Microaggressions for Straddlers

I think there's a rule somewhere to the effect of “never blog when you're mad” but I'm going to break it.

It's funny, I was having a conversation with a friend this morning and I said, “learning the word straddler to describe myself was just a great thing in my life” and then less than three hours later I got to relive exactly why. Straddlers are people who grow up in one class but move to another class as adults. I grew up working class but now I'm middle class — or at least, I'm pretty sure I am because I own a house, a business, and I have to make decisions at tax time about how much money to put into my IRA. I can't be entirely sure, though, because one of the consequences of social mobility is to know that you can pass but you will never truly belong.  I think I read somewhere that the most productive way to resolve the tensions of being a straddler is to take whatever privileges you have access to as a result of your mobility and try to share them with the people you came from. This has certainly proved true in my case.

This strategy, however, will not protect you from microaggressions — those moments when the world off-handedly reminds you exactly what it thinks of people like you.

One of the many reasons that I love WCA's receptionists is that they protect me from almost all sales calls. Every now and then, though, one slips through despite their efforts, which is how I ended up on the phone today with a representative from Yodle. I told her immediately that WCA has no marketing budget whatsoever, none, zero, zip — but she said, “Please, just hear me out.” I felt bad for her, so I said, all right. And then she started telling me some interesting things about how more and more people are using their smartphones to do Internet searches, and the rules about what appears on those searches are different depending on the device. I know a lot of people find WCA online so I thought, OK, I know I am not going to sign up for anything but she wants me to listen to her and maybe I'll learn something. I imagined having a conversation about it later with Wade and the WCA management collective. Here I am doing research, I thought cheerfully. And so when she told me to log in to a demo site on my computer — a demo site customized for me and WCA — I did.

A map of WCA's locations popped up and she described how Yodle would drive more customers within a 20 mile radius to us. Then a screen appeared with a link to Google. “Now,” she said, “how about if you type in a term that your customers typically use to find you — a term that reflects more of the kind of customers you want. Like 'acupuncture fertility'.”

“OK,” I said, and started typing “affordable acupuncture”.

“Wait, what are you doing?” she said.

“Oh,” I said, “a lot of the people who come see us found us by searching for affordable acupuncture. I've asked them.”

At that point something happened to her voice. Her tone changed completely. It sort of dropped — into a range of semi-amused disapproval. “Oh no. You don't want to do that. If you use the search term affordable acupuncture, you're going to get people who are price conscious.”

“Yes,” I said, “that's who I want.”

“What we've found is that people who are, ah, price conscious, are willing to accept a lower quality of service. They're just thinking about the cost. They're not who you want. Now, if you type in acupuncture fertility...”

I cut her off. “You don't understand. I like people who are price conscious. I like people who don't have a lot of money. That's who we treat, that's who we want to treat. That's why we don't have a marketing budget.”

“Well,” she said, and kind of giggled, “I'm sure that's very NICE for your CUSTOMERS, that's all very NICE, but if you type in acupuncture pain management…”

She went on in this vein for awhile until I cut her off again. By then my heart was pounding. On one level I knew that I had the power in this interaction — this was a sales call for God's sake, it was only happening because she'd said “please” — but on another level I felt like I was having to retrieve my self-respect.

“Listen,” I said, “we do 1,000 treatments a week, when you type in acupuncture Portland we usually come up first, we don't have a marketing budget and this is not a good fit.” As I hung up the phone I could hear her calling out, “Wait! Stop! Why are you…” Click.

It's five hours later and I'm still mad. In part because this wasn't an isolated incident; it's just the first time I recognized it as a microaggression when somebody tells me I'm not running my business correctly because I'm loyal to people like the ones I grew up with. This has happened more times than I can count over the twelve years of WCA's life. A definition of business success is for me to want nothing to do with, and have nothing in common with, people who have to be careful about what they spend. Being a straddler means that even when your business is a local institution, even when it comes up first in search engines,  an Internet marketing salesperson can tell you that you're not good enough and then wonder why you're hanging up on them.

Author: lisafer

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Conference Keynote: Breaking the Ceiling

The theme for this conference is “Breaking Barriers”. You know, there are so many barriers to break in acupuncture that it was really hard to choose which ones to talk about for this speech. But since I’ve spent so much time talking about classism as a barrier, I thought it might be fun to shift gears a little and talk about numbers.


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  1. It took being in CA 101 to finally recognize and accept that I grew up working class…lower than that, even. My entire life up to that point was about pretending I wasn’t. Weird. Thanks for Blogging-while-mad. It was worth breaking the rule.

  2. What’s fascinating to me is how much she’s warning you off, like: didn’t you get the same lifetime of messages that “they’re not who you want”? That being “price conscious” is equated with trouble (when, in fact, it’s the entitled behavior that often seems to come with never having to worry about money that we really don’t relish having to deal with). That it’s “nice for them” but couldn’t possibly be nice for us; and that “them” and “us” are fundamentally different groups of people.

    I get these emails from Amazon and Google and Yelp telling me about the kind of specials they can run for my clinic, and they inevitably talk about how they reach an “affluent” group of customers. Every time it makes me feel icky. I remember going to SCORE counseling when we first started up Grassroots and the counselor (who never really grasped what we were trying to do) kept trying to get us to narrow down our “target demographic” beyond “folks with limited means.” Which admittedly is not at all narrow.

  3. Thanks for the comments, you guys. Now I am wondering why it never occurred to me to identify this kind of thing as microaggression when it was directed at me, or us, by other acupuncturists. Because when I think about it, my entire conversation with the profession has been threaded through with some version of the question, “what is the matter with you that you want to take care of people like that — don’t you understand that who they are and what they need are not good enough?”

  4. My grandmother, god bless her soul, would receive a lot of pushy telemarketer and sales calls. One day, she decided she would keep a mini-fog horn by her phone. When a telemarketer or sales person would call with some sort of pushy nonsense they would get a promptly sound-blasted. It didn’t take long before she was on the
    no-call list.

  5. It’s nice to have someone point out to you, the arguments I have with myself in my head all the time (should I or should I not say “Low cost, affordable”, even…..”cheap”) It’s maybe easier to identify when someone besides your own brain says it.

    Reminds me of the used car lots I saw more of when I was growing up – you know, one guy, lots of marginal cars,no advertising except for lots of flags flapping in the wind, low-rent area, his kids didn’t want to be let off the bus there? Yeah. Still reprogramming myself.

  6. I am glad to be a “price conscience” member of my CA Clinic, the Fabulous PCA in good ole Providence,RI.

    I too grew up in a working class family and now I guess I am too a “straddler”. Complete with House(mortgage,taxes), 2 cars(loans,taxes), 2 jobs(taxes). To stay “middle class” I guess I need to be “Price Conscience” about just everything!

    If I was not “Price Conscience” I would not see my great Punks twice a week. I would probably be a once every other month visitor to the “mainstream lab-coats”, and it would have taken 10 years to get the healing I have received through CA from Diana D at CACC and all the punks at PCA in less than a year!!!!

    CA rocks!!!!

  7. Actually, this reminds me of a SCORE workshop I went to about 3 years ago. One of the presenters was going on and on about a doctor who “upgraded” his practice to a “concierge” medical service. One of our front deskers could not see this doctor as a patient because of how he “upgraded” his medical services. I saw the effect that it had in such a negative way, but the SCORE guy was holding it up as an example of success. About a year ago, the same SCORE presenter started getting AFFORDABLE acupuncture at MAS.