In any major city in America, there are two signs everyone needs to heed: red hands and white walkers.
Of course, I’m talking about traffic signals for pedestrians. If you’re a tourist in a city, even if you are a wealthy tourist, you will inevitably walk SOMEWHERE during your journey. If you are a car commuter, well, it’s extremely difficult to park close enough to your work to not encounter at least one white walker (or red hand). If you are a public transit kind of citizen, then you are at the mercy of white walkers and red hands, probably throughout your journey, especially on the bus, where the bus is bound to watch the pedestrians following these symbols as well.
My postulate is that these symbols are a metaphor for our lives, controlled by algorithms working in concert with stoplights and turn lanes, even working with bike path signals.
A white walker is easily analogized to the privilege of most white people in society. An easy walk across the street (into the job, house, car), a white walker creates no sense of urgency.
A red hand could be analogized into either prejudice (you may try to cross the street when flashing) or as an absolute denial of access (hand flashed and counted down, now no crossing).
A white walker could also symbolize how restrictions grow up around us during our lives. White walker only appears for a short amount of time (the beginning of our lives); as we wait longer, red hand appears and starts counting down (our approach to middle age and the restrictions placed upon our lives). Once the countdown is completed, red hand tells us to stop. Proceed, and you are putting yourself into extreme peril.
Red hand forgets, though, that we are individual actors on our lives; sighted persons have the power to look down the street to assess if there are any cars or bicycles coming. Sighted persons can calculate the approximate arrival time of a vehicle, estimate how quickly they can move across the way, and make a conscious decision to cross the street AGAINST RED HAND’S SOUND ADVICE.
Red hand has a rational basis for telling a person not to cross. It is created out of mathematical formulas related to what it is “aware” of: traffic signals and the relation of the space an average pedestrian can cross in x amount of time.
I put “aware” in quotes because red hand is preprogrammed and has no way of being anthropomorphically “aware” of anything except circuits (normal/not normal function) and programs (running/not running).
But the programs red hand uses are basic. They do not account for any variations: weather creating hazardous conditions, sighted versus unsighted persons, stroller/grocery roller burdens, etc.
I know an adjunct philosophy professor who started his masters/PhD program after he retired from a different career at age 55. I know that he was obeying the red hand before that, fulfilling the prophecy that there is only a certain amount of time to cross the academic street. But he was three years into his thesis when I met him and hopeful of finishing within the year.
The earlier paragraph talking about tourists and commuters applies here, too. Wealthy people will probably encounter one or two white walker/red hand scenarios; car commuters, next on the food chain, find it difficult to avoid at least one white walker/red hand (I encounter nine each way each day); lastly, public transit people encounter many red hands/white walkers during the day – they are at the mercy of these symbols. Socioeconomically, this also correlates pretty well, except maybe for American cities where public transit is a way of life and not so much of a choice.
Interestingly enough, Europe is apparently much different in terms of pedestrians, symbols, and city walk-ability. Something to explore in another blog, I think.
Red hand cannot dictate your life. We shouldn’t let these rational basis objections scare us into not pursuing our dreams and thinking about how we can achieve where we want to go. The variations in each person’s life create new opportunities and ways of believing in ourselves. I want to be a sighted person in charting the course of my life. I want to be able to see and calculate the odds of making it across the street before the car (mortgage) or the bicycle (health insurance) hits me. So instead of being colorblind, I’m going to concentrate on the path to success, instead of the preprogrammed signs telling me to give up. I refuse to respond to these subtle symbols of what I’m supposed to be able to accomplish at each stage of my life.