We all know what a crosswalk sign looks like, a black background with a white figure, that signals when it is clear to cross the road. Have you ever thought of the crosswalk as a symbol of white male privilege?
Campus Reform, a college news source, asked students attending George Washington University to sign a petition to change “offensive” crosswalk signs to be more inclusive of other races as well as the LGBTQA+ community.
The respondents shown in the video report were astoundingly in favor of the change. Most responses went something along the lines of “I’d never thought of that before, but I could see how someone would be offended by that.” Or when brought to their attention, people who didn’t think twice about following the caution of the “white man” were suddenly offended by the lack of diversity in traffic safety, and were instantly infuriated by another privileged person telling them what to do.
Now, if you’re like me you’re thinking to yourself “how on Earth does this make any sense?!” The color scheme chosen for crosswalk signs are for the safety of all citizens, male and female, old and young, Mexican, Asian, Caucasian, and the list goes on forever.
It is absurd to think that someone would be offended by an inanimate object that has no political agenda. The purpose is not to only protect white males, or to subconsciously make everyone feel inferior to the white male. It wasn’t designed by the secret white male underground as a way to remind everyone else in the world that they are merely allowed to exist. The purpose is simply to protect any and all pedestrians crossing the street. Done. End of discussion. No implicit or explicit bias included. How can I be so sure? Because history is on my side.
It was in 1952 that “Walk” and “Don’t Walk” lighted signs were introduced in the United States. It is a scientific fact that white on a black background is more visible than any other color combination to the human eye. Red is one of the most difficult to notice against a black background.
Consequently, “Walk” and “Don’t Walk” signs were changed to depict a white man. It was not a racial, intentionally exclusive decision to make the man white, it is a natural consequence of using light, which is white, and the limitations of technology at the time. The reason for changing from text to picture that is not mentioned, is that by using a picture, crosswalks were made safer to anyone who doesn’t read English. The change to a white man was actually to be more inclusive.
The more changes society makes to try to include every single demographic, orientation, or permutation of both, the more the task becomes impossible. There are too many possible different identifiers in the world.
Some people identify as a feline rather than a human, yet we don’t sympathize with them and create petitions for crosswalks to depict a human walking a cat. What would the end result of a sign whose purpose is to tell us to walk look like if it tried to include everyone? It would end up being a jumbled mess of incoherence that defeats the intended purpose. Why does everything need to be political? Why can’t a crosswalk be a crosswalk? Why can’t a human be just that, a human being? Why is there such a need to seek out offense in something so innocuous?
The originators of the petition eventually let on that they started it as a test case. They were trying to see if they could find the most mundane and ubiquitous thing and turn it into a political feud. It is a sad reflection on our society that they were able to succeed.
The next time you cross the street the best thing to think about is staying alert for traffic not how oppressed you feel by a stick figure.
As a middle child, Carly Roes has a fine-tuned sense of justice. A mother of two and master of none, she enjoys her experience one day at a time.