Thursday, July 17, 2008

Yo Yo Story

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.  

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