Those People

I fell off my bike earlier this week. Actually, I technically fell on my bike. The ground was uneven (and perhaps there was an oil slick), and before I knew it my bike had capsized with me on top of it, but still sliding forward. (Thanks a lot momentum!) Fortunately I wasn’t seriously hurt. Even though my palms, arms, and hips slid across the pavement, my hands were protected by my biking gloves, and I was wearing long sleeves and pants. No abrasions, just tenderness and swelling where my hipbone contacted the ground and my ankle to upper shin hit and slid along one of my bike’s pedals.

The fall felt like it was happening in slow motion—slow enough for me to experience it and have a lot of “Am I really about to fall? Oh no!” thoughts, but not slow enough for me to prevent it. Once on the ground, I quickly tried to get myself up and out of the way of any oncoming cars. Fortunately, I had slid towards the curb and there wasn’t a lot of traffic. As I stood and searched my body for blood and then my bike for damage, I recalled how my husband and I had run to the aid of a deliveryman when we saw him fall off his bicycle. There had been heavy rain that day, and he’d mistaken a severe pothole for a harmless puddle.

After my fall, I looked around to see if anyone was showing concern for me. I saw plenty of people, but with the exception of one woman who made peripheral eye contact with me, everyone acted oblivious to (or unaffected by) my accident.

The street wasn’t teeming with people, but there was enough foot traffic that I expected someone to notice and respond to the black woman in a hot pink track jacket that went sliding across the pavement on top of her bright blue bicycle with yellow tires. When I received no sympathetic questions or helping hands, my first thought (and I’m not proud of it) was, “I can’t believe none of those people came to help me. Is it because I’m not one of them? Is it because I’m black? Those people are heartless. Those people are racist. I bet I would have gotten a more sympathetic response in another neighborhood—one with a different demographic.”

In that moment, I realized how easy it is to generalize and find oneself following a line of negatively biased thinking based on assumptions. It just takes one experience explained from a prejudiced perspective to lay the foundation for bigotry and make a situation us versus them. I was letting the actions of a small slice of a population color my view of the whole group. I recognized myself as a minority in that situation and let that explain my experience as opposed to looking for alternative likelihoods.

As part of my second round of thoughts, I remembered that the men of that particular group don’t touch women they aren’t related to. And perhaps the women, most with children in tow, didn’t want to abandon a youngster to help an adult. Perhaps if I’d stayed down someone would have come to help, but I’d gotten up relatively quickly.

Having looked myself over, I realized I wasn’t gravely injured, and since my bike was still functional, I gingerly remounted and pedaled away slowly—apprehensively and wondering what had really just happened. Had anyone felt any concern or sympathy?

Maybe no one helped me because I didn’t appear to need help. Or maybe, just maybe, they consciously or unconsciously didn’t want to help someone like me—black, female, and/or not of their religion. Perhaps I was one of “those people” in their eyes. You know how those people can be. Best to not get involved with one of them.

Whatever the reason, the part is not the whole. The actions of a few cannot be used to stand for those of the group. I had to remind myself of those truths. Even within a seemingly homogenous population—whether it’s dominated by one culture, ethnicity, or religion—there is diversity. It is unfair to extrapolate what the viewpoints or behaviors of all will be based on those of a few. All I really know is that whoever witnessed my fall didn’t come to my aide. As for the characteristics or attitudes of “those people” as a group, my experience doesn’t give me permission to assume.