Prejudice rears it’s ugly head…

Image management – it’s a full time job, isn’t it? Even when I am out jogging I find myself thinking about what other people are thinking about me. Usually it makes me run faster, breath slower, smile more broadly. It is amazing to me the energy I can muster up to look “more like a real runner” as I pass total strangers. Or to look less winded as I pass the other regulars that share the sidewalk with me.

The other day was a fine, sunny one and I was feeling pretty good. I was on my way home (always easier than when I am heading away from the house) and I saw a man turning onto the sidewalk on his bike. As I moved to the other side of the path, I readied my smile for what I thought was a Hispanic man. As he got close enough for a better look, though, I am ashamed to say my smile faltered slightly when I saw who was actually approaching. It was an older Caucasian man with a few days of beard and a Harley Davidson bandana tied around his head. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a nice bike. But obviously I have some old stereotypes in my head about grizzled Caucasian guys…with tattoos…and riding a bike. Even now as I write this, I know it is totally just a stereotype, but it is definitely in there.

Here I was, thinking about a Hispanic guy who probably works really hard and is supporting his family and maybe can’t afford a car, someone to whom biking is a mode of transportation rather than a sport – and that totally flips with the sight of this man. Now I assume that he is an old guy who drinks too much and lost his license so he has to ride a bike. Then my image management software kicked in and I smiled anyway, I wouldn’t want to look like a snarky runner.

About half a mile later I passed an older Caucasian woman (I live in a third ring suburb of Minneapolis, what do you want from me?) and I got ready to say “good morning” with  my prettiest smile. She determinedly kept her eyes fixed on the horizon, ignoring me completely. So much for my attempt to make up for my earlier near-snub…or maybe that was karma?

I am writing about this now as a reminder to myself. It is so easy to think of myself as a person without prejudice, as someone who is tolerant and open to all peoples. And I am…mostly. This was a good reminder, though, that in some ways I am still most open to people who are most like me, to people who are most like the people I grew up around. It is a reminder to myself to take a deep breath and keep an open mind.

It is never too late to give up our prejudices.  ~Henry David Thoreau

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