Thursday, March 17, 2011

Discrimination Against Barefooters: It Really IS That Bad

I love hearing from my readers, so I leave the comments open for people to share pretty much whatever they'd like -- short of spam or abusive language. Most of the time, whether I agree with comments or not, I simply read them, take them to heart and move along.

One comment from reader "RevTieDye" really stood out to me today, though. It's in response to my article, "Who Holds The Burden of Proof About Bare Feet?" I'm posting the comment as its own entry to educate and stir discussion. There have been several people who've asked me, "Is discrimination against your bare feet really that bad?" This real-life example, while a bit more extreme than most, helps answer that question. I have my own stories that I've already told, and Dr. Daniel Howell shared a similar story of discrimination that happened on his book tour last year as well.

RevTieDye wrote...

A day after reading this post I was in a grocery store that I've been frequenting barefoot for almost a year now. At least 20 visits without shoes. But this time an employee informs me that I can't be in there barefoot.

Me: Can you show me where it says I can't be barefoot.
Employee: No, but it's a health code.
Me: I'm sorry, but that's a myth. There is no such law. [exit SL]

2 minutes later the "Manager's apprentice" (that's actually what it said on his name badge) with two more large male employees flanking him arrives to tell me I had to leave. Like I'm brandishing a weapon or threatening another customer, or something.

I've seen a dozen ways to handle this politely, by people far more clueless than him. He didn't ask, he didn't politely inform, he didn't suggest that I wear shoes next time. He cut straight to

Apprentice: Sir, you have to leave--I can't allow you to be barefoot in here.
Me: Can you show me where it says I have to wear shoes.
Apprentice: Sir, I've asked you to leave, and you haven't. Now you're trespassing.
Me: I just want to see it in writing, because there are a lot of myths about bare feet. Can you show me that your company supports your opinion?

Note: So far, I have kept it at a conversational polite level the whole time, but now he starts raising his voice.

Apprentice: Sir you are trespassing. My next step is to call the police.
Me: Are you seriously saying that you would call the police and say "This is Jeremiah at W***o, come quick, we’ve got a barefoot guy down here?"

But at this point I knew I needed to back down and leave before I got my dander up and started contributing to the scene he was already making. So I left while I could still pretend to be calm.

I do believe you're right. We shouldn't have to bear the burden of proof. But I like to go barefoot because it's relaxing and makes me feel connected to the world. Dealing with the adrenaline levels of being confronted by an over-zealous apprentice manager and his intimidating wing-men is the opposite of what I'm after. I may have to hang up my protester hat, and just put on those vile flip-flops I keep under the seat of my truck.


Michael here again. Please understand that this is only ONE example of a countless number very similar to it. Barefooters are discriminated against like this on a regular basis -- and it's been happening for decades now. We're not just blowing it out of proportion or getting unnecessarily upset.

It's situations like this that made me start The Primalfoot Alliance, an organization that advocates for people's natural right to go barefoot if they so choose. If you haven't heard of it, here's the Web site.

Now, a few things stand out to me about RevTieDye's story:

First, it's not uncommon to go barefoot into a business multiple times without problems and then suddenly get stopped by the shoe police. It doesn't matter that you've safely shopped there unshod before -- even if other employees have clearly seen you doing it -- even if you mention that to them. From then on you're supposed to wear shoes. Period. (And don't expect that they'll put a sign up prohibiting barefooters from then on. They have every right to have a policy and not let their patrons know about it until it's been violated.)

Second, the myth of the health code prohibiting bare feet is huge. What's more? Shoot that down and they'll likely change their tune and suddenly have a different reason why bare feet are not okay -- a reason they never mentioned before. If it's not against health code then it must be illegal? No? Then it's...

Third, it's not uncommon for a manager to bring backup. I've experienced it. I know others have, too. For some reason, having a foreboding security guard or burly male employee by their side is used as a tactic to incite intimidation in barefooters or protect the manager from the barefooter. That's right, intimidate patrons who are only different because they lack shoes. That, or have backup available in case this barefoot person flies off the handle and goes berserk on you. It's good to have protection because, you know, anybody that shops without footwear must not be straight in the head, right?

Fourth, as is the case in so many confrontations like this, management resorted to the bottom-line reason of "because we said so" for discriminating against the barefoot customer. This manager even went so far as to not even explain him/herself. The, "because we said so," was implied.

Whether you're a barefooter or not, what do you think of this situation? Do you feel like this gave you a better picture of the discrimination that barefooters often face? Is it more important to back down to the shoe police than get your "adrenaline levels" up when confronted? Please leave your comments in the section below.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Reader Homework: Please Ask Around About Broken Glass

I need your help. I want to debunk the myth of broken glass and bare feet once and for all. We barefooters know that reports of broken glass in society are greatly exaggerated, yet we don't have any proof. I'm in the process of changing that by putting together an extensive blog post to tackle this issue.

Dear reader, please start asking around to restaurant, retailer and grocery store management when you go out. Casually ask them something like, "Hey, I'm just curious: How often do you all have to clean up broken glass around here -- like, on an average day?" If you're especially curious, ask how they clean it up and if they usually "get everything picked up." Note the business locations (Applebee's, Walmart, Winn Dixie, etc.), their numbers and any other responses you get.

Runners, I want to hear from you, too. Please keep a mental note to scan the sidewalks and roads on which you run. Count the number of areas of glass (one broken bottle might be a single area) that you come across. Log the numbers if you DO OR DON'T see glass while running, how far you ran AND what kind of area it was (trail, neighborhood, downtown, business district, etc.).

Leave all your awesome data in the comments below or send it to my email at michael A T barefootandgrounded D O T com by Friday, March 18. I'll put your responses together with mine and we'll see just how much glass is -- or isn't -- really out there.

Thanks for your help!

Photo: Painting by Todd Ford. Posted to Art & Critique

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Who Holds the Burden of Proof About Bare Feet?

Barefooters are constantly explaining to others why it's okay for us to be unshod -- as if wearing shoes is the natural condition and bare feet are an oddity. Let's be clear: Going barefoot is our natural condition.

Just as having bare hands is the baseline for how we function as human beings, so it should be for feet. We should only wear shoes when truly necessary and when identifiable, legitimate reasons exist. It shouldn't be the obligation of barefooters to prove why we don't need shoes.

Imagine if someone were to say that we should wear gloves on our hands all day long every day. You'd get countless people asking why, claiming it's not necessary and going on without gloves anyway. There are simply not enough legitimate reasons to do such a thing.

It's really the responsibility of those who require shoes to tell us why we and they need them -- and to come up with legitimate reasons. This typically comes in the form of vague excuses of concern over spreading diseases -- which hands do a lot more of, potentially stepping on a sharp object -- which are very few and far between, social appropriateness -- which apparently simply requires any thickness of any material between the soles and the ground, questions of legality -- which, going barefoot isn't illegal, or other not-well-thought-out reasoning.

It's time to start turning the tables on those who discriminate against us. It's time that the burden of proof fall on them to legitimately justify why shoes are so necessary. We need to make them show us the broken glass and not accept their excuses until they do. We need them to take samples of the ground for viral testing to prove that it's unsafe for the public's collective health. We need to make them explain how going barefoot is not acceptable but vulgar t-shirts, patrons with foul odor and people who talk too loudly on their cell phones are. If they claim that going barefoot violates health codes or other laws, they need to show us the proof. If they cannot -- or will not -- do these things, they have no leg to stand on and we must refuse to put on footwear.

Are you a barefooter who finds yourself explaining why your natural state is okay? Do social norms requiring footwear supersede the burden of proof? Are you willing to stand up and turn the tables on discrimination? What do you think would happen if you did? Please leave your comments below.

Photo: Western Rite Critic

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