“Facing Race” in the Bike Movement, Part II

Hamzat Sani
BFA and Communications Intern
November 2012

Source: BikeLeague

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 to win. Here at the League, our politics are simple: better biking for all. But in recent years that “all” hasn’t been as diverse and inclusive as it should be. We want to change that and it starts with educating ourselves.

Facing Race Brochures

After finally finding parking in downtown Baltimore that didn’t cost me a crank arm and a wheelset, I got to the second day of the conference just in time to catch most of the Opening Plenary. The plenary focused on issues of race and gender specifically, but the prevailing theme centered on the power of storytelling.

Panelist and journalist Janet Mock, for instance, spoke about the power of coming out as a transgender woman of color in the midst of an epidemic of LGBTQ kids taking their lives due to bullying and harassment. I couldn’t help but think, we cyclists have some pretty powerful stories to tell about why we ride, what motivates us and how we want to see our world. The plenary definitely reinforced the need for us to share those personal transformations.

Another great take-away from the plenary included thinking about our bi-gendered language, which doesn’t address potential advocates and club members that view gender beyond the binary. A great way to be inclusive is to use language that is multi-gender conscious and respective. Increasingly, local bike co-ops are getting the message and their memberships are seeing the benefits. Cycling facilities, clubs and resources should be developed in a manner where everyone feels safe, invited and considered.

Packed Room

After an energizing plenary, it was off to the first breakout session: Engaging White People in Racial Justice. The room was packed and overflowing into the hall, and there was incredible knowledge from leaders from Philly, Kentucky, New York and even Baltimore about mobilizing people that identify as white in working toward racial justice and equity in their communities.

Just a few great terms and highlights from the session:

  • Collective liberation: What affects one, affects us all. In this session, the presenters used the term to frame white people taking ownership in the fight for racial justice as much as non-whites. But I saw it’s application in local advocacy for biking facilities, too. We all know the safest areas to bike in our communities; they have bike lanes, motorists that know you exist and, wait, was that a bike shop/cafe/bar? But once in a while our journey takes us beyond our usual roads and lands us in communities that have none of these things. The term collective liberation reminds me of the freedom we all feel when we get on our first bike and feel we can go anywhere and that we can’t just fight for cycling in our immediate communities but also for greater connectivity in others.
  • Mutual interest: A young Jewish organizer spoke about the Jewish community in New York bringing together multi-cultural caregivers and their mostly white employers to talk about fair employment standards and the common ground between both groups. That got me thinking: What are some organizations in your community that share some mutual interest around bicycling? Is a local neighborhood association looking to get a street light or stop sign? Is there a Women in Business incubator in your area looking for opportunities? Is a local business district looking to boost foot traffic?

After lunch I checked out another session: From Colorblindness to Race Equity. By far my favorite quote from this session went something like: “Achieving equity is not a one shot deal; it should be like brushing your teeth everyday.” We already know this from our work: After all, getting a local politician to ride a bike for a photo-op doesn’t mean that she’ll be a sure vote for bike funding in the next legislative session. It’s important to have primers that can be used to make equity habitual and systemic. A primer could be something as simple as a  a few simple questions that remind leaders to consider whether they’re making a decision based on an implicit bias. Does your organization or club have a system in place to ensure that your outreach for members, staff and leadership is inclusive of diverse candidates?

Sadly, the conference had to come to a close, and the final plenary discussion — Culture Trumps Politics — gave us all some key perspective and one liners (you can find a few here) to take home. One thing that resonated with me was a comment from author and cultural artist/activist Jeff Chang: “After the laws change, how are we going to live together?” After we pass legislation like a 3-foot passing law, which is vitally important, we still have to coexist with one another as motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. While Chang’s context was calling for an increase in multicultural equity, it’s hard not to see its application to multi-modal equity.

While race can be a scary word, equity certainly isn’t At the crux of it all, the conference boiled down to discussing ways to create a more equitable America. Whether that equity is ensuring safety and accessibility for all types of transportation users, or ensuring opportunity and access for all groups of people, equity serves our mutual interest. As a community focused on making biking better for all, we have to seek racial equity as well. There are too many potential allies, opportunities and policy successes to gain. After all, we share some pretty remarkable mutual interests: better transportation choices, better air quality, better quality of life and better communities.

Click here to read more about the conference (and keep this event in mind for 2013)!