Recently, Melissa Harris-Perry recalled cracking open a watermelon and, finding it un-ripe, left it for her chicken to nibble. She watched them from her porch, her hair wrapped in a scarf. “I was probably somebody’s stereotype of a Black woman,” she quipped.
Had she sported the kind of hairdo Jennifer Aniston wore during her first few years on “Friends” or a designer suit, someone would have accused her of trying to be White.
Likewise, I have been accused of “overdoing “ it when I simply dressed as a woman my age might and condemned for fitting the same people’s stereotype of a trans woman even, if I say so myself, I have done no such thing since the first couple of years of my gender affirmation process.
So, I had a sense of deja vu when I read about an Australian study in which 30 percent of respondents said they saw cyclists as “less human” when they wore helmets, reflective vests or other safety gear
|Photo by Robert Peri|
Why does this matter? If the history of racism, sexism, homo- or trans-phobia showsl us anything, people are more likely to behave more aggressively toward those they regard as not-quite-human, or less human than themselves.
In other words, it’s easier to rationalize violence against someone when the victim can be reduced to a stereotype, or de-humanized in some other way.
The findings of the Australian study, however, show (even if it wasn’t the intent of the researchers) that cyclists are in a Catch-22 situation. If we wear safety gear, we’re less human and violence or simply carelessness against us is justifiable or, at least, excusable. But if we aren’t wearing helmets and day-glo vests (or even if we are), we are blamed even if the driver downed a whole bottle of vodka and drove at double the speed limit.