Dare to Ask: Are slippers and bare feet in public
By Phillip J. Milano
Why do I constantly see black people shopping in stores with their slippers
on? - Julie, 27, Akron, Ohio
And why do whites go into public with no shoes on? - Jimia, Grand Blanc,
I’ve seen white college kids wander around in PJs on campus, but it seems
like the majority of people who shop in slippers are black. - Mary C., white
I work in a grocery store and see white people do this all the time. - Grant,
Sierra Vista, Ariz.
I am white and have been known to wear not only slippers but my jammies to
the grocery store. It’s not just a “black thing.” - Maureen, Pittsburgh
Our stakeouts of Whole Foods, camping supply stores, slow-food farm tours and
non-dance hall reggae concerts turned up no swarms of whites donning slippers.
Likewise, high-def satellite images of un-whole grocers, indoor event suppliers,
faster-food locales and a few Tyler Perry movies did not find them overrun with
blacks in casual morning footsies.
Yet the blacks-wearing-slippers stereotype persists. Even President Barack
Obama took a media hit last fall for urging a black audience to “take off your
bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes.”
Who … huh? We decided to ask the experts.
“I’ve never seen blacks wearing slippers,” offered Norine Dresser, a
folklorist who’s white and wrote the “Multicultural Manners” column for the Los
Angeles Times for years. “My only guess would be that if this occurs, it might
have to do with the high percentage of diabetes in the African-American
community, which can cause foot problems.”
Also, people overall just seem to be more “relaxed” nowadays, she said.
“I once did a book that had a cultural reference to Madonna going out in a
bustier and my editor objected, saying that was just a fad. Well, guess what?
People are wearing all sorts of undergarments out now.”
Meanwhile, KnightKrawler, a Jacksonville spoken-word artist and cultural
commentator, said that in “certain neighborhoods,” he does see slippers worn
more often by his fellow blacks.
“They might think, ‘Well, I’m just going to put them on for a quick run out
of the house’, but they end up going and getting the paper, then a haircut … all
of a sudden they end up in Target.”
He even sees them worn by the retail cashiers he supervises, sending them
home after they tell him they “forgot, or just want to be comfy.”
Does it mean they’re less refined than whites? Not when white people are
sticking their bare feet out their car windows all the time.
“It’s beyond age or race, it’s just preferences for comfort. I wouldn’t go
out with slippers, but it’s not a societal breakdown. It’s people having an ‘I
don’t give a damn’ moment.”
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Phillip Milano, author of "I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee)," moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Keep the cross-cultural dialogue going at his
Jacksonville.com blog or at www.yforum.com. Send general
column comments to yforum (at) yforum.com. You can also hear his