Tue, 27 May 2008

A small dose of bigotry

Sunday, I ran several errands on my bike. The weather was nice and I felt great. I even used the drive up window at the pharmacy and when they told me their printer was down and it would take ten to fifteen minutes, I rode the two miles home to let the dogs out and play ball with Jake instead of waiting there. Riding was much more enjoyable than waiting.

On my way back to the pharmacy, two lanes in each direction, a small pickup passed in the left lane with the passenger shouting, Faggot! Faggot!

It wouldn't have matter much what he was shouting. My blood boiled instantly. Here I was, enjoying the day, feeling strong, riding fast, and someone decides I shouldn't be allowed to do so in peace.

The anger made me ride a bit faster, perhaps. In fact, I passed the truck at the next light. The passenger, a young man perhaps twenty years old, continued his insults, this time whistling and cat calling as they passed a second time.

I passed the truck again at the next light, and would have been right with them at a third, but I'd reached my destination and left the street.

It puzzles me. What is it about riding a bike that makes me a faggot? Is that just the worst insult he knows or does he actually think a cycling jersey and shorts indicate sexual preference. Is riding a bike unmanly? Does he think Lance Armstrong and Mario Chipollini are sissies? Would he shout insults at me if he didn't have the protection of his steel and glass cage?

If I felt the need to shout insults at someone, I don't think I'd pick someone fit enough to keep pace with auto traffic on a bike.

Thankfully, incidents like this are rare, but they are maddening, frustrating, and sad. I feel exposed, vulnerable, and helpless. I feel angry—very angry. The attacks aren't provoked. The attackers don't know me. Yet, it feels so personal.

I'm a white, middle class, heterosexual, American male living in a predominately white community. Racial persecution, any kind of persecution really, isn't part of my personal experience. Moments like this give me a small taste of what that must feel like.

So, unknown to the bigots shouting insults and making fools of themselves, when the anger of the moment subsides, I emerge a stronger, more understanding person. They've done me an unwitting and very unwelcome service. I understand more about who I am, what I believe, and certainly what I do not ever want to be.

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