I am not your dear

Working in public service means I see people of all kinds: tall, short, black, white, fat, skinny, quiet, loud, obnoxious, wonderful, intelligent, not-so-intelligent, drunk, high, high on life, downtrodden, hopeful, etc.

(For the record, drunk and/or high people are not allowed in the library and are asked to please come back later when they are sober.)

Many of these people call me things like “dear,” “sweetie,” and “hon.” Some have even learned my name and have taken to calling me “Kel.”

The only person who can call me “dear” or “sweetie” without pissing me off is my father. Close family members and friends are welcome to call me “Kel.” (See the quiz below to see if you qualify. If you don’t, no worries—there’s still time to ride roller coasters and do slightly illegal and/or dangerous things together!)*

Everyone else: No.

And especially not people I meet while I’m standing behind the public service desk at my job. I recognize that for some, it’s a generational thing. For some, it’s a habit. I’m willing to give people a bit of slack in this department, but not much.

Because I am NOT your dear. I am paid to be nice to you. I am paid to help you set up an email account and request books for you and troubleshoot your ebook problems. Or, I am a complete stranger you happened to bump into on the street.

We are not friends, buddies, pals, or whatever. I am not your daughter or your sister** or your girlfriend or your wife***. It is, therefore, inappropriate for you to call me (or any other customer service rep or stranger you meet by happenstance) by any term of endearment, and especially inappropriate if you are a man speaking to a woman.

“But I’m just being nice,” all the “nice” guys are collectively saying.

No. You are not being nice. You are being condescending and paternalistic. Even if you don’t intend to be condescending and paternalistic, you are. And it’s your responsibility to change your behavior.

Call me by my name, or don’t call me anything. Just say, “Thank you!”

Thank you is enough. Thank you goes a long way. “Dear” and “sweetie” do not. “Dear” and “sweetie” make me cranky. Of course, I risk retaliative action from you and those in my organization if you complain that I’ve been a horrible mean person to you by telling you not to call me “dear.”

Oh, if only it were as easy as saying, “Please don’t call me that,” or “I am not your dear, thank you, please use my name.” Every. Single. Time. I say that, I get “I was only being nice” or “That’s not very nice of you.” I’ve even had people complain to my boss that I treated them poorly by telling them not to call me dear.

Reality check: My niceness isn’t the issue. Your condescending paternalism is.

So, guys: Don’t call your service reps “dear,” “sweetie,” or “hon.” Just. Don’t. Do. It.


*You can determine if you pass this test by asking yourself the following questions. If you can answer yes to two or more, congratulations! You can call me whatever the hell you want, and I’ll still love you.

  1. Have we ever lived in the same house?
  2. Have we ridden roller coasters together?
  3. Have we gone to nerdy conventions together?
  4. Have we ever stayed up all night watching anime or making costumes together?
  5. Have I cried in front of you?
  6. Have you cried in front of me?
  7. Did we meet as tweens or teens and continue to be friends?
  8. Do you know two or more characters from the Star Wars expanded universe because of me?
  9. Do we have at least one inside joke? (Leave your favorite one in the comments so I laugh and everyone else feels left out!)
  10. Have we done something slightly dangerous or illegal together? (Don’t worry Mom, I survived, and never got caught!)

**Unless you are my actual brother, which you aren’t, because my brother would never ever call me “dear.” Seriously. Never. If he did it would mean he was taken over by pod people.

***Unless you are my actual husband, which again, you aren’t, because he would also never call me “dear,” because he knows how much I hate it, and, surprise! he respects me.

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To my white friends and family

You are all good people. You love your family and your friends. You love your country. You work hard and you deserve all the good things you have, and then some.

I understand that when someone—anyone—accuses America as a whole or white people in general of being racist, you feel offended and defensive. You feel like you’re being singled out and attacked for the actions of others.

That’s not you, you think, and for the most part, you’re right. Maybe you have some biases and prejudices (I know I do), but you give everyone a chance. You recognize that every human being on this planet is a person with rights just the same as yours, even if you don’t always agree with that individual’s actions or lifestyle.

Here’s the thing, though. We live in a country and culture that has systematically been oppressing and killing people of color since Europeans began settling this continent. We killed off entire tribes of American Indians. We kidnapped Africans and enslaved them and tortured them and worked them literally to death. After slavery ended we moved to share cropping, which kept black people poor and destitute. Then came Jim Crow, in which state governments denied thousands upon thousands of blacks the right to vote. We had the Ku Klux Klan and endless lynchings.

Supposedly the Civil Rights movement stopped all that. But look around you. We never moved past Jim Crow, we just changed the rules. Now we lock up black people (and the mentally ill) in record numbers. We shunt them into housing projects, away from the “nice” neighborhoods. We call them lazy and violent.

And yes, when I say “we” I mean you, and I mean me. No, we did not participate in slavery. No, we were never members of the KKK. No, we’ve never lynched anyone. But we vote. We speak. We stand by while our black brothers and sisters are drowning in poverty that’s a direct result of the way our society has always treated them as less-than, other.

I’m not trying to make you feel like a bad person, and I don’t want you to feel guilty. You are not a bad person. You are a good, strong person and I love you. Guilt isn’t going to make anything better.

Instead, I challenge you to look at history and understand how we’ve come to this point. Recognize the pain and violence that white people have inflicted on black people since before the United States was a country.

We don’t demonize all white teenagers because of the few who have killed dozens of people in school shootings. We don’t demonize doctors because of the few who’ve negligently let people die.

Recognize these things, and then look at your fellow countrymen with empathy and compassion in your heart. Declaring that black lives matter is not an implication that your life matters less. It is, instead, a declaration that black lives matter as much your life matters. We’re all humans. We’re all Americans.

We cannot change the past, but we can change the future. We—you, and me—we can listen to what black Americans have to say. And even if we don’t agree, we can acknowledge their point of view and feelings as valid. As valuable.

We can listen, and we can learn, and then we can act, together, to make this a better place for all of us.

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Happy Fourth of July (Or Alexander Hamilton, I Love You)

This post was first published on July 4, 2011, but it’s still true.

Whether it was his beautiful writing on the Constitution or his magnetic self-assurance that bordered on arrogance, Alexander Hamilton had me from page one in my 11th grade American history book.

It didn’t hurt that he was attractive, especially for a man in leggings and a powdered wig. As I devoured every book on Hamilton I could find—biographies, the Federalist Papers, dissertations on Federalism—I developed a mild distaste for Thomas Jefferson and spending $10 bills.

By the end of 11th grade even my history teacher told me it was time to move on. Secretly I prayed one of the final essay questions on the AP U.S. History test would be about Lexi (as I’d taken to calling him, seeing that we were so close), or at least the Revolutionary War (I got neither wish, in the end–one question was about Lincoln and the other about FDR and alphabet soup).

I wrote a killer college entrance essay about having dinner with Hamilton and won a $100 savings bond from Sons of the American Revolution for a research paper, and when we got a Welsh corgi puppy I knew (after some agonizing) that her name must be Lexi (she has as much attitude as her namesake).

Although everyone remembers Washington and Jefferson, they often forget that Jefferson’s vision for America was a small agrarian society. We are living in Hamilton’s America, not Jefferson’s (up yours, Tommy!). Without Hamilton we might still be stuck with the Articles of Confederation, we would not have a national bank and I would still find history the most boring subject ever.

I don’t agree with Hamilton’s every decision or every move, and I regret his decision to accept Aaron Burr’s challenge to duel (he was a scumbag anyway, trying to take over part of the country—seriously, Mr. Burr?). But he still fascinates me, and whenever I see a new biography or related book at a used book sale I don’t hesitate to pick it up.

Although it’s rather, shall we say Hamiltonian? of me to say this about one of the men who founded our great country, I think what captured my interest so thoroughly is that I saw a bit of myself in Hamilton’s personality. Hamilton was very much a self-made man who found a way to the Colonies and once there, studied hard and  actively pursued his ambitions. It irritated some, but he was not falsely modest and knew, I believe, how brilliant he was (even if he became a bit unhinged toward the end of his political career, a feeling to which I can relate all too well).

I’m not going to call myself brilliant—not yet, anyway—but I do take inspiration from Hamilton’s life and achievements. And, I’m also grateful to the Founding Fathers for creating a democracy that works (more or less) and that has endured for 240 years. Happy Birthday, America, and may you endure for another 240 years on the wisdom of people like Alexander Hamilton.

Image credit: HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. “Engraved by E. Prud’homme from miniature by Arch. Robertson.” [No date found on item; “1835” pencilled on verso of mount.] Location: Biographical File Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-48272

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