The thought occurred to me as the breeze calmed from the passing longboarding hipster that he probably thinks he’s cool. Maybe he is cool, but I didn’t know it. It takes a bit of personal information about someone before he or she is labeled ‘cool’. In contrast, no personal information at all is necessary for many of us to assign the monikers punk, hipster, stuck-up, cliquey, you-fill-in-the-blank. One only needs a first impression.
Because of my own perception of hipster longboarders, it was with some hesitation that I first stepped on one of those elongated skateboards. Of course, for me it was different. This was an exercise in the name of science. Was longboarding actually that different than what they say skateboarding is like? Did the longer, wider board really add enough weight to the contraption to make those wider and softer wheels grip the ground more for a smoother ride? Sure, the small, hard skateboard wheels get those skaters to top speed faster, but longboarder’s butts don’t risk the jiggle as much with the smoother ride. Not that I’ve looked. I haven’t looked.
So for purely scientific reasons I wobbled down the sidewalk on four wheels with a few onlookers. Thank goodness this was after dark. In the daylight I would have risked more crowd exposure, and the distant chance that my high school professor might drive through campus and berate me for never taking a single physics course in my life and reveal that this wasn’t a science experiment at all.
It may be self-righteous retrospection, but as I look back on my decision to learn to longboard, I don’t remember being too concerned with my image. My wife is aware of my tendency to get excited about odd things, and as I am happily married, I had no one to impress. Or should I say no one to let down?
Within a few weeks I bought a used longboard that I could call my own. Not long after I began using the device as my primary means of transportation to, from, and on campus, a trusted friend let me know that even from beyond Alexandria, Minnesota, I looked like a punk. He heard it from his cousin, one of my fellow Bison. The cousin saw a longboarder on campus and inwardly experienced his usually gut-wrenching disdain for the longboarding type before he noticed that the punk was me.
I was not the least bit surprised to hear that the cousin put two and two together to determine that because I was riding a longboard, I must be a punk.
The cousin’s reaction wasn’t surprising, but while it may be common, it’s hardly ideal. What if two plus two didn’t equal “Alex is a punk”, and instead the sum was that not all longboarders must be punks?
We make a mistake when we assign a label based on our perception of a person’s appearance, not based on their inherent value.
We do it all the time. Because a person’s appearance reminds us of a subgroup in society that we associate negative characteristics with, those characteristics are automatically assigned to this individual that we have not yet. Maybe you’ve only seen them from a distance. Maybe the distance decreased quickly before increasing again because the person with inherent value that hasn’t done anything to deserve a condescending label was cruising on a longboard.