Thursday, April 11, 2013

White privilege and bicycle locks

This YouTube video is making the rounds:

The video, in summary, features:
  • A white guy looking like he's stealing a bike. Not many say anything, many look perplexed, some look to inform authorities.
  • A black guy looking like he's stealing a bike. He's immediately confronted, call police.
There is not an absolute uniformity in responses (at the end of the video, it is shown that an older white male actually helped the black guy "steal" the bike after asking the black guy if he had lost his keys) but the black guy received most of the negative assumptions about his behavior.

The commentary is from PZ Myers:
Most racism isn’t represented by a redneck screaming racist slurs from his pickup truck. It’s the casual demeaning of the importance of “other people’s” problems (Heck, even using the word “other” in that context is a problem.) It’s about letting stereotypes dictate your response to a person, not even necessarily negatively.
And this is from Elyse from Skepchick:
See? They don’t THINK they’re being racist. They just are. They don’t feel racist. But they are. It’s right there. It’s the same when we talk about sexism and other oppressions.

And what happens when we call it out? We’re told it’s a misunderstanding. We don’t understand. It is explained back to us. When we call it out again, we’re told we’re overreacting. When we call it out again, we’re causing trouble. [...] we’re really fucking annoying. [...] we’re asked what we’re trying to accomplish. [...] we’re pointed to all the times it HASN’T happened. [...] we’re told to be quiet already. [...] we’re told that we’re not going to get anywhere with THAT attitude, and if we want to calm down, maybe someone will be able to take us seriously. [...] we’re accused of just seeing systemic oppression everywhere and maybe it’s time to take a break. [...] we’re militant.[...] we’re told that no one is going to be bullied into giving us the respect and equal treatment we deserve.

I’m tired of being shown examples of all the times oppression isn’t happening. Yeah, big fucking deal. Look at me, not being raped right now. I should probably stop being all like “rape is a thing that needs addressing.” I’m happy you’re not being turned down for jobs based on your physical appearance. I’m glad you’ve specifically never committed an act of violence targeting a minority. I’m really proud of you that you don’t actually go out of your way to be a huge asshole. But maybe those things alone are not evidence that there isn’t a problem. Maybe there actually is a problem. Maybe even if you don’t want to be, you’re a part of it. Maybe you should consider that. Maybe you should do something. Or maybe you’re right, and I should just try to be less angry and emotional about living in a world where, even where I’m hugely privileged, I’m still not given the respect of a full human being. I’m still less than my husband and my dad and even my son. I should probably be more okay with that.

What are you angry about? Are you angry at all? Is anger bad? Should we all become LL Cool J’s and find common ground, like agreeing that gold chains are as offensive as slavery? Should we keep asking nicely for respect? Should we just move along and accept the system? Is there a quiet way to fix it? Am I being too emotional?
The video contains a lesson about how stereotypes inform our choices, and this lesson is definitely important.

Yet are we not skimming the surface a little bit here?

Here we have an obvious example of how negative stereotypes impact black people. Then we quickly switch gears to generalize this into how we respond to people generally, and how this example segues well into women's issues.

Why don't we simply run the experiment again?

The participants could be:

Young childMale/FemaleMale/FemaleMale/Female
Middle ageMale/FemaleMale/FemaleMale/Female

This is admittedly an incomplete matrix. Of this reduced set, we've been given two data points.

Many would likely guess that young children attempting sawing at a bike lock might actually be held against their will, as a passerby attempts to find their parents.

Middle age people might be more often ignored as they are more intimidating.

Seniors might be ignored entirely - who is expanding their retirement portfolio with hot bikes?

What about females?

There is a chance that there will be equivalent response across genders.

However there is also a chance that something worse would happen - the female would be objectified and asked for coffee.

Let's assume the lock pick scenario was applied to the entire family. The husband might have been introduced to the police. The son might have been temporarily incarcerated by neighborhood adults demanding he tell them where his parents are.

Meanwhile the wife is contending with unwanted sexual advances or a condescending tone. People may speak to her as if she doesn't understand how to use a saw!

Of course, to the 'feminist' this sort of 'disrespect' is just another version of the 'patriarchy' where women are just ditsy baby machines.

Maybe it's time to topple that awfully misogynist stereotype.

Ladies, we need to get out there and steal some bicycles.


  1. Yes they did have a white woman try and yes guys came up to help.

  2. Superb explanation & it's too clear to understand the concept as well,bicycle locks keep sharing admin with some updated information with right examples.Keep update more posts.