Sweating The Small Stuff?

We’ve all heard the phrase: don’t sweat the small stuff. My problem has always been in determining what qualifies as “small stuff.”

Many years ago, when I was active in groups like the Women’s Political Caucus and other efforts to ensure a level playing field for women, I remember my impatience with efforts to focus on linguistics. I particularly recall being annoyed by criticisms of the then-female-naming of all hurricanes. Really? Wouldn’t women have been better served by, say, efforts to keep pediatricians offices open after six, so that working moms could take their children to the doctor without having to take time off work, and similar tangible improvements?

Over the years, I have grudgingly acknowledged that language does matter, but I am still conflicted when people express outrage over what we might call “First World Problems.” (I hate the way my dishwasher doesn’t completely dry the dishes–poor me! Of course, millions of people cannot afford food, let alone dishwashers, so bitching about an appliance seems morally clueless.)

The appearance of the so-called “cancel culture” has triggered my longstanding ambivalence. Where do we draw the line?

What made me think about my own recurring internal debate was an article I read a couple of months ago about an effort to make Trader Joe Markets re-name some of its foodstuffs.

The popular grocery chain, famous for its organic, gourmet, and imported foods, came in for some unwelcome notice recently when The New York Times, followed by other news outlets, focused attention on a petition condemning Trader Joe’s for its “racist branding and packaging.” The petition, launched on Change.org by a California high school student, declared that the company “perpetuates harmful stereotypes” by labeling some of its international foods with international names, such as Trader José‘s for its Mexican beer, Trader Jacques’ for its ham-and-cheese croissants, Arabian Joe’s for its Middle Eastern flatbread, and Trader Ming’s for its Kung Pao chicken. The use of these familiar ethnic names amounts to racism, scolded 17-year-old Briones Bedell, “because they exoticize other cultures.”

Columnist Jeff Jacoby pushed back with an argument that I found persuasive:

In reality, they do just the opposite: They familiarize other cultures. They present international foods as accessible and appealing. Far from portraying foreign peoples and their foods as weirdly exotic, the lighthearted branding helps make them as welcome and appetizing as traditional “American” foods. Trader Joe’s ethnic packaging exemplifies the melting pot at its most engaging, lowering the barriers between consumers of different backgrounds and encouraging Americans to explore the variety and joys of other cuisines.

Trader Joe’s customers evidently agreed–protesting the petition, and–as the chain noted in a media release–” reaffirming that these name variations are largely viewed in exactly the way they were intended­ — as an attempt to have fun with our product marketing,”

Jacoby argues that there is (or should be) an obvious difference between brand names and logos like the Aunt Jemima “mammy” stereotype and other names and products — like the Dixie Chicks, “Paw Patrol,” and even the Coco Pops cereal emblem — that have been criticized for no apparent reason.

It isn’t always easy to distinguish between “woke” efforts to raise sensitivity to genuine slights, on the one hand, and what has appropriately been called “virtue signaling”–accusations intended to position the accuser as more tolerant/aware/inclusive than the target of the criticism, on the other. But in a time when rightwing extremists pretending to be Black Lives Matter are fomenting civil unrest, and white supremicists are infiltrating police departments, warriors for civic justice need to make the effort.

We can sweat the smaller stuff later.


  1. Very good. It is an important distinction to make between superficial “virtue signaling” and genuine efforts to end racist and oppressive policy. The former is designed to seem transformative without doing anything, and the latter is meant to create the real change needed in the world today. Thanks for the thoughtful essay.

  2. Could George Carlin possibly have been prophetic when he told us, “Don’t sweat the petty stuff, and don’t pet the sweaty stuff.”? That warning fits today’s Trump world with all produce and almost all food and other products being imported from somewhere beyond our borders. Read more on labeled foods than the familiar brand names to the source of the products contained inside.

    Moving beyond naming hurricanes, brand names and logos such as Aunt Jemima stereotypes to the misnomer “president” title attached to Donald Trump and “Republican” still considered the “GOP”. The Black Lives Matter movement has resulted in violence, looting and burning with a few actual killings and being labeled as “protests” and police can’t seem to sort out looters from protesters to arrest them to stop the destruction of neighborhoods.

    One of the greatest misnomers in this country today is Fox “News”! Last night at 10:00 I began switching between MSNBC and CNN actual news programs for the latest Trump…I don’t even know what to call it. They were both providing vital information; for some reason I decided to see how Fox “News” was handling this latest Trump disaster. Laura Ingraham was reporting Mueller knew early on there was no collusion between Trump and Russia, Antifa continues causing violence in BLM protests in Portland and they have stopped using facial recognition technology and their protests have forced the removal of black leaders. They also reported BLM protesters were yelling profanities at cops in Los Angeles; then she moved on to ridiculing Biden’s presidential campaign and the new Oscar movie nomination requirements. The Woodward book was mentioned among other news bits in the crawl across the bottom of the screen. Once I saw what she was reporting, I turned on the light, got my pad and pen and began taking notes; no way I could remember all of this crap while fuming at the entire Ingraham program.

    Most of us here on the blog are looking past the sick job of “product marketing” the GOP has done and continues to do on the Trump administration. Will it continue now that Trump has admitted/excused his cover up of the Covid-19 Pandemic as “protecting” us from becoming panicked by the Democratic hoax. Yes; he later yesterday returned to the “hoax” label of almost 200,000 Americans dying of Covid-19.

  3. It’s only “small stuff” when it’s someone else’s problem. When it is everyone’s problem it’s either a crisis or a political issue.
    We have way too man crises and political issues these days.

  4. The most worrisome aspect of #BLM is that who say they’re supporters will do little more than make symbolic gestures to indicate they’re woke. But when it comes to the hard decisions of where they’ll live, where they’ll work, where their kids go to school and who they hang out with they’ll be the same enemy MLK Jr. talked a loud in his Letter From Birmingham Jail – White Moderates. The petty stuff is not really petty. It’s an illusion.

  5. JoAnn, you already know the answer as his faithful followers will consider this just another conspiracy to try and derail the chosen one. They already know who the evil ones are, so when evil points out the faults of their fearless leader, it only causes their support to grow.

    What honestly scares me is there might be a more sophisticated propagandist behind Trump willing to take over the reins willing to manipulate the Trumpians for a more dastardly deed.

    A wise sage once told me that whenever there is a disturbance within, it has nothing to do with any circumstance outside of me. Instead, it is a muse wanting to teach me about self. So far, the exception to this rule has presented has been limited. If honest, I can always find a nugget to grow from, so all is not lost. 😉

    Trader Joes — carry on. I accept your international branding.

  6. Todd; those who are tired of fighting will use this outing of his cover up by Bob Woodward to slack off…or stop working on ridding this country of Trump and as you said, his supporters will continue their support. Those of us who are aware of Fox “News” continuing their support of Trump – pre-I-didn’t-want-to-cause-a-panic – uncovering of the lies we knew he was telling, will stay our course knowing the Republicans WILL NOT give up their control and power over this country. They are still working at local and state levels to retain ownership of Electoral College members to assure another appointment to the presidency in case the Trump supporters will again come up short on the popular vote.

    As I see it; nothing has changed regarding this General Election at local, state and federal levels for those of us who will continue fighting to get out the vote. We now have tapes and Trump’s own admission of lies regarding the Covid-19 Pandemic which can be part of Impeachment, Part 2. As Theresa said; we have way too many crises and political issues these days; the fact that we now KNOW he has killed off thousands of Americans with his lies will just be added to the list for those who don’t want to bother voting him out. The Republicans again/still have the Electoral College members “up their sleeve”.

  7. The narcissist in chief says, “Perhaps, I lied, but I did it for your own good.”

    Trump isn’t a leader; he’s too self-centered. He can demand you follow him, but that will only get codependent followers. Maybe people with daddy issues — I don’t know.

    His lack of sophistication has opened pandora’s box on many issues this country faces and needs to heal as we move forward. We cannot wait to heal. We must do it concurrently with moving this country forward (drastically) while we heal the divisiveness or lack of unity. These are systemic issues including BOTH political parties.

    Biden isn’t capable but he can appoint the right people. Or, he can distribute patronage gigs to loyal followers of a captive party.

    What Joe does in January will tip his hat…

  8. Weird sweat on the “Left Coast” – think Portland…a woman wrote to a “Dear Abby-type” local newspaper column asking what to do when she was “shamed” by a neighbor whose kids had put a homemade BLM sign on their lawn and she only had a “corporate” factory-made one.

  9. It was interesting to hear The Trumpter’s deny the Trumpet ever called our Vets, living and dead “Suckers and Losers”. The Trumpet denied saying it, yet we know he is a serial liar. None of the usual suspects like Ted Cruz, Lindsay Graham, Marco Rubio, or Jim Jordan rose to the Trumpet’s defense.

    Now we hear in the Trumpet’s own words he knew as far back as February Corona was deadly. I always suspected a cover-up. We have lavished the CIA and NSA with billions of dollars to gather intelligence. They knew Corona was no ordinary flu. It is beyond a doubt our bureaucracy did it’s job.

    The Trumpet’s excuse now that he admitted it – He knew Corona was killer – He did not want to cause a panic. Yet, he has used every dirty trick to cause a panic concerning voter fraud, BLM, protests in the streets.

    Once again the GOP is silent concerning The Trumpet’s own admission about Corona.

  10. Biden isn’t “capable?” Biden has shown his competency over a long, long career. I hope you’re not alluding to Biden’s supposed mental acuity problems, which is nothing more than Trump/Putin propaganda based on nothing. Anyone who has followed Biden’s career, knows he’s been stuttering, stammering, occasionally osing his train of thought at times, committing gaffes for 50 years plus. Do you really want to compare Biden’s mental acuity to Trump’s? Biden would win that hands down.

    Sure, as a Republican, I wish I could vote for a conservative for President , someone who is empathetic, intelligent, competent, fit for office, respects democratic values, loves this country and is a patriot.. But we Republicans chose not to nominate such a person.

  11. 45 knew and denied to prevent a Market crash like ’29. It had nothing to do with saving people’s lives, let alone the lives of his cult members.

    When the election is over and the EC has voted, it won’t matter if he lost, he won’t leave voluntarily.

    I have no confidence that the military and law enforcement will uphold their oath of service. Way too many of the professional law enforcement members and organizations have endorsed 45. The boots on the ground will do whatever they are ordered to do by superiors. We have already seen ample evidence of that with ICE actions and the “troops” who cleared the peaceful protestors in front of the WH.

    When presented with arguments about who was responsible for horrific murderous crimes throughout history, I am always astonished to hear that one person is responsible, when the fact is that no one individual massacred millions. It is not logical and insupportable when doing the math. 45 does not act alone. He has a huge mass of willing, enthusiastic surrogates to enable and implement his delusional grandeur. It has and will continue to cost people’s lives and livelihoods as the long-term effects of the virus cripple millions for the rest of their lives.


  12. Thanks for your usual gift of logic, relativity and ”common sense”….which, sad to say, isn’t so ”common” these days.

  13. Theresa – you nailed it, and succinctly. I think the most impeachable admission revealed about Trump yesterday, it may surprise some to know, was not the serial and knowing prevarication in re the virus but rather the admission in re his open discussion of our atomic weaponry and my still grave concern for his still secret conversation with Putin in Helsinki and back channels since. When this creature thinks he has the upper hand, braggadocio takes over, as in “We’ve got better atomic weaponry than you have.” Thus the subject is changed from how many infected and dead from his inattention to the virus to our national security, and I do not feel secure with a blabbermouth at the helm who falls just a bit short of a Churchill in diplomatic terms, especially one who literally worships the successful dictatorships of a Putin or a Xi or a Lukashenko.
    As to the topic today, small stuff in the aggregate equals large stuff, so perhaps quantity as well as quality is involved in drawing the line.

  14. First, small stuff. “Virtue signalling.” I was always told that virtue was, well, virtuous. It was a good thing. People who had it displayed it naturally. Whose idea was it to turn good into evil and why did we go along?

    Big stuff. Trump’s failure to be President for all of we the people in favor of only those who live on their wealth instead of their work. Again I was always told that work is a good thing and that I should try to contribute what I could create with what I was born with and into as I was able. My creation of the wealth would pay my families bills too. Whose idea was it to turn that good into evil and why did we go along?

    Let’s not go along any more.

  15. Pete,

    “Whose idea was it to turn that good into evil and WHY DID WE GO ALONG?
    Let’s not go along any more.”

    The reason you’ll went along, all these years, was the fear of being CRUCIFIED by the DEVIANT ELITE, otherwise known as the RACIST, ANTI-SEMITIC OLIGARCHY.

    That’s a reasonable fear, wouldn’t you think?

  16. Please don’t continue to make the same mistake as many Americans are making: It sure the HELL ain’t the Jews behind this SHIT. Pete don’t you agree?

  17. Sheila, I suspect the cancel culture reached its apogee earlier this month when a whiny child at the University of Southern California complained that a professor’s (Greg Patton’s) explanation of how Chinese mumble to get their thoughts together (as when we say in English, “like” or “um” or “er”) offended him. The communications professor, whose course is now suspended, was accused of damaging the mental health of some black students.

    I propose we launch an investigation into this and, in accordance with the students’ apparent wishes, eliminate every offensive sound from every language that might offend someone, somewhere in the world. This project will cost more than the GNP of China and the U.S. combined, but if it prevents whiny babies from having their feelings hurt, who could argue with such a good cause? Of course we will have to start in Hong Kong, a place I once resided, and burn down the store that called itself “Fuk Yu.” Or perhaps in Germany, where every journey, referred to in the third person, sounds exactly like “fart.” There is no shortage of target offenders, some of whom, to satisfy our sensitivities, will be forced to abandon their languages entirely.

  18. Terry,

    “There is no shortage of target offenders, some of whom, to satisfy our sensitivities, will be forced to abandon their languages entirely.”


  19. People seem to seek out ways to be offended. I was at some conference at IU–and I learned for the first time about the term micro-aggression. It was an Asian-American who said he gets offended when asked where is he from? As if ‘we’ all assume he is not American. My question to him if he was offended everytime that question was asked or if there was a certain tone that indicated that the person was asking this question with the assumption of a more nefarious intention. He looked at me like I was nuts or maybe I didn’t get it and so I explained–I am interested in people and knowing their background. I have also adopted a child from China and so my question as to where he was from could be me just wanting to know him better.

    In my young years I was all about PC but not really now–I think PC keeps us from having real conversations. If you are constantly in fear that you may inadvertently offend people you will never say a word and the tough conversations are not being had.

    I didn’t know the word Dego was bad as my Italian father-in-law used it all the time. I grew up in Terre Haute–not really the cultural capital of anything. I thought Dego was a region in Italy and not a slur. Should I be condemned forever–I think the tone and the matter means a tad more.

    I have alot more things to be angry over, but that is from getting older.

  20. Marv,

    An excellent guide for catching up on the shenanigans of the current leaders of the U.S. oligarchy is Robert Reich’s new book called, “The System.” In particular, he takes on Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan and shows how Dimon maintains his public face as the archangel of wall street banking while the underlying effects of his power and wealth disadvantage all of us who aren’t members of his club. Reich is something of an insider and is so well informed that the reader comes come away from the book realizing that the mal-distribution of wealth explains most of our problems. However, “power to the people” doesn’t seem to me like a good solution when so many adore a president with so much blood on his hands and a void in the very spot where there should be a brain.

  21. Quite frankly, I think one thing that needs to be scaled back – is the phenomenon of white people being offended on behalf of other non-white people. All too often, I notice the uproar originating this way.

  22. Terry,

    “However, “power to the people” doesn’t seem to me like a good solution when so many adore a president with so much blood on his hands and a void in the very spot where there should be a brain.”

    You’re right that’s not going to be enough. Reich is afraid to go all the way. He doesn’t want to be CRUCIFIED. Can you blame him?

    Our answer lies within the VIRUS OF HATRED which George Clooney discussed in the “The Daily Beast,” back on June 1st. I believe that was the date. He laments that there is NO VACCINE and he’s right, there is never going to be one.

    However, DIAGNOSING it, TRACKING it, and TREATING it is still a viable option at this juncture. It’s doable.

  23. From “The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It” by Robert B. Reich (Alfred A. Knoff, New York, 2020) p. 161:

    “In other words, racism and xenophobia were proximate causes of Trump’s 2016 victory, and they continue to contribute to his support. But racism was not, and is not, the underlying cause. However, much the oligarchy may want Americans to believe that racism was responsible for Trump, in fact it was anti-establishment fury.”

    It’s both. The RACISM and ANTI-SEMITISM are at the deepest level of the system. They’re in the MINDS OF MEN [and women]. Trump used anti-Semitism, the first chance he had by taking on George Soros and Move-on in the first months of his campaign. It’s very strange, everyone seems to have, conveniently, forgotten all about that.

    This is Robert Reich’s 17th book without dealing with the deepest part of the system. If he had done so at the beginning, he probably wouldn’t have had one of his books published. Who is he kidding?

  24. I pointed out to a “conservative” commenter on a Facebook post, that the king of “Cancel Culture” is Trump. Just as one example, he managed to ruin the career of Kapernack, all the while complaining the whole time loudly how liberals are exploiting it.

    This is part of the political Jujitsu that Trump is so good at, or maybe it is just projection of his own evils on to other people.

  25. Elaine – you remind me of my time in DC in the late ’70s – at a party, the first question was “where are you from?”, and yes, occasionally you’d meet a DC native (the second questions was “what agency do you work for?”)

    Sheila – I remember (1) don’t sweat the small stuff, and (2) it’s all small stuff
    I hate the term “woke”, the forced mangling of English, and assumptions that I have to have an epiphany and confess my sins, because I look “white” (never considered myself white, nor did the gunman in Pittsburgh) – but then again, I was never politically correct, just living on a “different plane” as a friend once put it

    I always throw away something I don’t need, just before I wish I had it – the British magician, skeptic, (and I would say perhaps curmudgeon), Lewis Jones, had an article in an old issue of the newsletter Skeptical Briefs (now recycled paper). He was picking on the forced restructuring of English, comparing it to gendered languages like French, and stated (I can’t verify this one) that the book, “Men and Microbes” was almost named “Peoplehood and Microbes” by a nervous publisher receiving criticism for sexism.

    Sheila – don’t sweat about figuring out what not to sweat about either – you’ll know when it’s big enough to matter – I’m sure of that

  26. Cancel culture isn’t a thing; or another way, it’s not a new thing. People have always protested against things they didn’t like. (Ask the Smothers Brothers.) It comes down to free speech. The girl has every right to express her opinion about Trader Joe’s, just like everyone else has their right to respond. The discussion should be welcomed. Hopefully it helps to educate.

    The new concept of Cancel Culture is the just Fox News and the right being offended that most of the country has left the right’s values behind. People express negative opinions about the right’s values and suggest change, and the right is triggered to respond “cancel culture!” (It’s a little like Jerry Seinfeld no longer getting as many laughs with his ‘gay french king’ jokes. Times change. Some jokes just aren’t going to work like they once did.) Basically it’s the projection game of the right at work; they like to call people ‘snowflakes’ for criticising their views, but really it’s the right reacting badly to that criticism.

    On the BLM criticism, given the huge number of videos available that show police behaving badly and violently and ignoring people’s rights, and the multiple known cases where white supremacists have been found to be behind looting and violence as an attempt to start their idiotic race war or otherwise reflect badly on the protestors, I am perfectly happy to give the BLM protestors the benefit of any doubt. If I was nearby (instead of out here in the middle of nowhere in Canada), I’d be out there protesting, too. The only thing I find difficult to understand is why it took so long for the people to rise up and head into the streets.

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