Two months and ten days

Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life…”

—”Seasons of Love” from Rent

Two months and ten days.

That’s the amount of time between the global outcry, “Let the Syrian Refugees In!” after the heartwrenching image of a small boy on a beach, to the current calls to “Keep the Syrian Refugees Out!”

How transient the sentiment, that the face of Syrians fleeing war has gone from the desperate families running across European fields, tripped by a sneering camera woman that we jeered, to some menacing phantom terrorist. (That passport? Faked. Will an account from The Paper of Record suffice for you?)

Two months and ten days after the limp body of a child made us feel that we could all, any of us, be the haggard and bereaved, many of us find the shocked and bloodied Parisians much more kin, and join in with a chorus of suspicion.

Two months and ten days after the poetry of Warsan Shire burst out in public view, speaking for the why of refugees—

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well…”

(I will not quote further from her deeply moving poem. You can find it elsewhere online, but I do not have her permission to use it here, and so I will not simply take it. I hope that the site I linked has her permission and has offered her recompense.)

Two months and ten days. Aylan Kurdi, I’m sorry.

Hard to Believe?

It’s hard to believe that this still happens in 2015…”


Dear white allies of social justice,

When you say, “hard to believe” — what comes across is, “I live in a white bubble, and I continue to be mired in the apparent reality of it. I approach the reporting of my friends of color with doubt, because of the disparity between their experience and mine, and have not yet come to interrogating the very real divide that exists between us because of systemic issues.”

This is not a harmless thing you’re saying, this “hard to believe”.

When will you stop finding it hard to believe? When will you stop putting us to tests that you yourself would find difficult to pass? When will you stop demanding excellence in reporting and conduct from us, when you give whiteness all the slack?

When will you stop with the disparity in “well, maybe…” for white transgressions when POC who are not absolutely saintly are excoriated?


What is the color of a sheet of paper?

I don’t see color. Racism starts when people distinguish between people because of skin tone.”—(not from the Dictionary of Social Justice)

What color is a sheet of paper?

“Well, it’s white, unless it’s colored paper.”

“Why is it white by default?”

“Things just show up better on white paper.”

There’s an art exercise where one draws on black paper instead of white. Often that results in someone using white marks on black just as if it were black marks on white paper—a simple inversion—but sometimes, it leads to a deeper shift in concept. What happens when you paint with light instead of dark? When you make dark the default, instead of the colored-in?

What if you went further? What if, instead of marking the paper, you used pinpricks and knife cuts? What if instead of light shining on the paper, you assumed light shining from behind the paper? What color paper would be useful in that situation?

White paper is the default “best” for a whole set of parameters we rarely examine.

…but we bleach our tree pulp paper to achieve whiteness because of those unexamined parameters.

Assuming the undefined “person” is White carries a similar set of unexamined parameters and consequences. When, as a person perceived as White by those around you, you assume that “color blind” means “like the default person” and your default person is white, this is like handing out only black crayons and not noticing that some people are not using white paper. The crayon choice was made without considering the impact it would have on papers outside your [unexamined] default assumption.

“But I offered the entire box!” 

And how were the colors in the box chosen? And why are we using crayons? Why are we assuming putting down marks on the paper?

Imagine living your whole life as colored paper in a world that assumes paper is white. “If you just put down your marks carefully, and with good attention to placement, your message will be easily understood!”

Mind your Peas & Queues!

Move Over, Emily, it’s post-everything etiquette by Mx Mannerly. Because you don’t want to be That Guy.”

I’ve been promising the people who follow my social justice commentary elsewhere that I would be posting a weekly etiquette column. I’d been putting it off because I didn’t have a catchy title for it, but thanks to the quick wits of my friends (waving hello to Jennie Worden (@jennie1ofmany), Tanya Washburn, and Miriam Rosenberg Rocek, who were fast off the line when I posted a query on Facebook), inspiration has finally struck and it’s time to get this party started. Send your post-everything etiquette questions to

The world is full of etiquette manuals. Is there room for another one?

Actually, there seems to be a desperate need for a guide to etiquette in that explains the new expectations created by a world that’s increasingly demanding cultural competency in social justice awareness. There is an abundance of distraught pleas from good-hearted people who are baffled about how their well-meaning actions got taken as “problematic”, or even racist. You’re not a white supremacist—you have a lifetime of support for civil rights—how did this happen? Because you’re actually trying to do the right things, you did ask, only to get a completely confused answer, or perhaps you got a rather brusque invitation to figure it out yourself.

How does one even begin to figure this out?!

Starting today, you ask Mx. Mannerly.


Why is it called “Peas and Queues”?

One traditional phrase for manners, is “minding one’s P’s and Q’s”. In a modern, global world of etiquette, how the table manners around Peas have no single answer: are you in a place where you’re eating with your hands? With chopsticks? With a spoon? With a fork and knife—and if so, tines up or tines down? American or Continental? Queues, as international travelers know, are not evenly distributed. Londoners and Bangkockians queue, but in other places trying to impose that sort of order is not just herding cats, but an attempt at cultural dominance.

So this is an international cultural competency thing?

I’d like for all of us to think about the intranational issues we face, and the transnational issues we face, with as much curiosity and compassion (rather than anxiety and anger) as we do international quirks. And to recognize that intent is not the ultimate safeguard for everyone’s safety.

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Something like a centipede problem

A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, “Pray, which leg moves after which?”
This raised her doubts to such a pitch,
She fell exhausted in the ditch
Not knowing how to run.

Classically, the Centipede’s Dilemma refers to the problem of a complex task, which one has learned to perform semi-consciously, becoming nearly impossible when one attempts to micromanage the process consciously. What I’m struggling with here is more akin to Writer’s Block, except that my problem is not whether to write, but on what topic. Reactivity serves to select direction for me at other venues, but here I’m hoping that Shades Between becomes a repository of my more deliberate work, which has been piling up as I’ve been prioritizing other tasks. Thus, a quandary—where should I start?

I am betting the solution to this in an approach I call, “There has to be a first pancake.” It’s a truism that for most of us who do not make pancakes daily, that the first pancake is usually terrible: burnt, stuck, runny, thick, or weirdly deep-fried. The solution is to practice making pancakes until one has the perfect setup (and the requisite adjustments) down to rote. And thus, time in the kitchen teaches us practical lessons for everything else.

It’s always been the plan to have Food Fridays here, touching on precarity, gastrotourism, cultural appropriation vs. culinary fusion, and even some classic food blogging. Wednesdays, I’ll be answering questions about etiquette that centers social justice awareness rather than the status quo. (I’ll post a call for your conundrums soon.) I have thoughts about Sundays, and there’s very likely to be posts in between about pop culture and parenting and politics and the long list of my other interests, because I’ve never been good at staying entirely within the box except when I was coloring.

And now, having broached the breach, I do have a post to write.

Step outside the box, friend

We are encouraged to think in terms of oppositions and binary states—yes/no, black/white, straight/gay, male/female, privileged/marginalized—but our actual world, and actual people, don’t fit so neatly into those tight boxes. Our technologies may depend on on/off states, but the humans using them want fuzzy logic instead.

Welcome to, where I’ll be posting my thoughts on navigating the unmarked middle ground.