Monday, February 1, 2010

Bikes, Community, and Racism

So in the past two days, I've had interesting interaction involving my bike.

The first one is a really positive one- so I'll start there. The past few weeks, after leaving it outside for a very raining weekend without riding it, my bike has been acting funny. It started by being kind of clinky and then the gears would jump. So a lovely friend of mine offered to help me grease up the chains to see if that would help. It was super cold the night we did it, and since our hands were frozen we only did a little, but it helped. Then a few days later, my grand roommate came inside and said he and his dad oiled it more for me. I guess that happened a week ago or so- but it was really nice of them. Then Saturday night I was telling Bobb how it wasn't even shifting gears at all anymore or if it did it would really jerk me forward in the process. So, he looked at it and found I had a broken link in my chain. I almost freaked out because without a bike I am screwed for transportation. But, it was still ride-able and I had likely been riding it like that for a couple days. And he filled up my tires- which were really low.

Bobb also said I should just go to the bike co-op tomorrow, since he didn't have the tools to take the link out. I had planned on really getting some school work done that day, but went anyway. I had never actually been there before- which seems really crazy because I love that Athens has such a great bike co-op. But anyway, I headed across town the next afternoon (sunday) and found the co-op- and of course- Erik was there to help. He rocked, he showed me how to do it, and then I changed the links (several times, because we forgot to put it in the railer thing and then I broke a few links- so I got lots of practice). The bike co-op was pretty sweet, with TONS of bikes around, and boxes of parts all over the place. It was awesome. And I brought Erik a piece of the spicy chocolate cake I made the other day to thank him for his help. (Giving food I make to people is probably one of my favorite things to do- ever.)

So that was a really great experience. So many people helped me- which feels really wonderful to know I am involved in such a great community, I discovered the bike co-op and its wonderfulness, and I learned how to fix my bike chain. Win!

But then today- as I was riding up town to be at work to send an email about earth month funding things- at 8 in the morning (not my ideal) in the really cold air- I had a really bad experience. Normally, when I ride down Richland Ave I don't exactly receive smiles and friendly waves, but today- was the worst I've ever experienced riding a bike. A car that ended up behind me honked several times and then speed around me. Naturally, we were both stopped at the next light. The woman in the passenger seat stuck her head out of the car and started yelling something. I couldn't hear what, because there was a big truck next to me- but she looked really angry. Then the driver opened the door- and I think my heart stopped. I thought this person was going to get out- and try to fight me or something. Luckily, they didn't. Maybe there was just something stuck in the door or maybe they decided better of it- but either way, the door shut pretty much right after it opened. My heart didn't start returning to a normal speed until the light changed and the car pulled away.

But, see, it's more complicated than just a bad experience with a driver on the road. That I could handle. Sure, it would upset me and I would be a little bitter- but the thing is... the woman was black. And as her head was sticking out the window yelling, all these negative stereotypes came raging into my head. I didn't want them there, but there they were. Making me fearful of the person in that car, more fearful than I would have if they were white. If they looked like me. Then, when the car door opened, I thought to myself there was probably a black man, getting ready to step out of his car and start a fight (the assumption of the driver being a man is also concerning- but one thing at a time). How could I feel that way? What the hell is wrong with me, that because the passenger of that car was black, I was more afraid.

So all day I've been thinking about it. And the thing is, I've just never really been in environments that were very racially diverse. That within itself is something that maybe I should spend some time examining, but that's currently a fact of my life. I live in a monoculture- a white, middle class monoculture. So most experiences I have with people of other ethnic backgrounds are not from actual experience. I've read some books, been to workshops, and had discussions about race. I thought I got it. I thought that overall, I had broken down those stereotypes- those negative portrayals of black people as bad. Those images come at us all the time, be it from the news, movies, tv, or music- they are out there. Unfair depictions of people. I guess no one is accurately depicted in mainstream (any?) media, but the combination of extreme bias with regards to race in the media (and in the general public I guess) and my lack of experience to counter act those messages- they effected me.

I'm not bringing this up because it's easy- or because I want to admit to being racist. But- when that woman was yelling at me- I didn't see her as a person- I saw her as a black woman. And all my misinformed, racist, reinforced, deeply suppressed opinions of what that means- came out inside my head.

I guess, my ability to see that happening is a good thing. I can't really work towards a more just future if I hold onto racist notions without confronting them and challenging them. I guess I'm not really sure how I can work to break down racism- within myself or in a larger context- but it seems like I need to do some exploring to make sure I really address this.

Looks like I have some serious work to do.

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