No matter what city you’re in, public transportation brings with it a set of interesting experiences. Playing the where should I sit game; keeping the mean mug on so people will think twice about bringing their crazy in your direction; positioning your electronic devices and monthly passes in ways that keep you from getting got (being robbed). Riding the rails also gives you plenty of time to observe others, and if you’re cool, observe yourself as you do it.
American society has taught us to put people in boxes. For example, have you ever seen a person who looked “racially ambiguous,”? Don’t act like its just me. You have seen this person on the subway or on the street. You look and try to fit him/her into a racial group. And if you sit across from him/her, chances are, you glance at them repeatedly in an effort to figure out “what he/she is”.
Or take the man dressed in slacks carrying a briefcase or man-bag of sorts. You assume you know about him, especially if he is headed downtown (pause). Yep, he probably works in an office to do office stuff. Then you try to figure out that ordinary looking black guy, or you assume you already know about him too.
I’m not saying that this is right or wrong. It kinda is what it is. We see people with certain physical characteristics or external features (skin tone, hair texture, assumed age, shirt with a certain label, a bar through the lip, tattered jeans, tatted up neck and forearms, pregnant belly, gym bag) and we size them up. This sizing up process happens so fast, and so often, we often don’t know its happening.
Sometimes this sizing up influences our posture towards people. Some are “safer” to sit next to than others. Its okay to share glances with some. Others, we shy away from. We hug our purses or man-bags a little tighter. We speed up our pace. Either way, we work to reconcile something within ourselves.
Why has this process became an issue for me now? Because I feel myself doing it. I find myself feeling unsafe around groups of teenagers. I get concerned by the goth-looking boy. I assume that the older man in tattered clothes is out to do me some harm, or sometimes, I feel sorry for him. I look at the young woman with an attitude because it looks like she’s giving me one. I try to figure out what’s going in the head of that solemn looking person staring out the window.
What’s amazing, is that this process takes no real time or concentration. My mind works crazy fast, yo.
And I know people try to box me too. Have you ever locked eyes with someone as he/she was giving you the once over? A bit of an awkward moment, I know. Depending on what the person looks like, and what kind of vibes his/her superficial appearance gives, you tailor your reaction accordingly. If the person is big and scary, I tend to squirm a little, and look away quickly. If he/she looks creepish, I may do the same, or if I’m feeling gangsta, I’ll give them that “don’t you be looking at me” look. If he is a handsome, well dressed black man, I may bat my lashes a little. Hehehe.
The next time you get on the train or bus, or even walking down the street, try paying attention to yourself as you pay attention those around you. Then come back and tell me about it, mmk? Thanks.