On safety, racism and personal space

Even though the incident that I'm going to describe below happened last week, I still find it disconcerting. I might be hyper aware of racism lately, but I think it would be nearly impossible not to notice it in this situation. And since it didn't happen in the workplace I can describe the whole situation in a fair bit of detail without much self censorship. I will admit that I'm not always the most observant person in the universe, but this situation left me pretty shaken last week and I thought I'd give it some time before blogging about it. I did tweet about it in frustration at the time that it happened, and spent some time talking to some friends to vent that evening. But yeah, although the rest of my evening was awesome (okay the concert I attended was AMAZING!), my mood was not the greatest in result of what I'll type about below:

On Wednesday night last week, I prepared to take transit to a concert that I had been looking forward to attending for well over a month. It being a warm night, I was able to wear a skirt and boots that I often wear in the spring or fall, but I wasn't dressed revealingly or anything, just in a casual geeky t-shirt, long denim skirt, knee high socks and tall boots with chunky heels covered by my winter jacket (though only one or two buttons were done up). It's hard to dress for this changeable weather and I worried about whether it would be too icy for my footwear (but this worry was proven wrong upon stepping outside and walking to the street.

Less than a block from my home two men were standing blocking the sidewalk. One had a large (beautiful!) golden dog [I don't claim to know anything about dog breeds, but it reminded me of a retriever of some sort or a mix with one] on a leash presumably doing his business in the snowbank. Each of these men were easily 6 feet tall (or thereabouts), and reasonably well muscled (hard to tell what with winter apparel and all, but these were not tiny men). They were talking loudly and smelled of a combination of odors that made me wonder just what substances they had consumed/smoked/drank in the previous few hours. I obviously had no desire to truly smell them, but as they were blocking my path on the sidewalk, I stepped into the street slightly (the street was calm, I was essentially stepping into a parking lane) to walk around them.

They glared at me at that moment, when I reached the street corner, regaining my spot on the sidewalk, and one said loudly enough that I could hear (this was quite loud as I was at the point of stepping into the street to cross Jasper Avenue), presumably to his companion, Asians don't like dogs. I was taken aback by the comment (and still feel a bit shaken remembering the incident), and hurried across the street, only realizing after having crossed it that I hadn't looked both ways. Sure there was a pedestrian crossing light, but this is a major thoroughfare and cars are known to disregard traffic rules (not to mention not notice a pedestrian running or walking quickly through a crosswalk to get away from a perceived threat).

Not only had I never before this time heard a stereotype about Asians not liking dogs (a friend tried to think of one that evening, and could only come up with the idea that some Asians might eat dogs, which isn't the same thing), but I didn't like this directed at me. Honestly, I didn't want to interrupt their conversation to ask for them to move out of my way blocking the sidewalk at the time. Realistically their size, their scent, and the way that they acted (looking like they OWNED the sidewalk with their large dog) made me choose to simply walk around them rather than choosing to try to walk through their conversation (with the leash in my way too this would be an unlikely choice anyway). I initially hadn't found them threatening enough to want to jaywalk to get away from them completely, but sheesh. Why is it deemed okay to make stupid comments like that one about Asians not liking dogs? If it's a stereotype that I'm simply unaware of, I would love to know more, but the dog was the size and type that I find less threatening most often. For me it was the stance and behaviour of these large unknown men that caused me to want to get away, but it was that stupid racist comment that made me most uncomfortable.

It's strange how I might get racist/sexist/discriminatory comments nearly every day but something so strange and unusual as this encounter might make me feel the least comfortable/safe.