TIME Family

The 3 Comments Adoptive Parents Hate To Hear

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

Adoptive parents have real love, with their real children, and are real families. End of discussion

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I am at the grocery check out line with my four-year-old son, and the cashier says:

“Your son is so beautiful.”

“Thank you, we think so too,” I reply as I note her observing my blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin.

She inquires, “Is your husband dark-skinned?”

“No, he isn’t.”

“Oh, well is he from Latin America?”

“No, he isn’t.”

“Oh,” the cashier replies beginning to look puzzled but now wants to solve this mystery. “Well, your son has such beautiful dark features.”

“Thank you, we think he is so handsome too.”

She probes some more.

“That is so interesting, you and your husband are fair-skinned, but your son has dark features.”

The running commentary in my head says, “Thank you, Sherlock, for pointing out the obvious to me. I had never noticed that before.”

But the words that come from my mouth say instead, “I know, it is because our son is adopted.”

“Oh, he is adopted. That is so interesting . . .”

Now, the next few comments in the conversation I know are well-meaning, but please hear me out because they can really cause my heart rate to increase, breath to shorten and blood pressure to rise.

However, let’s first talk about adoption. Adoption is beautiful and not that rare of an occurrence. Chances are likely that you know someone adopted, have met adoptive parents or perhaps have even mulled over the idea of adopting. Regardless of adoption or through biological birth, like any regular parent I love my four-year-old son. He means the world to me. Yes, our son is adopted, and just like your story, our family story is incredibly special, vulnerable, and personal.

But that is just the point; our family story is our special story about how we have a family, just like yours is yours. However, in my experience, when people hear the word adoption it seems to give them this idea that they can, tact aside, ask many personal questions about life, our son, and the context that he was adopted from.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me save you the grief or embarrassment of saying the following three comments that inevitably always arise in a conversation.

1. “You are so amazing for adopting — I couldn’t do what you did.”

This comment gets me every time! First, would you ever say that to a new mother who just gave birth to a child? “You are so amazing for giving birth.” No, never! In fact, that would sound absolutely ridiculous if such comments were made.

Secondly, and more importantly, these comments are utterly false because every child deserves a home. Life is not about me, and I am not a saint; it is my son’s and every child’s right that is born on this earth to have parent(s) that deeply love and value them.

The “I couldn’t do what you did” part just makes you sound like you haven’t fully thought that sentence through because, yes, you could adopt. Regardless, every child deserves a home. Adoptive parents are parents just by a different means. But that is all. They are parents, not saints.

2. “Are you going to have any of your own real children?”

Really?! You have got to be joking. I did not know that having a child come from my uterus was the only criteria for some relationship to be considered real! Think about this: Is the love to your spouse or partner real? Do you question that bond of love and ask others if their bond is real? My son is my own real child! It does not matter to me as to whether my son comes from my own actual body because I can 100 percent confidently tell you he feels like he is a part of me.

On a different note, when you find out my son is adopted and ask me this question, coupled with the fact that you don’t even know me, this can be highly offensive. Rather, it would be much more appreciated if you asked, “How many more children will you have?”

3. “Do they know who their real family is?”

It is 3:30 a.m. and our son has just woken up to crawl into our bed because he is scared. Sleepily I say to him, “Hold on sweetie, let’s let Daddy sleep. I will come lay beside you.”

(Having three in a queen-size bed inevitably means one of us isn’t going to sleep that night.)

He slumps down back to his bed, which happens to be right beside our bed, but on the way he hits his head on the night-time dresser. Startled by his cry of pain, I jump out of bed as fast as lightning, pick him up and start consoling and rocking him. My husband is awakened by the commotion and jumps out of bed to get a cloth for the tiny cut on his face.

In light of the story, let’s get back to the question of knowing who our son’s “real” family is. I think it is safe to say that teaching our son the difference between right and wrong, teaching him how to communicate and respect others, showing him how to ride a bike, hold a spoon, wipe his bum, and, most importantly, giving him unconditional love and support are the requirements for being a real family. So to answer your question, yes our son knows exactly who his real family is.

Now, I do not want to leave you feeling shamed or like I will harp on you should you ask me any questions about my family. I know what you mean when you ask me these questions of “realness,” but language is powerful and has serious connotations that can leave adopted children not feeling like they are truly a part of a family. How tragic! The take home message is: Please be tactful of what you ask, especially if you do not know me.

Adoptive parents have real love, with their real children, and are real families. End of discussion.

Renae Regehr is a graduate student and mother. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME U.S.

Police: College Basketball Player May Have Died From Choking on Chewing Gum in Her Sleep

The community at California University of Pennsylvania morns the loss of a bright student and talented player

Shanice Clark, a 21-year-old student and basketball player at California University of Pennsylvania, was found dead in her off-campus apartment over the weekend, and California, PA, police say preliminary reports from medical personnel about what appears to be an accidental death indicate Clark may have aspirated chewing gum while sleeping, the Associated Press reports. The exact cause of death will come from the autopsy, the results of which were not “immediately released.”

Clark was found by her roommate after falling out of bed early Sunday morning, according to WPXI. Clark was unresponsive and taken to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead an hour later.

Dr. Karen Hjerpe, the California University of Pennsylvania athletic director, said in a statement: “Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the family and friends of Shanice Clark. Shanice was a bright student and talented player. Her smile and personality will be missed.”

 

 

TIME society

How To Shake Up Gender Norms

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Will continuing to challenge gender norms and document their harmful impacts lead to their extinction — or evolution?

What determines your destiny? That’s a big question with what should be a complicated answer. But for many, the answer can be reduced to one word: anatomy. Freud’s assertion in 1924 that biology is the key determinant of gender identity, for instance, was for years a hegemonic idea in both law and culture.

Ever since Freud made this notion famous, critics have been objecting to body parts as central predictors of one’s professional and personal path. Many now believe that identity isn’t solely the domain of nature or nurture, but some combination of the two. Still, Freud’s theory isn’t yet dead; enduring gender norms show us that the bodies we’re born into still govern lives of women and men around the world.

But according to some recent research, its influence may be fading. In one new study, a majority of millennials surveyed argued that gender shouldn’t define us the way it has historically, and individuals shouldn’t feel pressure to conform to traditional gender roles or behaviors. Enforcing norms can even have health risks, according to another study. Some women’s colleges are now reportedly rethinking their admissions policies to account for gender non-conforming students. And even President Obama is getting in on the norm-questioning trend: While sorting holiday gifts for kids at a Toys for Tots in December, the president decided to place sporting equipment in the box for girls. “I’m just trying to break down these gender stereotypes,” he said in a viral video.

But will continuing to challenge gender norms and document their harmful impacts lead to their extinction? To answer that question, we need to first consider another: What’s so bad about traditional gender norms and the way we currently categorize men and women?

For one thing, the way we categorize gender is far too facile, explained Alice Dreger, a leading historian of science and medicine, in a 2010 TED Talk. “We now know that sex is complicated enough that we have to admit nature doesn’t draw the line for us between male and female… we actually draw that line on nature,” she told the audience. “What we have is a sort of situation where the farther our science goes, the more we have to admit to ourselves that these categories that we thought of as stable anatomical categories that mapped very simply to stable identity categories are a lot more fuzzy than we thought.”

Fuzzy – and maybe not entirely real in the first place.

“If there’s a leading edge that is the future of gender, it’s going to be one that understands that gender is relative to context,” said author and gender theorist Kate Bornstein at a recent New America event, noting that geography, religion, and family attitudes are all contextual factors that can alter one’s perception of gender as a determinant of identity. As long as we hold onto the notion that gender is a constant, “we’ll keep doing things to keep the lie in place,” she said. But the fact is that “it doesn’t stand on its own, and is always relative to something.” Bornstein argues that the trick to stripping these norms of their harmful power is to mock and expose them for both their flimsiness and stringency.

Which is what photographer Sophia Wallace attempts with her work. Girls Will Be Bois, for example, is a documentary of female masculinity, featuring women who have traditionally “un-feminine” occupations – bus driver, boxer, basketball player – and a sartorial masculinity (baggy pants, and bare-chested). In Modern Dandy, Wallace switches up the way women and men are directed to look at the camera (or not) in photographs – whether to appear submissive (traditionally feminine) or dominant (traditionally masculine). Cliteracy, Wallace’s most recent work, uses imagery of the clitoris and text about female sexuality to illuminate a paradox: we’re obsessed with sexualizing female bodies, and yet the world is “illiterate when it comes to female sexuality.”

But it’s not as bad as it once was. Wallace thinks that photography is evolving – that some gender-focused imagery is less tinged with ignorance today. “There’s so much that I’ve seen that has been hopeful,” she said. “There are actually images of female masculinity, trans-men and trans-women now that didn’t exist when I was in my teens and early 20s. In other ways we have so far to go.”

Part of the struggle of relinquishing gender norms comes from an uncomfortable truth. “Men have everything to gain when we overthrow patriarchy…but they also have something to lose from giving up their traditional masculinity,” said Tavia Nyong’o, an associate professor of performance studies at NYU, emphasizing that male rights vary widely across race and class divisions and that white men have even more to lose than men of color. What do they lose, exactly? Privileges (the ability to open carry a gun and not be worried that they’ll be shot by the police, Nyong’o argued). Control – over political, economic and cultural domains. Access – to networks, jobs and economic opportunities. Put simply, they lose power.

“You walk out the door in the morning with a penis and your income is 20 percent higher on average for nothing that you did,” said Gary Barker, the international director of Promundo, an organization that engages men and boys around the world on issues of gender equality.

When asked whether the future of gender was evolution and extinction, Barker, Nyong’o, Wallace and Bornstein all said they hoped for extinction. But at the same time, each acknowledged how difficult that goal would be to achieve. Beyond the power dynamics, there’s a level of comfort in well-worn identities. “It’s easy to sit in these old roles that we’ve watched and to feel a certain comfort in their stability in a world that feels kind of hard to understand,” Barker said.

But change is not impossible. Barker advises demonstrating how our traditional version of masculinity may not actually be worth the fight. “Men who have more rigid views of what it means to be men are more likely to suicidal thoughts, more likely to be depressed, less likely to report they’re happy with life overall, less likely to take care of their health, more likely to own guns, the list goes on,” he said. “There is something toxic about this version of masculinity out there.”

Detoxing society requires ripping off a mask of sorts. “It’s about getting as many people as possible to have that Matrix moment, Barker said, when they realize, “wait – [masculinity] isn’t real. It’s all illusory, it’s all performance.”

Elizabeth Weingarten is the associate director of New America’s Global Gender Parity Initiative. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

MLK, Civil Rights and The Fierce Urgency of Now

What can the Civil Rights Movement and President Johnson's "Great Society" teach us about legislative action today?
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What can the Civil Rights Movement and President Johnson's "Great Society" teach us about legislative action today?

What’s in a moment?

At the 1963 March on Washington and elsewhere, Martin Luther King, Jr spoke of “the fierce urgency of now,” the need for immediate, “vigorous and positive action” on civil rights. Princeton historian Julian Zelizer has borrowed King’s words for the title of his new book to re-examine the Lyndon Johnson presidency, the power of Congress, and the birth, and fate, of the Great Society.

On a recent Thursday evening Zelizer and Jonathan Alter (the two are a kind of Simon and Garfunkel of modern politics) engaged in wide ranging discussion of civil rights, grass roots activism, and the nature of leadership, past and present. It was a moment for moments, exploring larger historiographical questions about how we mark and measure progress, how insights into one era help us make sense of our own.

In The Fierce Urgency of Now, Zelizer recounts the astonishing achievements of a brief three-year window, 1963-1966: the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, Medicare and Medicaid, the War on Poverty, national investments in education and infrastructure, and a series of groundbreaking environmental and consumer protection laws. Challenging what has become, a half century later, received wisdom about the Great Society, Zelizer shifts the lens from Johnson to the Congress to explode what he calls two “myths”: that much of the country and the federal government had become, ineluctably, liberal, and that LBJ’s famous “Treatment” – the force of his personality – willed legislation into being.

“Johnson deserves his share of the credit,” Zelizer contends, “but less for being an especially skilled politician who could steamroll a recalcitrant Congress than for taking advantage of extremely good legislative conditions when they emerged.” By 1966, deteriorating conditions in many American cities, the resurgence of a strong conservative coalition, mounting concern over Vietnam on the left and right, and sweeping losses for the Democrats in the midterm elections, meant Johnson’s window was shut. At that point, notes Zelizer, “all the Treatment and parliamentary tricks in the world had little practical effect on Congress.”

This thesis, supported in large measure by transcripts of oval office audiotapes, counters the more “Johnson-centric” and great man view of history. By implication, it also takes on the work of the “great man” historian who has helped shaped this narrative. Robert Caro’s exhaustively researched and highly decorated volumes on Johnson – in particular the Pulitzer Prize winning Master of the Senate – have become a kind of gospel of LBJ’s legislative prowess and potency. As President, “Johnson knew the limits of his skill,” Zelizer told the group assembled at New America NYC. “Johnson used to say, ‘I’m not a Master of a damn thing. The only power that I’ve got is nuclear, and I can’t use that.’”

The role of historical revision was more than subtext in the evening’s discussion. Alter, a defining historian of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Barack Obama, has explained of the craft, “writing contemporary history is tricky, like pulling pottery out of the kiln before the glaze has hardened.” In The Promise, his chronicle of Obama’s first year in office, Alter also writes of the importance of multiple drafts and subsequent “versions” of history. Accordingly, he probed how Zelizer’s version of the “battle” for the Great Society enriches our understanding of that moment, and illuminates issues of governance and leadership more broadly. Which raised, inexorably, the Obama comparisons. When asked by an audience member about the prospect of any American president ever achieving that kind of ’63-’66 legislative run, Zelizer replied, “we will need a different Congress to get a great society, not just a different president.” We may still be too close to our subject to conclude how Presidential temperament does – or does not – influence legislative outcomes. But it is useful to remember, as Zelizer noted, that some of the elements of our current political morass – large and consequential mid-term swings, a dysfunctional Congress – are not without precedent.

The publication of The Fierce Urgency of Now coincides with the release of Selma, Director Ava DuVernay’s new film about the marches for voting rights in 1965. The movie portrays how activists persisted in the face of brutal attacks from Alabama State troopers and local police, drawing the national attention to the moment and movement necessary to pass the Voting Rights Act. Members of the Johnson Administration and others have suggested that the filmmakers unfairly depict the President as hostile to voting rights. Zelizer supports this critique, and notes that Johnson, shortly after his election, instructed Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and others to craft the framework and deal for a voting rights bill, both in place before Selma. Where LBJ disagreed with King, Zelizer suggests, was on timing. “Johnson was committed to voting rights,” Zelizer says. But “he was scared of the limits of his power… He was worried if he sent the Voting Rights bill so soon after the Civil Rights bill” he would lose the political support of moderate Democrats and others, and jeopardize other legislative priorities like Medicare and education.

“This is the fierce urgency of now debate,” Zelizer argues. “The movement, the protests, were critical in getting the bill out now rather than later.” According to Zelizer, the Selma film is “really exceptional in capturing the bravery and the courage of the movement, showing how the movement was moving the issue… This is a stunning portrayal of one of the themes of the book: the way that average people mobilize to change Washington.” In our current struggles for civil rights, and the need to shape movement from moment, there is no lesson more hopeful – or urgent.

Georgia Levenson Keohane is a Senior Fellow at New America and Director of the Program on Profits and Purpose, a new initiative that explores ways in which social entrepreneurship, innovation and finance can address some of our most pressing social and economic challenges. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Food & Drink

This Is America’s First Dog Café

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Customers could stop by for a cup of Joe or a tail-wagging furry friend

Cat cafés are so 2014. Of all the restaurant trends last year, few seemed to get as much press as the fervor surrounding feline-friendly coffee shops. But 2015 is shaping up to be the Year of the Dog.

“The Dog Café,” as it is quite simply named, hopes to open in Los Angeles as America’s first dog café. The project is the brainchild of Sarah Wolfgang who has worked at animal shelters in the States and in Korea.

A dog café is not much different than its cat counterpart. Customers can come in for a coffee or tea knowing that plenty of furry friends will be around to brighten their spirits. All of Wolfgang’s dogs will be up for adoption as well, though you’re not required to grab a new pet with your latte. “The Dog Café’s mission is simple. We want to provide a second chance for shelter dogs that are often overlooked,” she told LA Weekly. “The Dog Café is going to put a spin on the way people adopt by totally reinventing the way we connect with homeless dogs.”

As with cat cafés, Wolfgang’s spot has some restrictions. Because of health code regulations, the service area and dog area have to be separated, meaning even those who aren’t looking to have their leg humped can still get their daily caffeine fix. But even buying a cup of coffee is dog-friendly: the beans come from Grounds & Hounds Coffee, a local roaster that donates 20 percent of profits to a local shelter.

Like pretty much every project on planet Earth right now, The Dog Café is currently in the crowdfunding stage. Wolfgang is hoping to raise $200,000 via an Indiegogo campaign. No projected opening date appears to be given for the café, though as of this writing, the funding is still far short of its goal.

For the record, 2015 is technically the Year of the Sheep, but I don’t foresee any sheep cafés in the near future.

[h/t First We Feast]

This article originally appeared on FWx.com.

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TIME society

Growing Up in Atlanta, Every Day Was MLK Day

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

"If you grow up black in King's hometown, you can't help but see his story intertwine with your own"

To grow up in Atlanta is to be always aware of the story of Martin Luther King, Jr., and to see it intertwine with your own fate.

I was born there in 1978, less than a mile from the house where King grew up. As a schoolchild, I like others, visited Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue—the street where King was born, worked, died, and is honored. To see King’s neighborhood, and the home he was born in, humanized him for us children, letting us know that he was once young like us, wrestling with classes and playing with siblings. We went to the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King declared, “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice,” and to the headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization he led until his death in 1968. We visited the King Center built by his widow to spread King’s nonviolent doctrine, and saw the eternal flame that burns near his tomb and reminds us that his work endures.

My grandparents—native Floridians who first came to Atlanta as college students in the late 1930s—and my mother tried to shield my brother and me from the indignities they suffered during the era of Jim Crow. They did this mostly by trying to give us a better life; I seldom spoke to them about the racism they endured. But the living history was everywhere in Atlanta, and the frequency with which I saw King’s lieutenants and associates on television reminded me of both the progress we’d achieved and the work still left to be done. John Lewis, for example, was leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee when he was gassed and beaten badly on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, during the start of a march to the state capitol that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” But he went on to represent Atlanta as a U.S. congressman and has fought for decades to preserve the Voting Rights Act he, King, and hundreds of foot soldiers helped usher into law.

When I became a journalist, I found myself gravitating toward telling the stories of black people, and focusing specifically on the legacy of the civil rights movement. As a college student, I got my first reporting job at the Atlanta Daily World, a black newspaper first published in 1928. The office was on Auburn Avenue—the same street I’d first visited as a child. I was working blocks away from where King worked.

By taking on civil rights as a beat in Atlanta, I not only had a front row seat to history, but the ability to ask those who lived it how they felt about current-day racial struggles. It was an extraordinary opportunity.

Even though I have left Atlanta, I carry all this history with me. This fall, almost a half-century after the enactment of the federal Civil Rights Act that King supported, I spent a few weeks in Ferguson, Missouri, as a reporter for Fusion covering the Michael Brown shooting and the ensuing protests.

From the day I arrived, the parallels between the Ferguson context and that of King’s struggles were everywhere.

Even though segregation is no longer legal and discussion of the civil rights movement has appeared in textbooks for decades, I still found neighborhoods in Ferguson so divided along color lines that I thought I had stepped into those black-and-white TV images of the 1960s I had seen. In the same way Bull Connor referred to King and other protesters as “outside agitators” in Birmingham, authorities and some residents in Ferguson referred to “outsiders” and the “negative influence of the media” on the African-American community—as if this community had no grounds to be unhappy of their own volition with the status quo before August 9, 2014. I talked to people on both sides of the racial divide who did not know each other’s daily lives.

The way the police deployed tear gas, dogs, smoke bombs, and riot gear certainly reminded me of stories I’d been told by people like Lewis. Images of clashing police and protesters in Ferguson—and the real-time reactions on social media—reminded me of the nation’s horror at the sight of water hoses, clubs, and snarling dogs 50 years before.

The Ferguson rallies, both there and elsewhere in the country, were full of young people—much like those during the civil rights movement. But there were important differences, too. Unlike the masses who rallied around King in Alabama, there was no single leader of the protests I covered in Ferguson night after night. The shooting of Michael Brown had been the catalyst, but inequality—and specifically unequal treatment of black people in the criminal justice system—was the real subject, one with many stories to tell.

During the 1960s, the black church had a central role, serving as the moral foundation of the movement. In Ferguson, churches served as the site of several rallies and meetings, and preachers could regularly be seen keeping the peace on the front lines during protests. But the burgeoning movement was neither started nor maintained through the church.

And while the protesters on West Florissant Avenue were mostly peaceful demonstrators, there were some who would have disappointed King—looting, committing arson, firing guns.

There are some who think of the events in Ferguson as an isolated incident, simply a moment in time. But to me it seemed like part of the continuum in the struggle for progress in our country. When I interviewed King’s aides, they were always quick to mention that the civil rights movement didn’t die with King; it’s ongoing. While our nation has made racial progress, we still have far to go before we achieve full equality among America’s citizens. The reaction to what happened in Ferguson exposed that chasm anew.

Errin Whack is a journalist whose articles, essays, and interviews have appeared in numerous outlets, including Fusion News, The Guardian, The Associated Press, and The Washington Post. She currently serves as vice president of print for the National Association of Black Journalists and lives in Washington, D.C. She wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

See How Beauty Trends Have Transformed Over 100 Years in This Mesmerizing Video

The second in a series

One model. One minute. One hundred years of iconic beauty looks.

Cut.com created a timelapse video that shows a century’s worth of beauty trends on African American model Marshay. This is the second in a series. The first video — same concept but with white model — has been viewed almost 19 million times on YouTube in less than two months.

Watch the two videos side-by-side:

TIME society

This Silly Typo on a Sheriff’s Office Rug Makes It Infinitely Better

Adam Winer/WFTS-TV/ABC Action News—AP This image released by ABC Action News, shows the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office rug in Largo, Fla., Jan. 14, 2015.

Ruh-roh!

Due to a typo, a rug in the lobby of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in Largo, Fla., featured the phrase “In Dog We Trust” instead of the classic “In God We Trust.” Whoops.

A deputy discovered the error on Wednesday, but the Tampa Bay Times reports the rug had been laid out for a few months.

The $500 piece has been rolled up, put away and will be returned to the manufacturer, according to a spokesperson for the department.

Some residents have encouraged the department to keep the rug. One user posted “I LIKE IT” while another said it would be “a fun laugh every day!” Most comments are now repeating the same, snarky joke: “I bet the K9 Unit would love to have those misprinted rugs……”

TIME society

Why Tiffany & Co.’s New Same-Sex Couple Ad Is Important to Me

A person walks past a Tiffany & Co. store on Jan. 12, 2015 in New York City.
Spencer Platt—Getty Images A person walks past a Tiffany & Co. store on Jan. 12, 2015 in New York City.

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

It's nice to feel that a company that I’ve been wearing for so long went out of its way to stand behind marriage equality

xojane

By now, you’re probably aware that Tiffany & Co. just released its first ad featuring a same-sex couple. If you haven’t already seen it, here it is in all its glory.

The photo, shot by fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh, features a real life gay couple from New York, accompanied by the text “Will you?” Cute, right?

Tiffany is hardly the first company to feature a same-sex couple in its advertising. It joins the ranks of companies The Gap, JCPenny, and Banana Republic, to name a few, who have made gay couples a part of their advertising campaigns. But just because it’s not the first to do it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be celebrated.

One of the things that stands out to me the most about this ad is not that it features two men, but that it features people at all. Tiffany ads are typically completely devoid of any models, placing all focus on huge images of the jewelry.

Where many luxury jewelry brands employ celebrity faces to hawk their pieces, Tiffany (usually) lets its jewelry speak for itself, showcasing its pieces against the signature Tiffany-blue background.

Even on the website, you’ll only see a piece modeled on a hand or neck to better illustrate size and scale. So to me, Tiffany didn’t just use a gay couple where a straight couple would normally be; it made an exception and made them the focal point, the engagement rings a close second.

If you can’t already tell, I’m a huge fan of Tiffany, and have been for quite a while. I’ve worn one of the brand’s bands on my right ring finger for the last seven years, and this fall, I copped my mom and I matching T Rings from its new T Collection because both of our names start with the letter T. I know, how cute. Personally, it’s kind of nice to feel that a company that I’ve been representing for so long went out of its way to stand behind marriage equality.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that a company using a gay couple in its advertising shouldn’t be news, and I hear that, but I’d rather not look at it that way. True, featuring the LGBT community shouldn’t still be worthy of a headline, but I do think that it’s still worthy of recognition, at the very least. There are a lot of companies who are happy to take our money while still looking at us as second-class citizens, and I’m probably giving my money to more of them than I’d like to without even realizing it. So while I’m the king of skepticism, I’m not going to pick this one apart. I choose to see this good thing as a good thing.

True, this is an ad, and its purpose, at the end of the day, is to sell. It was no doubt conceived in a boardroom and given the green light because the suits behind Tiffany knew that it would be newsy enough for every media outlet to run an article about it, just like this one, which would mean a whole lot of free advertising for them. But you know what? I’m fine with that. Because the more eyes on it, the better.

I was thinking about what it would be like if I was in high school again, the only out gay kid in my class and probably the entire school, seeing this ad. Personally, it would have been powerful for me as a teenager to see an image of two men, well-adjusted and happily engaged.

Walking through the halls every day, being so nervous all the time because I stuck out like a sore gay thumb, feeling like such a frazzled weirdo simply because of who I was. Looking through a magazine and have this company tell me “Yo. Look at these fine men. They’re just like you. You’re beautiful and normal and your love is worthy of recognition,” that would have been big for me to see.

So you’re right when you say this sort of thing shouldn’t still be a headline, but if all of these headlines serve to get the ad in front of more peoples’ faces, then great.

It reminds me of this summer when a friend and I were cruising around in my car. Macklemore’s “Same Love” came on the radio, and he made some comment about how he was sick of the song because it is so overplayed. I pointed out that, yeah, the song had been played to death, but did you ever think we’d see a day where a rap song about marriage equality would be overplayed on top 40 radio?

Five years ago, less than that, even, the song would most likely never made it on an album, let alone on the radio. Now we can’t get rid of it. What I’m saying is, you gotta count your small victories where you can get them. And besides, it’s better than hearing “Dark Horse” for the thousandth time.

I realize that “Same Love” comes with its own slew of issues, like his Grammy win over genre-defining artists like Kanye West, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar, or the fact that it could have been done better by one of the many up-and-coming queer rappers who can spit better then Macklemore all day long, but I don’t hate on him for being an ally.

I guess how I see it is that no matter if it’s a jewelry ad or a rap song, visibility in all forms is important. Whether its marriage equality, trans rights, the homeless LGBT youth population, or any of the many issues facing the LGBT community, I personally count each and every instance of increased visibility as a win, and motivation to demand more of it. Personally, it’s just nice to feel seen.

Tynan Sinks is a music journalist and contributor for xoJane. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME women

What I Experienced From Online Dating as a Black Woman

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The majority of the messages I received, mostly from white men, fetishized my appearance and sexualized me based solely on my race

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I try to remind myself that no one ever said online dating would be a wholly pleasant experience. There is an inherent awkwardness that comes with entering the world of swipes and algorithms, and it’s simply unavoidable.

I grew up and into an era during which the Internet has basically informed much of my identity and sparked many of my most important relationships — I’ve met some of my closest friends via sites like LiveJournal and Tumblr. And today, there’s no twentysomething I know who hasn’t met a bae or a jump off via some app or online service. So there’s no real sense of the taboo when it comes to dating online.

I created my first online profile in 2013 on OkCupid, a tiny baby step into unfamiliar territory with no real set goal in mind. All I knew was that as someone painfully shy around men, dating in the real world, in New York City, felt downright impossible. If anything, this was a way for me to gauge my own interest, and to date in a way that felt a bit more intentional, a bit more on my own terms.

And because I had girlfriends who told me about their escapades on the site, the good and the bad, the inevitable creeps and trolls, I felt relatively prepared for an imperfect if interesting experience.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the horror story that is online dating as a black woman.

Recently, OkCupid released data on race and attraction amongst its users, which revealed messed up but unsurprising realities about how people navigated the site.

Compiled by the site’s cofounder Christian Rudder, the data showed that black people and Asian men were least likely to get a date on the site. Black women specifically, the research showed, were at the very bottom of the barrel, receiving the fewest messages and likes from all races of men, and the least amount of responses to outgoing messages. Latina and Asian women, overwhelmingly, got the most likes and responses.

Rudder’s take on the data was pretty vague. “Beauty is a cultural idea as much as a physical one, and the standard is of course set by the dominant culture,” he said. “I believe that’s what you see in the data here.”

The narrative about black women and dating, about our lack of desirability and dateability, has been one I’ve actively tried to unlearn, despite a constant, nagging feeling that the reason I couldn’t get a date was because of the so-called stigma. But in my first major foray into the world of online dating, what struck me wasn’t so much this idea of not being wanted, but the kind of men who apparently wanted me.

A few creeps and trolls I could handle just fine. But from day one, I got tons of messages, many of them one or two word lines like, “Hey sexy,” and a larger majority of them reading, “Hey chocolate.” These weren’t worth the energy it took to respond.

The chocolate thing, though, kept coming up. Gradually, I began to notice a theme — the majority of the messages I received, mostly from white men, fetishized my appearance and sexualized me based solely on my race.

There have been so many ridiculous and offensive messages, too many to count or read. Many I’m not even comfortable sharing in this essay.

“Do you taste like chocolate?”

“Is it true what they say about black girls?”

“I’d love to slap dat big juicy booty.”

Once a guy was good enough to message me just to tell me that I look like “something you find in the zoo.” Another man, after luring me into a false sense of security by opening with a pleasant enough conversation about one of my favorite TV shows abruptly changed the subject to pose the question: “Do you act black?”

I asked him what exactly he meant by that.

He replied, “I like black women minus the attitude. Why is that wrong to ask? Haha.”

Haha, indeed.

In the three years I’ve been on OkCupid, I’ve only met up with a handful of people, mostly because it’s been impossible to meet anyone who doesn’t open or end conversations with offensive, racist, sexually aggressive language. A brief sojourn into Tinder world marked the worst of it — someone called me the n-word when I said I didn’t want to meet with him. I automatically deleted the app and haven’t been there since.

I know that I don’t represent every black girl’s time spent in the online dating world. I have black girlfriends who’ve had relatively decent, pleasant interactions, which is wonderful. But I also know my experiences aren’t unique. I do still wonder who else out there has put up with this kind of unwanted attention. The OkCupid data suggested Latinas and Asian women get the most attention on the site, but I can only imagine what kind of attention they’re getting — creepy fetishizing, no doubt.

It hasn’t all been bad, of course. In the past year I’ve met a few guys online who have been fun to hang out with, and a couple whom I’ve actually really liked. But I’m taking an indefinite break from the online dating world. Partly because I want to experience different forms of dating, but mostly because the energy of weeding through hundreds of gross and racist messages from strangers is, to me, the very opposite of self-care.

Last year, some important conversations were sparked surrounding the kind of street harassment women face on a daily basis. There needs to be, I think, a similar conversation about online harassment. Because it’s not just the dating sites where women are subjected to this kind of behavior.

On my Tumblr blog I’ve gotten creepy messages, and had my personal photos posted on ebony fetish blogs. Some might say that the solution to avoiding this kind behavior is to delete my blog or my profile, to block the guys I don’t like and focus on the ones I do.

I say that I shouldn’t have to do that to begin with.

Zeba Blay is a writer in New York. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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