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In this day and age, I keep hearing the phrase ‘cancel culture.’ In light of this, two things come to mind whenever I hear outrage:

1) Had it ever crossed your mind that what is offensive now has ALWAYS been offensive to someone?

2) How much of the offense is based on what we were taught, as opposed to what we learn?

Now, when I use the word ‘taught,’ I am not merely focusing on the classroom. I’m focusing on the broader meaning of ‘taught’ to include what is accepted in our community, practices and behaviors in our environments, representations and reinforcement in our circles, and depictions and displays in the media.

Let me give you an example.

Anyone who knows me KNOWS that I am an avid lover and supporter of McDonald’s. In addition to the 2 cheeseburger meal and the egg McMuffin meal, McDonald’s has been an active part of my life. It was the hang out spot in my hometown after high school football games. The 24 hour McDonald’s on Fowler Avenue in Tampa was the ‘go-to’ spot after every party when I was in undergrad and graduate school. McDonald’s has been a regular supporter of Black History Month and HBCUs. So, I have never viewed McDonald’s in a negative light.

But I wonder if my view on McDonald’s would have been different had I known my great aunt’s story.

My great aunt never set foot in McDonald’s. In our home town of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, there was a time (Jim Crow) when McDonald’s would not permit black people to walk in the building. Her memory of McDonald’s brought her back to memories of segregation. Even when integration occurred, she still refused to enter the establishment. In her words (according to her daughter), “If my money wasn’t good enough for you BEFORE integration, it’s not good enough for you now.”

I didn’t discover this story until my late 30s.

I was moved by her position, and I completely understood it. But I wonder if my ‘love affair’ with McDonald’s would be the same if I would have been told this story in my youth. How would my perception of this institution change if I—a first generation kid through a FULLY integrated K through 12 school experience—had known that my favorite restaurant, only a few years prior would have NOT allowed me to enter had it not been a change in the law?

Now, for those who are reading this and thinking, “Oh, he wants to bring the DIRT out on everybody and everything,” you are missing the point.

The point here was that my impression of McDonald’s was shaped by my experience with no context of any particular knowledge of McDonalds’ past. Have they improved as a company? Absolutely! Are my experiences the same as my aunt’s? No! Will I end up buying a value meal this week? More than likely.

Context matters and ensuring future generations have a complete contextual perspective is important. In addition, with this expansive effort to ensure what is ‘acceptable’ includes everyone, this effort results in redefining what is ‘acceptable’ and ‘normal.’

So, for those who are concerned about changes in things they viewed as ‘normal,’ there is a confusion between ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable.’ My concern is the natural desire to assume something is ‘normal’ means it is ‘acceptable.’ Part of the adjustment we are seeing in our society is the readjustment of what is ‘acceptable.’

Just because it was ‘normal’ to you at one point in time, doesn’t mean that it was ‘acceptable’ to everyone at that time.

Anthony Reeves

From chasing ice cream trucks to serving as a lawyer, professor, dancer, and activist, I'm on a mission to educate and inspire others to be their best selves.

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