by Kelly O’Mara
The following is an excerpt from the ‘If We Were Riding’ newsletter, ep. 20. Read the rest of the newsletter here.
The above tweet isn’t necessarily a new argument, but it may be a fair argument. It’s one my husband has made after riding; one I’ve considered on my rides. And, sure, you can quibble about the specifics, but for many middle-class and upper-middle-class white guys, the time on their bikes may be one of the few times they’re treated like a disenfranchised minority, marginalized by the existing system without the presumption of equal access, stereotyped and pushed out and threatened. Turns out: it sucks.
Think about those bad rides you’ve had, the ones where you almost got killed when someone tried to force you off the road with their car, because you slowed them down or took up some space they thought they had a right to, or they just didn’t like you. One of those rides where police officers harassed you, following your group and yelling through their loudspeaker (which, yes, I have *seen* happen). And you get home and you’re angry and you’re tired of your friends getting hit, getting injured, getting killed, and no one seems to care. The law doesn’t seem to be on your side. The officers who are supposed to help instead seem to harass you for minor infractions, blame you for getting hurt: what were you doing there anyway? And you get screamed at and told you don’t belong here: “I know you people, you’re all the same.” Some driver had a run-in one time with someone who looks like you, and now it’s your fault. And you should be on your separate path anyway, they say, where you belong. And you’re so tired, so angry. What’s wrong with people, with the world?
You have one of those rides, and then it occurs to you: what if the world was always like this to you, not just when you were on your bike? At least you can get off your bike. No wonder African-Americans have higher blood pressure and hypertension from the stress of dealing with this bullshit all the time.
I sort of doubt most of us ride bikes as some kind of political act. We ride them because we like cycling and going places. Even Uber’s now getting into bike-sharing, which you know probably isn’t motivated by a desire for social justice. The costs that come with riding are simply the costs of existing in a world that wasn’t built with us in mind, a world that thinks we just need more education in order to stop getting killed (despite all evidence and logic to the contrary). We don’t ride to necessarily get a peek into some else’s life, but it’s worth stopping to consider what we see when we choose to look. We’d want anyone staring at us through their car windows to do the same.