Those whose have a physicality, skin colour or gender that doesn’t match another’s safe and trusted blueprint, often tread a fine line. They have a choice to make. They can either adjust themselves to make another feel safe, or be themselves and deal with someone else’s fear stories about them.
It could be something as simple as feeling you have to be friendly when you don’t want to. Is the onus really on you to smile when you’re miserable, so as to appear as non-threatening as possible? To be clear, this isn’t exclusively about race, class or gender. The premise applies to us all. Yet let’s not gloss over the fact that the generic safe and trusted Western blueprint, does typically exclude certain types
A Form of Discrimination?
Is it a form of discrimination to expect others to put us at ease because of our innate fears? For example, what if a big-built, tattooed, stern-looking man is walking on a dark street late at night. He passes a very nervous looking woman. Is it his responsibility in that moment to put her at ease?
He might have to think about crossing the road, before they pass each other, because he’s got resting misery face. He might be thinking about something completely innocuous, but how’s she to know that?
The Elderly and Prejudice
I know how common it is for men of colour when they pass a frail and elderly looking person to see that elderly person shrink away in anticipation of being attacked. If other’s anecdotes are anything to go by, those who react most typically this way tend to be white people in their seventies and above.
I’ve experience it myself, you can see these elderly folk actively clutching their bags closer to their chests as they scuttle past hoping to still be alive at the end of their dangerous brush with death.
Many people of colour have experienced this. The need to try to put someone else at ease, just because of that person’s inbuilt prejudices. To be fair neither of the above examples of prejudice are limited to either men, or people of colour.
People generally respond to a person they perceive as threatening based on their own prejudices. Fuelled of course, by the often mindless stereotypes, promoted by the media and society in general
Should You Have To Make Yourself Less Threatening?
Should any of us have to spend our days worrying about how others perceive us? Should we have to water down who we are?
If we’re not actually being physically or verbally threatening, should we have to soften our features or change our demeanour, to put someone else at ease? Is this our social responsibility? If it is, when do we get a break from these burdensome expectations?
We should all take ownership for our perceptions and projections. It’s our responsibility to review them in the moment, as needed. Otherwise these prejudices are too exhausting a burden for others to shoulder on our behalf.