“Facing Race” On The ChainLink Forum


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Bigotry and Racism are near universal qualities of the American Experience. These twin issues are no less prevalent on the ChainLink Forum here in Chicago (a Blue city) than they would be in the Red states of Georgia or South Carolina. We face it because there are people on the ChainLink Forum who wallow in what they believe to be non-politically correct speech which is little more than coded messages about race and the lack of respect that people on the forum have for their fellow Chicagoans of color.

When the ChainLink Forum allows itself to become the bastion of people who claim that entire stretches of the city are “shitholes” it is time to take a look at what its core values are. Being critical of what goes on in various parts of the city does not have to reduce the forum to being a cesspool of invective. But that is the way things are on the ChainLink and those folks who consider themselves to be of Good Will have to ask themselves why they collectively allow this to happen and in fact to continue.

Why would anyone be kicked off that forum for complaining about the likes of Gabe whose tongue is somewhat vile and certainly intentionally racist. He considers himself a “bad boy” and flaunts not only polite speech on issues involving race but also stomps at times on the issues regarding lawful and safe behavior that should be of interest to every thoughtful cyclist. But rather than being scolded his reward is continued membership on the forum. Why?

I wonder if it is because he serves a necessary purpose in this arena where people largely consider themselves activist and Liberals, but in fact are as close-minded as their parents were when I was still a child growing up in Chicago. Things have changed very little over the years. People who self-identify as “urban cyclists” are a rightwing in the social views as any avowed GOP-style racist. The only difference is that they view the world through the lens of sustainability and the garden variety racist thinks that such a view is Communist-inspired.

But peel back the activist layer on an “urban cyclist” and you have a bigot who sports the same tattoos as racist motorcycle gang members with the addition of a nose ring. The League of American Bicyclists gets this. They have launched a a new series which is worth your perusal:

  • “Facing Race” in the Bike Movement, Part I –
    November 19, 2012

    At bicycle gatherings over the past few years, I’ve attended discussions about building an inclusive movement, engaging more diverse communities in our work. We’ve started the sometimes difficult but absolutely critical conversation about race, class and bicycle advocacy. But it’s not just about who’s at the table when decisions are made about our streets. It’s […]

  • “Facing Race” in the Bike Movement, Part II –
    November 20, 2012

    As Carolyn mentioned in her post yesterday, we both attended a the Facing Race conference this past week(end). Why, you might ask, would two League staff members sacrifice their weekends for a conference? Well, one lesson that almost everyone took away from the recent election was that campaigns must be inclusive of a diverse America […]

Other parts are sure to ensue.

This problem with the forum is something that can be “fixed” but it will not begin to heal until the folks in charge get their heads on straight. We face problems with city traffic for certain. But we also face issues of race that are very deeply ingrained in our culture. And cyclists reflect this culture as surely as do motorists.

The ChainLink Forum is in the midst of a push for “improving the website”. Fine. But if you imagine that the real improvements are only technical you have another think coming. You need to be proactive in dealing with the membership there. There has to be a culture of civility that is uppermost in the minds of the people who do the actual webmaster work.

Right now the forum is something of a “bathroom wall” in terms of its tone. It is either striving to be the most racist forum in Chicago or the most pornographic. Given some of the movie trailers I have seen displayed I have to gather it is both. But here is the thing, isn’t this supposed to be:

The Chainlink is your one-stop, Chicagoland resource to connect and meet other cyclists to share info on bikes, routes, rides, and events.

And were I a Scout Master or Cub Den Mother would I be remiss in using a link to this site as a resource for teens and pre-teens. Would this site ever be the place that I could comfortably send my students were I a gym teacher or a principal looking for resources? If I were a teacher in a West Side or South Side classroom, how would I explain to a student what is meant by “shithole” in reference to their neighborhoods?

It takes far more than a couple of rides that venture into the safer parts of the South Side on the fourth Friday of the month. You need to perhaps ask people who are involved with the Churches on the South and West sides about their outreach programs. When you have urban cyclists asking whether such rides are “safe” it intimates that anyone who is white living or riding south of the Loop is likely to experience mindless violence because of their color. That is exactly the kind of situation that persisted when I was a child. There were areas of the city when the park entrances clearly spelled out in paint on the sidewalk “No Niggers Allowed“.

The ChainLink should be a place where honest discussion is allowed. But perhaps some sort of warning should be “front and center” that at present this is really an “adult” site. Having been the webmaster for a large school district in the suburbs I can tell you first hand that the ChainLink would never, ever be allowed to serve as a non-blocked site in that district. That is too bad, because anyone seeking to find good material on urban cycling has suddenly “come a cropper”.

This site either has to be what it professes to be or place the “No Niggers Allowed” sign on the front page and be done with it. It needs to either be what it professes or identify itself as a “Porn Friendly Place” and be done with it.

Enough said. Now back to the regularly scheduled programming.