To see backpacks evokes three initial impressions. First, a student, because several people carried backpacks when they were younger, although in other countries one might need a satchel for that. Secondly, a tourist, because even though most middle class people are familiar with the idea of “backpacking through Europe,” in the United States, there remains a trend for touring hostels. Finally, a homeless person, because most homeless people–at least those not couch-surfing or otherwise temporarily homeless–have to carry all of their belongings around with them. Few people consider that without a car, one is required to carry everything for the day lest they be unprepared for an impending emergency.
The impression of a backpack is considered unprofessional by anyone who is not a White male software developer, who is supposedly using his childlike innocence to disguise immense wealth. Otherwise, people who carry backpacks are seen as immature, possibly trying to relive a college life where they were free to be irresponsible. Ironically, when considering the most healthy and effective way to walk, it is strange that everyone is not carrying a backpack. After all, most indigenous travel for long distances involved carrying packs on one’s back, leaving all appendages free to maneuver. This practice is still widely practiced today, being called backpacking, which is why people assume that those with backpacks could be tourists.
Unfortunately, carrying a backpack is seen as suspicious, as if someone is trying to steal and hide the materials in one’s backpack. Many stores and libraries will require that people keep the backpack up front, forcing the carriers to decide what few of their items are worth potentially forgetting. This suspicion took a deadly turn in 1991 when a store owner shot Latasha Harlins for reaching into her backpack for money to pay for her juice. This little girl, like many little girls, was carrying a backpack, but that and her appearance were enough to convince a jury that she was duly sacrificed on the altar of suspicion. Recently, a 9-year-old boy was accused of groping a woman because his backpack brushed against her body–because, as usual, backpacks are bulky.
Carrying backpacks is just another way to carry things around, and most of the time, they are bulky and will not fit in the compartments people have designed for personal belongings. Instead of assuming anything about backpacks, what would happen if people changed their thinking so that backpacks could once again be the innocuous items they really are? After all, if younger people have stopped consistently purchasing vehicles, it makes sense that society sees more backpacks floating around.