Navigating the Minefield

One has to tread very carefully these days. Topics, words, and even clothing can trigger deep divides between people. Here are three examples:

  • Your Music. Some music is timeless. Other music, however, is more “of its time”. Every holiday season this is driven home to us as we listen to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in a whole new context. Now I tend to love both cast albums and folk/bluegrass, and both have the same problems: Some of the music, when heard in today’s light, is clearly racist and problematic. This is something discussed everytime “Showboat” or “Annie Get Your Gun” is remounted; it is even a larger issue with folk music. Many of our folk songs make use of stereotypes or motifs that are problems, starting with “Wish I was in the land of Cotton”. The author of our national anthem was a white supremacist. Here’s one fiddler that tackled the issue head on. I love his mention of Dom Flemons, the American Songster, who does great stuff.
  • What You Wear. My daughter goes to school in Madison WI, and she alerted me to this divide: The attitude towards the “Coasties” in the North Face jackets. Here’s the requisite background:A UW–Madison student wrote in 2008 that he could distinguish between coasties and sconnies—or, Wisconsin locals—by looking “at their distinctive clothing.” While focusing on the “female Coastie” appearance, the student argued that the “natives begin to resent these outsiders who are so different.” This student’s editorial in the Badger Herald,perhaps unknowingly, invoked a history of compounding stereotypes of “outsiders” wearing conspicuous or expensive clothing on campus that reaches back to the 1920s. His comments also highlight what is at stake in making assumptions about a Canada Goose owner in 2017. In 2007, two Wisconsin students recorded a song called “What’s a Coastie,” describing the Wisconsin-based label/slur as an “east coast Jewish honey” identifiable by her outfit: a North Face jacket, black leggings, and big sunglasses, among other attire. The song highlighted young Jewish women’s outdoorwear as linked to their outsider status on campus. According to the student songwriters, expensive consumer products, down to the Ugg boots and complicated Starbucks drinks, highlighted the wealth of these out-of-state students. “Coasties” effectively flaunted family wealth, their North Face jackets a stand-in for the high-priced out-of-state tuition their families were paying.
  • Your Car. My step-sister highlighted this divide, and the problem it will create. The thesis: With the growth of self-driving cars and naviation, personal driving will be outlawed as something dangerous to one’s health and the health of others. If that happens, what does that do to privacy? No more can you go someplace anonymously. You’ll be tracked: by your car, by your cellphone, by your navigation app? Who owns those records? Who can look at those records? More importantly, who can be prevented from looking at those records. All questions that in our rush to adopt a technology, we are likely not exploring.