Wednesday, February 8, 2012


there was the gentle, eager hum of tires on pavement.

the sunlight, usually so elusive this time of year, splintered the morning into more and more audacious promises of springtime weather, and everyone smiled ridiculously. i pedalled easily, coasting over bumps, ignoring the weight on my back, anticipating traffic and flowing into my usual lefthand turn lane.

she was pretty. judging by her hair style, the look in her eyes, and the neighbourhood in which we both found ourselves, i assumed she was young, spoke a different language than english at home, and made much more colorful food that i ever do. her car was black, and older than my backpack. she squinted, but the sun was in my face, at her back, so maybe she was looking for something, maybe a sign, or a street name. (here in toronto, we're lucky to find one on any of the four corners.)

whatever she was squinting at, or looking for, it wasn't i. it wasn't i until i squinted at her, judged her front wheels to be moving, judged her car at about axle height as my front wheel went careening toward it in a perfect vector of human power.

we would collide.

except, we didn't. she saw me at the last minute. i prepared for the worst. we both slammed on the brakes. we both got angry at the near-miss. she yelled at me through her closed window and flipped me the finger. i looked back at her while pedalling, and just through up my hand in a gesture of 'what?!' what was i supposed to do? what is your problem? what part of the-left-hand-turner-is-always-at-fault did you fail to read, memorize, and practice?

it was an otherwise gorgeous morning. and i wasn't coasting over bumps. i was pedalling lightly over them, not having stopped pedalling since i started, as that's how it goes on a fixed gear. it's also quite intense to stop a fixed gear with legs and hand brakes and the will of something holy while trying to avoid a head-on collision with an ugly car driven by a pretty young lady. thankfully the only thing getting splintered was the scene, by the sunshine. i arrived alive.

and yet it got me thinking. i only commute about 5 minutes each way to work and home. i rarely have interactions with vehicles, and not nearly at the rate or intensity at which they used to be, when my commute was 32 minutes one way, through the heart of the city, twice. i've been reading michelle landsberg of late. wonderful lady and writer who never fails to instil a wonderful sense of slow-burning rage in me. having fancied myself a feminist for a decade, made a lot of art about violence against women, based a thesis on it, and having campaigned for awareness and prevention of it most days from september to june, i'm used to the slow-burning rage, but i never cease to be shocked. landsberg wrote in one column about the assumptions of white people. born into our privilege, we are usually appallingly unaware of the ease we take for granted. the list was cute and profound and sickening all at the same time, and worked very well to consider just what it is that makes one marginalized. what cues must be given and taken to consistently establish the social barriers that distinguish between this class or that group or them or those. of course, all of this crystallized in my mind while i recovered from a near-something experience, and, from my privileged perch atop a used carbon saddle on a two-wheeled mechanism condemned by our mayor and driven by my love for physical activity and quest, i came to a completely arrogant, but somewhat true conclusion.

cyclists are marginalized.

further: this is accepted practice.

when i was growing up as an american landed immigrant in small polish town ontario, i stuck out. i talked differently. i cared about school. i couldn't drive any heavy machinery from a snowmobile to a skidder. and i was american. out came all of the anti-american jokes. they're along the lines of dumb blonde jokes, or racist jokes, or any other kind of "joke" whose punchline depends on the denigration of an entire group of people loosely linked by a single defining characteristic, usually completely superficial. none of this anti-americanism was bad, though, because it was americans. big, fat, gun-toting, loud-mouthed americans who think canadians live in igloos and the entire world is up for stars-and-stripes' grabs. yeah. right.

except: if all of the 'american' terms in the jokes were replaced with 'jew' or 'arab' or 'muslim' or 'your mom' or 'japanese internment camp survivor' or any other 'term', the joke would have been wholly offensive and deemed 'too far'. it would have been disturbingly non-comical. alas, no one saw it my way.

backlash is a tricky thing, and i do not, by any means, mean to discount the struggles of such noble and (unfortunately) necessary movements and revolutions such as feminism and anti-capitalism and anti-racism. by calling cyclists 'marginalized', i'm stepping on some tricky ground. i recognize this. but i also recognize that it is this realization, this one instance of being marginalized, that called out a general awareness of what it means to be marginalized. and i was aghast! backlash has made it tricky to be a white man living in the western world. i may be dirt poor and living from crap paycheque to crap paycheque, unable to afford exorbitant hydro bills of my rented home, or the gas to drive the car anywhere but somewhere that's free to stay for the night (thanks mom and dad). however, i am now the butt of all the jokes, and it's okay because i look like the privileged. and, honestly, i probably act like the privileged, because i am privileged, and a couple hardships here or there will never stack up to generations of anguish doled out by people who look like me. i get it. respect.

so for one instance, in one morning, some driver of some car didn't see me, the all-important me, and that was a terrible experience. marginalized people are usually 'not seen'. the noble cause for which they work is not recognized nearly as scrupulously as the extreme hassle they've placed upon others as they are momentarily in the path of something bigger and more lethal and..senseless.

so my list of privilege became that much longer. imagine being not seen, and then imagine that being routine, along with the accompanying outrage at such life-endangering invisibility. imagine all the people...

No comments:

Post a Comment