actually pointed a finger at him and said in a rather intense grandfatherly voice, “You need to read a book. That was a microaggression!” I shocked myself.
Somewhat exasperated the young man huffed, “I’m just trying to have breakfast here.”
Now, unexpectedly energized, I replied that those days were gone and that there is no more “I’m just trying to have breakfast here” escape clause.
I went on to let him know that the old men (I’m 69) who are aware of the struggles women face are not going to be complicit any longer.
He sighed and sheepishly asked, “What’s a microaggression?”
I told him that in this case it was when he joked that he fell because his partner threw a rock at him.
I looked at the woman and asked, “How did that make you feel?”
The young woman actually straightened her spine and said that she felt insulted and that he knew that she hadn’t thrown a rock at him.
My food arrived and the waiter turned to these same folks to ask how their meal was. I thought the exchange was done.
As they left, I looked up and I said that he really did need to read a book.
She responded, “I’ll get him one.”
I asked her to put “From Doug” in it.
She said she would.
All during the exchange I was terrified that: one, either of them would ask me for a title (I had none to suggest) or, two, I was going to get a confrontational response to which I would not be able to respond emotionally or physically.
I have just downloaded “Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation” by Derald Wing Sue, so I will have a title to give the next man I call out on microaggressions. It is my next read.
Reflecting on this encounter has given me confidence to challenge other men when they use and I recognize microaggressions. I have also owned the fact that as an old white man, I can take action to support women and minorities beyond writing to my congressional delegation, visiting their offices or participating in protests. I can confront.
I’m writing about this to encourage men to join me.