I’ve just collapsed back at home after a bike ride. (A short bike ride, no less. I am out of shape when it comes to cycling.) I was struck, as I often am when biking, at how much of my energy is spent on being aware of cars, both moving and parked. There are no bike paths I can get to on my bike from my house. The roads on which I do ride are wide, but there are many cars parked along the curb. As a result, I’m always watching for cars on the move as well as for doors to open in a parked car. I’m not a fast cyclist by anyone’s definition so I’m sure my presence on the road was more than a little annoying to multiple drivers. Anytime a car passed me I slowed down, held on tight, and held my breath. One older gentleman slowed down and stayed behind me as I passed a number of cars, until I could move closer to the curb and he could pass me more safely. I was so grateful.
This afternoon I got to hear Jacqueline Woodson and Jason Reynolds at the Anti-Racist Book Festival. It was an amazing hour and I have so much to think about.
As I rode my bike, being constantly vigilant for my own safety, I realized that I go through life as a car driver. That’s true literally – I spend far more time driving my car than I do riding my bike. But not just literally. As a white person I go through life unaware of other’s danger and, even more importantly, unaware of how my actions are endangering others.
Not only that, but I go through life annoyed by others who are slowing me down or complicating my journey. Because I am white. As a driver of a car rather than a rider of a bike I am unaware of many of the obstacles and challenges. Driving my car I don’t see the loose gravel and broken glass along the side of the road that can be dangerous for bike riders. When I park my car along the curb and open the door, I look for other cars. But I don’t think to check for cyclists.
As a white person I live my life without a clue about the realities of people of color. Because I can. I can go on without thinking about what it is like to be a bike rider rather than a car driver. I can live without awareness of those dangers and obstacles because I do not face them.
I cannot live life as they do. I cannot live without reaping the benefits of white supremacy. I can, however, do far more to try and understand how white supremacy works, the ways in which our systems are racist, and then, how to fight for change. How to be an ally. How to support people of color. How to truly be anti-racist.