12 June 2023

They Make Us Less Human

 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.

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