Cuyahoga Valley National Park, outside of Akron, OH, September 30, 2017
Glorious day, bike with friends, birthday celebration
Stopped for a rest, exuberant
Dozens of bikes parked everywhere
One small bike rack, a woman from our group put her bike there
Near another bike already parked—handlebars touching
Our group congregated there, jovial
Stranger with toddler retrieves her bicycle
Others are disrespecting her property (handlebars touching)
Friend who parked near her bike, responds
Can’t we all just enjoy this beautiful day
Conversation continues back and forth
Stranger with toddler: “You people…always ruin everything…”
She means: “You black people always ruin everything.”
Me, to Stranger with toddler (white woman to white woman): “Have we met?”
Stranger with toddler: “What?”
Me: “You don’t look familiar but you say you know how we always are. Have we met?”
Stranger with toddler, riding away in a huff, yells back to the group: “Black ghetto…”
Group: Unsurprised; deflated
Maybe, if you are a white person unaccustomed to riding with people of color, you are not aware that this sort of thing happens. Or that it happens so often it is the subject of morbid jokes, masking fear as folks ride through certain spaces. You could be forgiven for not knowing; after all, racism arises mostly in the presence of someone believed not to belong.
But if you are one of those people, I am telling you now that people of color and the white folks with them are confronted by explicit racism while riding bikes. I’ve experienced it and I’ve heard more stories than I can count. It is more prevalent than you might expect.
I wrote my Battle Ready article this past February:
Our movement, which has focused on achieving infrastructure that promotes safety, needs to become more attuned to the culture in which people have to ride. Let us now understand that not everyone who rides has the same experience of their ride, regardless of the infrastructure available—some of us, due to our sex, body shape or skin color, assume more risk than others. Our community must rally around to forcefully denounce these threats.
With renewed urgency I return to this theme and expand upon it.
First, I acknowledge that racism is a sensitive subject in this country. Emotions are heightened. Tensions are amplified. I get it. Most of us are exhausted from reckoning with it. Given that, some of you might be thinking, “Please can we not make this a racial thing? I’m just trying to escape into a bike ride, the one thing in life where I can get away from it all and have some joy and peace.”
It might feel easier for us bike folks to keep our heads down and ignore the topic altogether. Surely there is enough to do in the realm of bicycle infrastructure and bike rides and safety education, no?
Actually–no. The oppressions that permeate our culture, permeate everything. Even bike rides.
It is true, that all cyclists are sometimes subjected harassment from people driving in motor vehicles; we are all vulnerable as we ride. Some of us never feel more fearful or less powerful than when we’re on a bike.
And yet, beloved friends, can we take a moment, without judgment, to imagine what it must be like for our fellow bike comrades, whose ordinary fear of cars and their drivers is too-often compounded by the your-type-doesn’t-belong-here statements and (yes, even) threats of violence? Can we close our eyes, breathe deeply and just be with that for a moment? I hope upon doing so that you arrive at the same conclusion I have: we cannot let this stand, we simply cannot.
This organization’s mission is to influence the conditions that help people safely and comfortably ride bicycles for transportation. For our part, Yay Bikes! promises that we will continue to speak forcefully on difficult issues, like racism and other forms of oppression, as they pertain to the bicycle community. We are committed to the premise that all who join our rides, attend our events and encounter us elsewhere are respected and extended a generous welcome, and that action will be taken when our standards of conduct are not met. I hope you'll join Yay Bikes! in "taking a pedal" against bigotry in all forms.
Bike rides are among the very few spaces in our society where we've got nothing but time to chat about life, where difference can melt into camaraderie. People can be known. Relationships can be built. Healing can occur. I hope you’ll join us for some bike rides with friends, new and old.