Black Friday (really? why are we still having this conversation?)

Recently, two locally owned restaurants announced they were closing their doors, and that prompted all sorts of Facebook discussion threads about why they had not succeeded.  I found myself more and more frustrated as I read the comments, an occasionally I chimed in with abrupt, impatient remarks that seem to be my trademark when I feel like people just aren’t “getting” it.

There are all sorts of factors that go into the demise of a small business. As someone who spent my early childhood hanging out in the back of my parents’ fledgling fried chicken and catfish restaurant The Red Rooster (yes, I’m aware of the irony that I haven’t intentionally eaten meat in over a decade and am currently flirting with veganism for the gazillionth time), I am aware of how hard it is to break even with a new business, especially a restaurant, regardless of how busy the place might appear.

But there’s one factor I’m currently in a tizzy about: the customers. Because, when it comes down to it, customers can make or break a new business, especially a local small business. And, the thing is, customers simply didn’t show up. Not enough to sustain these restaurants. I know…because I was there…and there’s only so much food I can eat…

Oh, they were there today in the final hours for the latest victim of my town’s poor business development planning. A line wrapped around the building, and every table was occupied. But customers are fickle pickles. Where were they a month ago?

Some were at home cooking dinner to save money due to a protracted feeling of being squeezed financially by bleak economic conditions. But plenty of others were out dining at the many mediocre chain restaurants that dot the interstate highway that cuts through town. A deep-fried Awesome Blossom in every mid-sized city, guaranteed to be greasily predictable, if not particularly appetizing.

And so here we are, on the eve of “the biggest shopping day of the year,” with customers plotting strategies for how to get the best bargains from the biggest box stores, supporting the retail equivalents of the chain restaurants that seem to keep on going…and going…while high-quality, affordable local small businesses are floundering. It’s a corporate world, and we’re ready and willing to contribute to the downfall of the mom-and-pop store.

We do this. Every day, every year. We say that we want small businesses to succeed, but we have a lousy way of showing it. We lament the decline in quality of restaurant meals, but we keep going back for seconds. We complain about how commercialized the holidays have become, but we continue to buy into the shopping frenzy, encouraging the advertising and the sales and the creeping consumerism that has led to more and more stores opening on Thanksgiving.

I’ve heard lots of friends say that they’re not going to participate in the retail chaos of Black Friday, but statistically, at least some of them will. And for what? A bunch of useless junk that will be forgotten in six months.

Plenty has been said about wasteful consumerism and our disposable culture. But I’d like to leave you with this thought: If you really, truly believe in small businesses…the way that politicians seem to think that you do…the way you say that you do when you answer survey questions…please stop feeding into the chain store madness.

It’s actually pretty easy. Just stop. Don’t shop.

Take the day off, avoid the insanity, and support local stores for this weekend’s Small Business Saturday. You’ll save money by being more conscientious about your purchases, and even if individual items cost more than what you’d spend at Walmart, you’ll save money by thinking before you buy. Plus, you’ll be putting money back into your local community, perhaps providing the income for a student to go to college or a family to enjoy a dinner at a, ahem, local restaurant.

Your kids will survive without the latest video game, and you’ll be just fine without the Rudolph sweater. If you do have kids, think about the message you’re sending if you go out on Friday (or worse, on Thanksgiving). With every shopping bag that you bring home, you’re teaching your kids that material possessions are important and that quality family time isn’t. And if you don’t have kids, well, get outside and enjoy the day…without the burden of more stuff.

In Memoriam

Tuesday, November 20th is International Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s a day that honors and remembers those who have been murdered in the past year due to their gender identity (real or perceived). Sad. So sad.

What saddens me the most is that these murders could have been prevented. We need to do a better job of raising awareness of what “transgender” means. Some of the most vocal perspectives on the topic of human sexuality are all-too hateful, accusing those who feel trapped in the wrong body of being sinners who will be punished by God and banished to an et-ernal and inf-ernal hell.

But the hell is often here on earth for those who are condemned by religious leaders who manipulate God’s word into one of hate instead of the all-consuming love. Oh yes, I’m aware that some interpretations of the Bible have all sorts of things to say about human sexuality (to the extent of imagining that there is a “homosexual agenda” in places where there isn’t), but there is not universal agreement on the matter.

My view, as well as the view of many others, is that we should love more and judge less (and do some deeper Bible studies that delve into the early manuscripts). Not to mention that, while there’s still more work to be done, modern scientific research about gender identity (and gender dysphoria) has taught us a lot in the past few decades.

In the meantime, let’s pause the theological and scientific discussions to remember one thing: people are being murdered. Beautiful, loving people who want to live in peace and be treated with basic dignity. People who were targeted specifically because they were trans or perceived to be trans. People who often don’t have job security and face other discriminatory obstacles because of their gender identity.

Regardless of your personal views, I’m asking that you please speak out when you witness words, attitudes, and actions that could potentially lead to violence. It’s simply not acceptable to be silent or to pretend that hateful, judgmental words are somehow justified because you disagree with a person’s lifestyle. When you cloak condemnation in the Bible, that doesn’t let you off the hook.

People are still being murdered. And someday, it could be a loved one. Yes, it could happen to someone you care about. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Stop the violence now.

You don’t have to be gay or lesbian or bisexual or trans or queer or intersex to be an ally. You just have to be human and filled with a compassionate heart. As you become more involved in consciousness-raising, you might find that your sphere expands to the point that you personally have friends who are trans. That’s what has happened to this particular small-town Texas straight gal who, in younger years, never imagined that I’d be writing this post (or, admittedly, anything that would appear on the unknown-to-me-at-the-time internet).

If you’re reading this and you’ve been the target of discriminatory words or actions, please know that you are loved. I care about you. And so do others. Your presence here on this planet is valuable and deserves to be treated with respect. You matter. Don’t give up. Check out http://www.itgetsbetter.org for resources that can help you through difficult times.

And to those who are raising consciousness about transgender violence, thank you. Keep up the good work. We’re all in this together. Let’s not forget those who have left this world too soon. Breathe peace.

I am a man

No hipster irony here. In solidarity.