Yesterday, I was harassed by motorists when I was cycling on the roads on my way to the workplace and the same thing happened to me when I was cycling back from the workplace.
They honked at me for no apparent reason, as if they owned the roads.
In another case of discrimination, I know of someone who was recently met with acrimony by a particular company mobile phone representative.
She made a big deal out of the fact that this person wasn’t wearing full-length jeans when reporting for work for the first time to be a part-time mobile phone promoter, and the three-quarter-length jeans exposed his sockless ankles though he was wearing covered shoes.
I came to realise that we all judge and discriminate based on what we see and perceive about others.
There were times when I found myself making judgements on how other people were dressed, inasmuch as I am becoming more aware of how I am being judged by others based on what I wear.
How do we transcend this (apparently) natural trait of judging based on outward appearances?
It occurs to me that we are communicating all the time, whether consciously or unconsciously.
The signals or message we send out to others (consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally) is communicated in the way we walk, talk, dress, stand, eat, look, and so on – virtually our entire existence is in a constant mode of communication to the rest of the world.
BUT it isn’t our fault that we are simply being ourselves, especially when we can’t change the way we look (at the most, only up to a certain extent) or the colour of our skins.
To what extent is it justifiable (if it does at all) for others to judge us based on our outward appearances?
Or our skin colour?
Or the way we dress?
Or our gender?
Or our sexual orientation?
Or our belief system?
Or our perceived social class?
I believe each of us would have experienced discrimination in one way or other at some point in time, whether it be for our age or gender or race etc.
Speaking of which, one of the most deplorable forms of discrimination is racial discrimination.
I have come to realise that discrimination has a way of making us feel as if we don’t matter in this world.
It makes us feel less than a human being.
It threatens our very right to exist in the world as a human being with equal rights and dignity as the next human being.
It robs us of our very desire and will to live to our fullest potential, and to have any hope for a better future for ourselves and our future generations.
Discrimination affects us all.
Some of us may think that the recent Women’s March doesn’t involve us because we happen to be born male and aren’t adversely affected by the patriarchy and misogyny that have been causing countless women to be discriminated and oppressed.
Some of us may think that the Black Lives Matter activism-cum-movement doesn’t involve us because we happen to be born lighter-skinned and aren’t adversely affected by anti-Black racism while we continue to benefit from the white privileged system (or Chinese privileged system in the context of Singapore).
Some of us may think that the barring of the citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States doesn’t affect us because we happen to subscribe to other faiths or belief systems (or none at all) and we aren’t targetted by the discriminatory political system.
Until we find ourselves as a target of discrimination, in any shape or form, whether it be racism or classism or sexism or elitism, we probably won’t think much about the plight of others who are being discriminated.
But it doesn’t necessarily take a personal experience to wake us up and galvanise ourselves into action in our own lives and in our own ways.
We can remind ourselves – again and again – that we are all in this together.
We are all one body. One humanity.
We can have empathy and compassion for our fellow human beings, simply because they are… human, like us.
This may sound like a cliche to some, but I believe this is what the gospel is all about – in essence, we are “neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female – for all are one…”
Some may say, “Why do you make everything about race? We have other things to worry about.”
That’s because as a privileged white in a white-dominated society, or a privileged Chinese in a Chinese-dominated society, (or fill-in-the-blanks, regarding your specific racial or nationalistic privilege), we are blind to our own privilege and we tend to be oblivious of the sufferings of others who aren’t as favoured by the societal system as we are.
Some may say, “Well, it’s his fault for not adhering to the company dress code. We need to dress a certain way in order to portray a certain image to customers.”
I see your point, but it only goes to show how shallow we all can be by judging the book by the cover and to be (mis)led by stereotypes based on how people are dressed.
Some may say, “But the motorists aren’t really harassing you. They may honk at you because they aren’t used to encountering cyclists on the road.”
Yes, but there is a need for awareness that cyclists have as much right (and responsibility) to use the roads as the motorists.
That is the reason we need education about cyclists having equal rights to travel on the roads and being recognised for contributing to environmental sustainability and easing traffic congestion.
That is the reason we need education about respecting people regardless of how they wear clothes (or not wearing at all, as part of body acceptance practised in naturism and nature-based indigenous societies).
That is the reason we need education about ACCEPTING people who look different from us or have a different skin colour or subscribe to a different belief system.
That is why we (as a collective “we”) are talking about – and will continue to talk about – racism, classism, sexism, elitism and so on, so long as these sociopolitical issues and problems continue to exist and affect not only ourselves but also others.