Comment of the Day: “Morning Ethics Eye-Opener, 7/22/2019: Boycotts, Bushes, And Weenies” [Item 3]

This Comment of the Day, by johnburger2013, is a gift in many ways. Mainly it is a gift because it is a post that I would have written if I had the time, resources and energy (especially energy of late, due to an as yet diagnosed medical issue, but never mind) to concentrate on Ethics Alarms as I would like to, and to some extent feel obligated to.

It involves an episode I had read about, and decided, as sometimes I do, that the effort it would take to make sense out of such a mess exceeded its value as an ethics topic, though value it undoubtedly has. Now that John has done the work, I’ll have a few reactions at the end.

Here is johnberger2013’s Comment of the Day on the post, Morning Ethics Eye-Opener, 7/22/2019: Boycotts, Bushes, And Weenies:

Re: No. 3; Duty to Intervene.

While not exactly at the same level of urgency, here is an interesting story from the grand land of Georgia:

Lauren Pozen, a local reporter has been following the story, posting updates on Twitter. Here is her Twitter profile:

The controversy:

. Erica Thomas has accused Eric Sparkes, a white man, of telling her to “go back where you came from” while she was in a local Georgia grocery store called Publix. According to her, Sparkes berated her for having too many items in the express check out lane. She alleges that Sparkes, an alleged Trump supporter and avowed racist, called her names, accosted her, threatened her life, and mistreated her because of her race, calling her a lazy son of a bitch.

Now, Thomas is also a Georgia state representative who took to Twitter to detail how outrageous this incident was, that her heart was hurt (she cried, she was so upset) because he targeted her for being black, that this is a perfect example of the Trumpification of the US where racists feel empowered to be racists in local grocery stores against a black woman who only used the express lane because she is 9 months pregnant and can’t stand too long.

Sparkes, as racists often do, tells a very different story.  He alleges that he saw Thomas in the express aisle with more than the permitted number of items, called her out on it, and in the conflagration, called her a “bitch” (he admits he was out of line). Sparkes also states that he addressed this with the store manager, who said he did not have any power to do anything about it but that Sparkes was free to take appropriate action, which he did. Sparkes also stated that he is not white, but of Cuban descent, is a registered Democrat and would rather have his fingers chewed by rats than vote for Trump (that’s my embellishment). He also stated that he knew who Thomas was (a state representative) and thought that as a representative she should act more appropriately and avoid looking like she was entitled to do stuff most people wouldn’t do.

Hold on, back to Thomas: Thomas would have none of this MAGA-loving racist, so she alerted the media to take it directly to the good people of Georgia. Then, things didn’t quite as well as she expected. During her rant . . . uh . . . press conference, the good Señor Sparkes sidled up to her and called her a liar on live TV*. Rep. Thomas, erudite, considerate, and discerning, went right at him with full guns blazing, thinking she was going to race-bully this little MAGA-loving creep into submission – especially when she told him she didn’t care if he was Cuban because to her he was/is white.**

To his credit, Sparkes did not back down; in fact, he doubled down on his view of the story and hit back twice as hard (the local TV reporter swooned!). As the Cuban-American jerk refused to give in, Rep. Thomas began to talk too much, as is often the case with loud-mouthed blowhards, backing herself into a controversy killing corner when she admitted that, in fact, he didn’t tell to go back where she belonged (she can’t really remember what he said), that he never threatened her (only that he called her a bitch, which he admits was inappropriate), and that he is not a MAGA-loving Trumplodyte. Sparkes, on the other hand, maintained his calm, never raised his voice, but specifically called her out on the racial bullshit she was trying to sell to the community.

Now, Rep. Thomas has retained a lawyer (A LAWYER!) because she was afraid for her life.

With respect to the duty to intervene, check out Rep. Thomas’ Twitter accounts of the incident. Here is her Twitter profile:

The comments to the story are fascinating, where many a commenter “stands with Erica”, even after the story imploded as a direct result of Thomas’ arrogance. Even after admitting that she was completely wrong, she refused to capitulate. She is a piece of work. Sparkes, simply a guy at a store, called out someone for abusing a privilege at the express lane.

Trivial, no? Well, perhaps not. Perhaps Sparkes thinks it is rude to abuse the express lane by having too many items because the express lane is for people in a hurry and with a few items. Why should people have to wait because some inconsiderate person has decided the store’s “rules” don’t apply to him or her? Perhaps, Sparkes believes that this kind of inconsideration is an exemplar of why there is so much discord in the nation at the moment. Perhaps, Sparkes, knowing that Thomas is a state legislator, thought that Thomas should be a better representative of public office rather than an entitled jerk who believes he or she is above the rest of the community, and that it is unethical for public officials to abuse their power because if they can’t mind local store rules then how can the public trust elected officials to be proper stewards of the public’s interests?***

*Ed. Note: The local TV station was dancing for joy as a full-on controversy was unfolding right before their eyes in real time. It was TV ratings gold, I tell you! Gold!

**Ed. Note 2: That part of the interview is fascinating. Thomas is abusive and quite vicious. She could not believe that this little MAGA-man had the nerve to call her out, being that she is 9 months pregnant and with her child at the time. How dare he? Doesn’t he know who she is? Get in line, Sparkes or be annihilated.

***Ed. Note No. 3: I also allow for the possibility that Sparkes, a registered Democrat, believes that he is entitled to police express lanes in grocery stores because “people should follow the rules” and he might escalate things based on his perception of his own self-importance. Additionally, maybe he has a visceral dislike for Rep. Thomas because he thinks she acts like an entitled jerk. Who knows?


I’m back.

  • The “I stand with Erica” phenomenon was the first thing that struck me, because it has struck me before. This is someone announcing bias, and that’s all it is. The commenter isn’t thinking about what happened or weighing the facts, she has just chosen her “side” based on which adversary she favors for reasons unrelated to the incident. I once took this up with a “I believe Anita Hill” button wearer, and several Kavanaugh opponents who were going to believe his accusers no matter what they said or how they said it.
  • The culture is really being pressured to accept the standard that any criticism levied toward a black individual is racist, and and criticism directed at a woman is sexist. In this case, the censorious and discriminatory standard extends even to criticism of objectively objectionable behavior, like breaking posted rules. This didn’t start with President Obama—playing the race card in these situations to avoid accountability and shame critics is an old tactic (once encountered by my wife when she confronted a black woman who parked her car in the grocery store pick up lane while she shopped)—but it became legitimate and routine under Obama, and once again I will sate my belief that his thorough and tragic undermining of decades of progress in race relations is his main legacy as President.
  • Is  exceeding the item limit in express lanes something that creates a legitimate duty to confront someone about? Assuming that the overage is blatant and excessive, I think it is. It is similar to someone breaking into line. It is not worth getting into an altercation about: the important things is not to let the miscreant get away with such anti-social behavior without being reminded, clearly and in public, that he or she is an asshole.
  • Are the rules in this regard different when the cheater is an elected official? I think John makes a good case that they are. She must be confronted as a matter of responsible citizenship, and shamed with brio.
  • It is brain-melting that people make the Grand Canyon-like leap to blame President Trump for these kinds of incidents, “these kinds” meaning outrageous conduct by anti-Trump loonies, including hoaxes. It is literally a “he made me act like a jerk” argument.

29 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Morning Ethics Eye-Opener, 7/22/2019: Boycotts, Bushes, And Weenies” [Item 3]

  1. Thanks, Jack. That is high praise.

    I find the whole mess simply fascinating. While both parties acted like jerks, I am going to give Sparkes the benefit of the doubt. Thomas is a vile, nasty, vicious human being – she showed who she really is when she told Sparkes that she didn’t care if he was Hispanic because “to her, he was white”. I wonder how many times she has thrown the “race card” around, using it as both a sword and a shield.


  2. What this should teach us is that we must ignore tears of women when they complain of tongue lashings for their inconsiderate behaviors.

    Two different videos show a stark contrast between the two Thomas personalities. I bet she was not as much a terrified little girl when he confronted her at the store given her “in your face” press conference later. Her teary eyed cell phone selfie performance was over the top.

    What anyone who has been accused of racist comments or behavior should do from here on out is to challenge the accuser as Sparkes did. Every public accusation must allow a full throated defense against the allegation even when the claim is employment based.

    Employers and employees should not be able to hide behind confidentiality policies when racism and sexism is allegedly why a termination occurred.

    Pulling the race card to avoid criticism can only be played when we allow it to be part of the deck. As long as we cower in fear of being accused of racism the more it will be used as a weapon.

    • What this should teach us is that we must ignore tears of women when they complain of tongue lashings for their inconsiderate behaviors.

      Not that I disagree with Sparkes’ reaction, there’s no doubt he was justified, but I’ve seen women turn on the faucet for less, some just because they made an honest mistake — one woman ahead of me who was a couple of items over in a limited-item line who had been rushing her cart along frantically, watching were she was going and obviously not noticing the sign. When the woman behind her scolded her loudly she seemed startled and apologized, but the woman kept ragging on her, even when the checker said he’d make it fast, until she backed her cart all the way out (she had been just about up to the loading belt), thus, predictably, disrupting everybody and slowing the line even further, and left in tears of frustration. But, mainly, I recall two of my girl cousins and one girl classmate who as far as I know cried ONLY when they were extremely angry, especially when they thought they – or any animals – were being treated unfairly, but who were stoic as statues when physically hurt or defending themselves in “regular” arguments. The eldest, who would have been about 12 the last time I noticed it, once told me she couldn’t help it, she knew it was dumb and that it (the crying itself) made her embarrassed … which made her cry all the more.

  3. It will be interesting to see the store surveillance video which is said to exist.

    What I notice most strongly is the woman’s absolute confidence in and certainty of her own argument and rhetoric. It is not simply her making a statement or saying something, but a total lived attitude and a projection of self-certainty and righteousness. I got the impression that she feels that no matter what, given her maternal status, her condition, her gender and I guess her race, that what she says must with no doubt be believed and taken as fact.

    The video of her excessive tears seems a similar sort of usage, if you will, of rhetoric, but in that case of overdone emotional rhetoric.

    She gave a press conference as well and this seemed another demonstration of theatrical rhetoric. With 5 people and her lawyer at her side who could possibly disbelieve her?

    The only way to get to the absolute bottom of this is to see and listen to the surveillance video. It will be rather damning if it does not clearly support her story.

    In other news it turns out that both she and Sparkes were breast-fed as babies. More when I know more.

  4. I like to call scenarios like this (a) MESS or Minority Entitlement Sanctimony Syndrome.

    A number of minorities have been taught that the following acts may be construed as oppression if it comes from anyone who is perceived as having more social, institutional, or historical privilege than them. This includes:

    Looking someone funny, not holding open the door, holding open the door, correcting behavior in public (whether warranted or not), asking about pronouns, not asking about pronouns, appropriating another culture, not treating someone as a victim, not caring what someone thinks as a representative of a designated identity, etc.

    It took me a long time to deprogram from believing myself “owed” because of my intersectional attributes. Public school and college, along with family and friends who were scrappy activists, greatly influenced me. Obviously we all make our choices, but had I not been bombarded with indoctrination about how supposedly oppressed I was, perhaps I would have had less MESS in my life.

    This lady may be regurgitating an old script, unaware. Chris might be on to something about challenging the accusatory rhetoric. I’d caution though that in this day an age, I’d make sure ones headspace was clear. Ugliness can easily come out of good intentions. This is true for grievance minorities and those trying not to offend them.

  5. Mrs Q.

    Great perspective. When I talk about pushing back I don’t mean going off half cocked. Push back must be proportional and thoughtful. It means not simply agreeing to be at fault. For example, a statement is made and someone says it is racist. You do not need to attack but you can demand their rationale for calling it racist. At that point you can offer a counter, accept their perspective, or agree to disagree. There should be no automatic requirement for capitulation.

    I would be interested in your thoughts on intersectionality. To me intersectionality is a technique to amass power through alliances for the purpose of bullying a different group who would otherwise have some differential power over a single entity in the otherwise intersectional group. This is similar to gang theory in which the less powerful band together to defeat a more powerful entity.

    In trade policy this is the underlying rationale for the EU so that collectively they can negotiate more favorable trade deals with lower cost producers.

    The cartel economic model mimics intersectional ideology such that they can maximize benefits for the cartel so long as the more powerful does not secretly undermine the less powerful in the cartel.

      • You have my permission. 🙂

        I wholly agree that There should be no automatic requirement for capitulation.
        I think if more people had practiced that with me, my own ethics alarms may have rung sooner. I only mention the headspace because I find in general, weakness attracts weakness. If someone isn’t calm inside themselves, even if the intentions are best, any non-capitulation can be taken & used as a weapon in seconds flat. With everyone having a camera now, it’s especially important to pick battles because I’ve witnessed the quickness with which ugly drama develops, which helps no one. This case is a fair example.

        As far as intersectionality, to me it’s mostly about winning the oppression olympics by adding on to oneself as many minority designations as possible to gain personal, group, and intergroup power. At end of the day though, no matter how “down” groups claim they are with each other, there is always competition as to who has it worse and therefore has the most entitlement to special accommodations. This is why Ms. Thomas didn’t care about Sparkes having Cuban descent. Her skin is darker and she’s female so she wins. Therefore her entitlement is all the greater.

        It’s a very defeatist way to go through life because there will never be enough capitulation or power to heal perceived disadvantage. It does nothing to remove real disadvantage. And really, such behavior only serves those elites who make a lot of money off minority grievances (often ironically white guys).

    • The cartel economic model mimics intersectional ideology such that they can maximize benefits for the cartel so long as the more powerful does not secretly undermine the less powerful in the cartel.

      Could it be we are seeing that very process within the progressive camp?

      Notice how women (particularly feminists), long term allies of progressive cartel, are now being undermined in Title IX. Blacks are experiencing the same, as are ‘traditional’ homosexuals (witness lesbians being told they have to date men with intact junk who think they are female).

      Once the battles are won, you are no longer useful idiots… meaning you are now serfs who are chained to your plows.

    • I interpret the term white privilege as racially insensitive and is used to bully whites into avoiding any debate on the merits of their argument. In short, it’s a racist tactic.

        • Check out some of the threads on EA about white privilege. It is simply a cheap way to imply that any success one has achieved while white is rigged, illegitimate and bogus as if race is the only quality that bears on success or failure.

      • Being no stranger to staggering absurdity, last spring the 77 Square Miles Surrounded By A Sea Of Reality had the rare pleasure of an X-Chromosomal Unit POC blaming Always Some White Supremacy B. S. for her being too stupid to both secure the proper number of signatures and submit them by the deadline in order to run for Mayor. Hillarity ensued!

        This egregious example of virulently systemic racism most foul created quite a stir, so much of one that it prompted the humble submission of an LTE by yours truly.

        The kicker? The horribly aggrieved Toriana Pettaway is Madison’s Racial Equity Coordinator, a position which involves, other than occupying a well-compensated seat (~$84 large PLUS generous municipal public servant benefits), teaching classes on implicit bias.

        The earlobe deep, viscous irony through which Pettaway must have slogged aside, requests for comment on whether she’d be using this experience as an example in one of her upcoming classes haven’t been returned.

  6. A worthy COTD. I think there are a few additional points worth mentioning:

    • It seems Mr. Sparkes didn’t recognize Ms. Thomas in the initial encounter, but found out she was a state legislator when he confronted her on camera.

    • Ms. Thomas went to the express “10 items or less” lane with 15-20 items, while there were 2 other open lanes evidently without lines. Mr. Sparkes took his 3 items through one of these other lanes upon seeing Ms. Thomas in the express lane. While Ms. Thomas’ decision to do so is certainly annoying and anti-social (even if she is 9 months pregnant), I don’t think this situation amounted to a “duty to confront,” at least not for Mr. Sparkes. Of course, supermarkets should enforce their own policies rather than letting customers freely abuse the system while relying on other customers to shame them for it. Publix was unethical to allow this situation to arise.

    • Mr. Sparkes certainly looks white to me (at least as white as Ted Cruz, and definitely whiter than “white Hispanic” George Zimmerman), and his surname implies that he is no more than half-Cuban. Of course, many Cubans are white anyway, descended from Spanish colonists. So it’s odd he claims to be “Hispanic, not white,” but then we know the Democratic Party is happy for people like Mr. Sparkes to be Hispanic or white, depending on the narrative.

  7. Kyjo wrote: “Of course, supermarkets should enforce their own policies rather than letting customers freely abuse the system while relying on other customers to shame them for it. Publix was unethical to allow this situation to arise.”
    Agree 100%! This is a situation I used to encounter regularly before I started doing the majority of my non-food shopping online. I would never confront anyone who seemed to have only a couple of extra items, but I have asked people who were grossly over the Express Lane limit if I might get in front of them because I had less than the posted limit while they did not. I have also asked a few egregious offenders if they missed the sign. Reactions have been predictably mixed, from embarrassed compliance to indignant refusal, but being trained in de-escalation tactics I never pushed the issue beyond bringing it to their attention that someone noticed them breaking the rules. But, I have NEVER witnessed a store employee calling out or even mentioning an Express Lane violation to a customer, anywhere or anytime. When I have raised the issue with store employees, they always said that they were told NOT to make an issue of it with customers. Managers have told me the same thing and owners have told me that it isn’t worth the hassle and a possible violent reaction from an offending customer. They largely rejected my notion that they had an ethical duty to either enforce their rules or eliminate them, and that employees could be trained to courteously call out violators to try and reduce repeat offenders.
    If I were cursed to become a retail merchant with an Express Lane, not only would my employees be trained to deal with errant customers, but my sign would be large and would state in neon letters: “Express lane, 10 items or less. Violators are being INCONSIDERATE JERKS! Don’t be a jerk!” That alone might deter a few, at least, a few of the ones who can read.

    • I agree with James and Kyjo. Posting a sign with no intention of ever enforcing it is dumb. It is wickedly unethical to force customers to police store policies. As in this instance, the situation got wildly out of hand and out of control. Where a mere “mind your own business, white boy” would have been expected, it has now mushroomed into a nation-wide discussion of racism, Jussieism, and Trump.

      I was going to mention that in my initial comments but my Rush-deprived brain wouldn’t function properly.


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