Once upon a time in Amsterdam’s early evening hours, I decided to bike to a supermarket to pick up some groceries for dinner. I had not become entirely acclimated to the chaotic character of Amsterdam cycling and the cumbersome California-cruiser bicycle I was riding.
The road I coasted down was typical of Amsterdam cycling – trams whizzing by inches away, pigeons bobbing about the bike lane, dolled up girls chatting on their cell phones in the bike lane.
I reached a curve in the road and handled it with the same grace that has sustained me for thousands and thousands of miles bicycled with only a single crash. Suddenly, a pedestrian stepped out into the street right in front of me and just before slamming right into him/her, I jerked the handlebars to the left and narrowly avoided a disastrous collision. My organic, gut reaction in this moment to warn the pedestrian was to shout “Yo! Yo!” I zipped by her every-so-quickly and turned around to notice the unintentional faux-pas I made. The pedestrian I had nearly hit was an African-American woman in her mid-thirties with long, curly hair, cherry-red nail extensions, high heeled shoes which looked better than they probably felt, and a leopard-print fabric belt.
She stopped in her tracks, shot me a death glare, and as I biked away, she shouted, “Boah! Who you think you are talkin’ dat shit to me?! Aymabouta whoop yo sorry ass!”
So she took my “Yo! Yo!” warning as a derogatory affront. This was not my intention, and I think that this occurrence did reveal a tension between what some call a hyper-sensitivity to racial stereotypes and what others would call racial categorizations ingrained into society’s subconscious.